A Conversation with Peter Abraham

One of the great joys of the 2006 baseball season was the emergence of Peter Abraham’s Lohud Yankees Blog. Abraham’s writing has taken fans into the Yankee clubhouse in an unprecedented way, giving us a daily—make that hourly—behind the scenes look at the Bombers. It’s a proximity and immediacy that we’ve never had before, and it’s delivered to us through a direct, honest voice that’s part fan, part hardboiled beat reporter and expert analyst. Perhaps the move to reporter-blogs was inevitable, but Abraham’s was the first and deserves credit for blazing the trail. That he’s done this for a paper that you don’t see on every street corner in this city—the Westchester-based Journal News—makes his accomplishment all the more remarkable. Abraham was kind enough to take time out from his schedule to talk with us about blogging, baseball, and the Yankees. Some of his answers here may surprise you.

YFSF: You are the pioneer “beat blogger.” Now every paper has one. What prompted you to start the blog? How has this new format changed the process of beat writing? What’s the future of the sports page? I’ll admit I’ve all but abandoned the the hard copy of the morning paper, at least the sports section.

PA: I was prompted by a feature story I did on baseball blogging in 2004. I convinced my bosses to let me blog the 2005 winter meetings and the response we had led to a full-time Yankees blog last season. We’ve since had 1.3 million page views. It has changed the process of beat writing in that there is now more work involved. The future of the sports page is secure, I believe. The only question is how you get the information. It could be via hard copy, the web or your phone. Somebody has to cover the teams.

YFSF Has there been any response from either the players or the organization to the phenomenon of writers (and even us non-professionals) blogging? Are they already so inured to the pervasiveness of media coverage that this newest front doesn’t even register?

PA: No response from the players whatsoever. Most of them have no idea what blogs are outside of a few web surfers. I don’t think a player much cares what you do with his answers to your questions.

YFSF: Curt Schilling has a blog. What Yankee is most likely to follow suit?
Whose would you be most interested in reading?

PA: The Yankees are so button-down and conservative that they would try and squelch anybody blogging. Eventually somebody will do one but nobody on the current team. I would be interested in what somebody like Mussina or Rivera would have to say. But it isn’t happening.

YFSF: A corollary: Is there a player on the team who strikes you as particularly thoughtful in a literary kind of way? Who’s most likely to have his nose caught in Updike on the flight out to Oakland?

PA: There are plenty of readers on the team but nobody who strikes me as literary. Mike Myers maybe. Matt DeSalvo, but he’s still in the minors.

YFSF: You referred to Alex’s recent WFAN interview as “50,000 Watts of exit strategy.” Great turn of phrase. Do you sometimes feel you’d be better off spending more time on long-form journalistic projects? Are there any of these, beyond the Wang book, in the offing?

PA: I love the day-to-day buzz of newspaper writing and have since I started writing when I was 16. I enjoyed writing the book and if I found a good subject, I would tackle one again. But I don’t think myself as a good writer. I am a good observer, a good researcher and a good interviewer. If I can present the fruit of those labors in some readable way, I’ve had a good day. But compared to wordsmiths like Tyler Kepner of the Times, I’m a hack.

YFSF: Getting back to Alex, given his issues playing in New York and the possibility that he exercises his option at the end of the year, do you think the Yanks would have been wise to have dealt him this past winter? What happens if he’s hitting .265 at the end of May or June, and not driving the ball out of the park? With the Yankee lineup, he’s going to be hitting with men on base constantly.

PA: I readily admit I can’t make up my mind about Alex. But given what he has said recently, the Yankees should have traded him over the winter. It’s clear to me that he will opt out after the season, meaning he will leave or cost millions more to retain. Even if he strruggles, he’ll never allow a trade at this point. As he said, it’s “do-or-die.” time now.

YFSF: You wrote that Hideki Matsui took the beat guys out for dinner this spring. Are there any players that reporters feel they can fraternize with, or is the wall there too high? Is it even a good idea for reporters to be so close to their subjects?

PA: I personally don’t fraternize with players very often, although I have had a few beers with players over the years. I think there should be some distance. Plus I never want to get too close to somebody I cover because that could cause me to think twice before criticizing them. Beyond that, very few want to hang with us. Most players tolerate the media to some degree but very few like us enough to hang out.

YFSF: How pervasive do you think PEDs are in the MLB these days? Should the League and the Union be doing more?

PA: These days? Not very pervasive. I think a lot of players have been scared straight. I think the MLBPA should agree to blood testing, if only to scare any remaining cheaters.

YFSF: How do you feel about the destruction of Yankee Stadium? I presume things will get a whole lot nicer for the press corps in the new digs. But will you miss the historic ballpark, both as a writer and a fan?

PA: I truly feel blessed when I sit down my seat in the press box at Yankee Stadium and look out over the field. It’s a great park. But I also have been there to sit in the seats and watch a game and it’s not a great experience, especially when compared to the parks in San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc. As a writer, I will miss it. When the bullpen doors opens and you hear “Enter Sandman” and Mo starts jogging to the mound, there’s no better place to be.

YFSF: What do you see happening with the Yankees post-Steinbrenner, and how close are we to that time (or are we already there)? What are your impressions of Steve Swindal?

PA: I think we are already at the post-Steinbrenner phase. His health is one of the most closely guarded stories in sports and that is obviously because it is fading. I believe that Brian Cashman, Randy Levine and Steve Swindal make 95 percent of the decisions and once George gives up his title or passes away, Swindal will be the man in charge with Cashman at his side. I like Steve a lot, his recent arrest aside. I think he will do what is right. But I don’t believe you’ll see the Yankees with a payroll $50 million higher than any other team.

YFSF: You’ve been fairly critical of the Boston moves this off-season. Do you see them falling behind the Jays again?

PA: I think Boston’s offense is a house of cards. They’re relying far too much on second-tier players in important positions. J.D. “Nancy” Drew will be a terrible fit. That said, the have great starters and it’s all about pitching. But how do you go into the season without a closer?

YFSF: Phil Hughes has had a disappointing spring thus far. What are your impressions of the man you’ve dubbed “Phil Franchise”? Should Yankee fans be worried about what they’ve seen?

PA: A few games in spring training does not a career make. Phil Franchise is the real deal and he will emerge better for the experience. In his last outing, he was one pitch away from a scoreless inning but the umpire missed it.

YFSF: Is this Joe’s last year? If so, who would you call the frontrunner to replace him as skipper, Girardi or Donnie Baseball?

PA: I hope it is not Joe’s last year but I fear it will be. Mattingly should get the nod given his hard work over recent seasons and his having learned so much from Joe. But Girardi is a Cashman kind of guy. If he gets hired, Girardi will need to adjust his personality. After so many years of Uncle Joe in charge, having the militaristic Girardi in charge could be a disaster.

Lightning Round

YFSF: Aside from Johnny Damon, the best interview on the Yanks is?

PA: Man, that’s a hard one. My personal favorite is Jason Giambi. But Mussina is great, too. They’re not nearly as bad as I feared.

YFSF: Clemens: returning or not and to whom?

PA: You kidding? Yes and to the Yankees in late May.

YFSF: Best game you’ve ever covered?

PA: Best game in anything? 1990 East Region semifinals, Tate George hits a shot at the buzzer to send UConn over Clemson at the Meadowlands. Best Yankee game? That is hard to say. Probably last season when Posada got run over at the plate then came back to hit the home run. Best event ever was Michael Johnson winning the 200 at the 1996 Olympics. Watching him make up the stagger in that turn was amazing to see. What an athlete.

YFSF: Carl Pavano will end the year on the ______________________.

PA: Disabled list of the Colorado Rockies.

YFSF: Least favorite ballpark? ML city?

PA: Shea Stadium. St. Louis or Milwaukee.

YFSF: Are you gonna leave us some day to go cover the Pats? God I hope not.

PA: No, the NFL is the one sport I can fully enjoy as a fan. I have Hannah, Vrabel and Bruschi jerseys and I love attending games with my family and friends. We went to Green Bay last season and had a ball. Covering the games would ruin that. Plus I hear covering the Pats is misery. I love living in New York and covering the Yankees is the most fun I have had in the business. Mainly because I know so many people care.

The Editors thank Peter for his time; we’ll be checking in with him as the season progresses. In the meantime, if you haven’t done so already, bookmark Pete’s Lohud Yankees Blog.

22 comments… add one
  • I’ve said a few times I think the Sox fan blogs are better than the Yankee blogs, but LoHud’s a very good blog.

    john March 19, 2007, 10:46 am
  • Great interview. My favorite part was about Rivera, and reading the interview with him that Pete did, it seems like he’s not ruling out spending his life in baseball, instead of becoming a missionary like he’s maintained over the past several years.
    Rivera, pitching after Jeter and A-Rod’s contracts are up? Happiness. Rivera becoming the Yankee pitching coach after he retires? Bliss.

    Andrew March 19, 2007, 10:46 am
  • You didn’t close the italics, YF.

    john March 19, 2007, 10:48 am
  • great interview. I agree with his analysis of Girardi as successor to Torre. I just don’t think Joe G is a good fit for a veteran ball club. Personally, I’ve never been drawn to Girardi. Kind of feel he’s humorless. I’m rooting for Mattingly to take the job when Torre’s gone.

    Nick-YF March 19, 2007, 11:51 am
  • The “house of cards” answer is hilarious and I will make sure it haunts him all year long..by the way “nancy” just happens to own five tools…

    buffalohead March 19, 2007, 3:42 pm
  • I just can’t get over the unnecessary, unsubstantiated hostility toward J.D. Drew. Is there a back story there?

    Paul SF March 19, 2007, 3:54 pm
  • Is there a back story there?
    Yes. It’s called his history of collapsing in the clutch and somehow magically landing on the DL year after year. Plus, the whole stunt he pulled in his draft days with Boras never really endeared him to the fans or writers.

    Ben K. March 19, 2007, 4:15 pm
  • “Yes. It’s called his history of collapsing in the clutch and somehow magically landing on the DL year after year. Plus, the whole stunt he pulled in his draft days with Boras never really endeared him to the fans or writers.”
    Yawn. Wake me when you’ve got something worth responding to.

    Paul SF March 19, 2007, 4:19 pm
  • Pete does a great job, and this is nitpicking, but why the “Nancy” comment? It seems beneath him.

    SF March 19, 2007, 4:35 pm
  • Drew’s Dodger teammates were the ones who started the Nancy thing.

    YF March 19, 2007, 4:36 pm
  • the red sox offense could be a “house of cards”. varitek, crisp, and pedroia aren’t scaring anyone. and i have no idea what peter abraham has against nancy drew comparing her to DL drew. her fans are going to really upset.

    randy l March 19, 2007, 5:28 pm
  • Drew’s Dodger teammates were the ones who started the Nancy thing.
    So what? That’s even more reason for him not to engage. It simply not a dignified comment from a beat writer.
    Again, I am nitpicking. Pete’s otherwise fantastic.

    SF March 19, 2007, 5:43 pm
  • These featured interviews are really enjoyable. Pete sure doesn’t back away from making controversial statements.

    attackgerbil March 19, 2007, 5:50 pm
  • Fellas: The Nancy Drew thing was started by the Dodgers. It’s just funny, you have to admit. That’s all. I have nothing against J.D. But I do know the people who sit in the seats at Fenway and his emotionless style will not play well in the Hub.
    Then again, if he hits nobody will care. Manny is a clown and he walks on water there.

    Pete Abraham March 19, 2007, 10:56 pm
  • “Then again, if he hits nobody will care.”
    That’s definitely the crux of the question. Considering the course of his career, this could easily be reworded: “If he’s healthy, nobody will care,” because when Drew is healthy, he hits. He’s had a great spring, and I’m betting he has a great season, but we shall see…
    Thanks again for taking the time, Pete. We SFs enjoy yoiur work and respect you, even if we quibble from time to time.

    Paul SF March 19, 2007, 11:11 pm
  • I don’t know, Pete. If the Dodgers players started this as an insult then I don’t see why it’s dignified for a reporter to continue to repeat the insult, particularly as an insult. On the other hand, if Drew isn’t bothered by it and actually found it kind of funny, then it’s no big deal. Do you have an insight as to how the “Nancy” quip was received? Or is Drew so emotionless that you could call him “Himmler” and he wouldn’t care?
    As for the “emotionless” thing driving Sox fans nuts, I think it all depends on the way the player exerts effort on the field. If he hustles, I don’t care if he smiles, I don’t care if he spits and curses. Jack Clark was pretty emotional, and his act tired quickly. Wade Boggs took time to emerge from a kind of robotic shell, and I (along with most people I knew) revered the guy and relished watching him play. So there’s no hard and fast rule for what kind of player is loved. “Emotionless” and “lazy” are not synonymous, but I fear that this is the subtext of the deployment of the “emotionless” tag with regards to Drew. If he is, in fact, lazy, then there’s going to be a big problem. If he works his ass off but doesn’t emote, then so what, and I think Sox fans will get this. Not all of them, but a good number of them.

    SF March 20, 2007, 6:58 am
  • Sox Fans, I can’t help but think that if Pete Abraham had called A-Rod “A-Fraud” you would think it is hilarious. Lighten up on the “it’s undignified” thing. Your own Boston media will be saying much worse about Drew if (when?) he lands on the DL this season.

    Nemecizer March 20, 2007, 9:32 am
  • Blech. If a professional beat writer called Rodriguez “A-fraud” I’d wince. That’s the territory of certain kinds of sportswriters, and I can’t stand that type of stuff.
    This isn’t a Yanks/Sox thing.

    Anonymous March 20, 2007, 11:26 am
  • That was me.

    SF March 20, 2007, 11:27 am
  • Yawn. Wake me when you’ve got something worth responding to.
    You asked; I answered. I didn’t say it was my view of Drew. I think that, when healthy, he’s one helluva a ballplayer. Seriously, there was no need for you to be a such a prick about it.

    Ben K. March 20, 2007, 4:32 pm
  • Your own Boston media will be saying much worse about Drew if (when?) he lands on the DL this season.
    Sadly, our own media already have said some of this stuff about Drew, and we’ve called them for it too. It’s a respect for the people who play the game thing, nothing more or less.

    Paul SF March 20, 2007, 5:41 pm
  • Peter, this is the most important question in Yankees history which has never been answered. If you’re in spring training and run into Whitey Ford, please ask him this question. What happened during spring training of 1960 when he and Mickey Mantle were rescued from St. Peterburg Bay by the coast guard? Supposedly, the yacht they were on caught fire and sank. There was a party on the yacht. What happened on board? How did the fire start? How many people were on board? Why was this subject never in any of Mantle’s books for Ford’s book “Slick.” I bought the book solely for the purpose of finding out. Did they both have too much to drink and forgot the details? I think this question is more important that Babe Ruth’s illness during spring training of 1925.

    Ralph Garcia March 21, 2007, 8:19 am

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