EO: This week’s The Conversation is with Stacey Gotsulias. Stacey is co-editor of Its About the Money, the New York Yankees site in ESPN’s Sweetspot Network. She has previously written at Aerys Sports, the only online sports network run entirely by women, and for High Heat Stats. She is also, I think, my most active follow on Twitter with just about a quarter of a million tweets.
Now, obviously the Yankees need no introduction, being the baseball behemoth that they are. However, being the Yankees, there is certainly never a dull moment and always plenty to discuss.
First of all, Stacey, welcome to The Conversation. Let’s get started by asking what first got you into baseball, not the writing side more the game itself?
SG: My father introduced me to baseball. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, but my father was always watching sports and since I was the first-born child, and we lived in a tiny NYC apartment at the time, I was always with him. I can actually recall lying in bed and hearing games as a toddler because my room was right next to the living room. I’m pretty sure I overheard Reggie Jackson’s three home run game in 1977 but just didn’t realize it at the time.
EO: That was certainly an interesting time in New York. I’m actually just about to start Jonathan Mahler’s book ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning’ about that very season!
SG: I don’t remember too much about 1977 or 1978, baseball wise at least, because I turned 3 in ’77 and 4 in ’78. 1978 was a big year for me personally – I gained a baby brother and we moved out of our apartment and into a house. I, unfortunately, lost my father this past fall, but I loved hearing his stories about the late 1970’s Yankees. I’d laugh when he talked about how much he disliked George Brett and the Royals. My father was actually lucky enough to be in attendance for Game 3 of ’78 World Series when Graig Nettles made a bunch of crazy plays at third and helped the Yankees get their first win of that series.
EO: As a complete baseball nerd, I find all talk about bygone days fascinating. I’m also a massive cricket fan and the two games have very definite parallels, especially when it comes to writing. It must be the time during the game when nothing happens that means spectators have to think, have to ponder, have to decide for themselves ‘what would I do here?’ These two sports have the best literature surrounding them amongst all games throughout the world. And it’s no accident. What made you decide that writing about baseball was something you’d like to get involved in?
SG: I’ve always liked to write and I’ve always liked baseball, but for a while, my real life and real job got in the way. Then, blogging became a way for just about anyone to write about anything they wanted. I started off years ago (2000) writing about my life, working in the city (New York), living in the city, and occasionally talking about baseball on a Yahoo! Geocities site that I turned into a makeshift blog. To be honest, I was afraid of really trying to write about baseball. I’m not very confident and was always fearful of rejection. In fact, when Julie DiCaro, the founder of Aerys Sports, started tweeting and asking people if they knew of any ladies interested in writing about the Yankees, I wasn’t even going to apply. I retweeted her original call for writers to my followers and didn’t think about it again until a couple of days later. I think I may have asked a friend for advice and then decided, “Why not?” So I got in touch with her and the rest, as they say, is history.
EO: You mention there that you’re not a very confident person naturally. I know from reading your work that you suffer from mental illness. I do myself and I know other writers who are in the same boat. Do you find it easier to communicate through the written word rather than spoken and has writing become almost a release for you? The fact that you write about baseball is perhaps neither here nor there. Ok, it’s a subject you’re particularly passionate about, and that’s a bonus, but is it the very act of writing that’s the attraction?
SG: I have a much easier time expressing myself through my writing and it is definitely cathartic for me. There are a lot of us out there who struggle with mental illness and I first came out to a wide audience in 2012 when I wrote a piece for Graham Womack’s Baseball: Past and Present site about baseball and mental illness. I wrote about guys like Marty Bergen, Jimmy Piersall, Zack Greinke, Dontrelle Willis and Charlie Faust. I let people who only knew me from Twitter, strangers and some friends know that day that I had Bipolar Disorder. I remember being terrified after I submitted the piece and I was even more nervous when it was published but I received nothing but positive responses.
When I first started blogging about baseball, I had so many ideas and my “claim to fame” among the Aerys writers was my article titles. During my days there, recaps were my thing. I looked forward to watching the game and then telling the game story in a unique and sometimes homorous way. Now, I let someone else do it. It even got to the point where some of the ladies from other sports would ask me for my help coming up with witty titles for their pieces.
I really love writing about baseball and it seems to help me with my illness a bit as well. It also helps having a routine for the season. That’s very important for someone with Bipolar Disorder.
EO: Just getting a bit of recognition or maybe a lone comment from someone you don’t know from Adam that they enjoyed your article can be an enormous boost to anyone, never mind somebody who doesn’t feel great about themselves. Not only do you have this illness but, pointing out the obvious, you are also a woman! I’m not sure there could be a more ‘masculine’ environment than sports. What’s it like writing in such a, presumably, chauvinistic world?
SG: I’ve been extremely lucky. I haven’t had any awful experiences because I’m a woman who writes about baseball. I know other female writers who have had some awful things said to them and about them either on Twitter and even in the comment sections of the sites where they post their work, but for some reason, I have not run into that problem. Thank goodness. When I do see it happening to other female writers, I stick up for them.
EO: Again going back to cricket, there are an awful lot more women, in my experience, who seem to gravitate towards the game than some other sports, especially to the point of fanaticism. Maybe this is because there’s a bit more subtlety to the sport I don’t know, or maybe that’s just me being a man and assuming I know what makes a woman tick. Do you think there is something about baseball that is uncommonly appealing to a woman or am I trying to read more into it than is actually the case?
SG: Hmmm, I’m not sure about that because I’m friends with more than a few women who favor the NFL over baseball because they find the latter too slow and boring. I personally don’t mind slow and “boring.” I like sitting at a game and relaxing, scoring it, looking around and soaking it all in. I feel like I can’t do that with the other major sports. Something is always happening in other sports. In football, they’re moving up and down the field; in basketball, it’s a frenzy to get the ball into the basket and in hockey the puck is constantly moving. Don’t get me wrong, I like football, hockey and basketball but I am at my happiest watching baseball.
EO: Let’s move onto the Yankees. It’s been a very odd couple of years for the old powerhouse. For just about every season you’ve covered them they have made the postseason. Not recently though. Whilst still very much towards the top of the payroll league, since George Steinbrenner died, the team has been a little more careful with its money. There are some obvious holes within the club but still an awful lot of talent. How do you see the season going?
SG: I honestly don’t know. Last year, I predicted the team would go 84-78 and that’s the exact record they ended up with. This year, things aren’t as clear to me. I think the key for the 2015 roster is health, obviously. If everyone stays healthy, the team actually has a chance to be okay and could squeak into the playoffs as one of the wild cards. But, if we see a repeat of 2013 and 2014 with regards to injuries, they may miss the playoffs for a third year in a row. And if injuries do plague the roster, the fans may get the chance to see some of the kids that are on the cusp of making the big leagues. There are some exciting players down in the Yankees’ farm system, contrary to popular belief, so if the season goes to hell, that could be fun to watch.
EO: I’m a Mariners fan so my views are always going to be laced with bias when it comes to Alex Rodriguez. I’m therefore not going to lead you at all in this question! Is it good to have him back or is his presence a sideshow preventing the Yankees from moving in the direction they wish?
SG: I love having him back. I’m an A-Rod supporter all the way and always have been.
EO: The most recent great Yankee team was underpinned by a large core of home-grown talent. It’s something a large proportion of successful teams in any sport throughout the world seem to have. Today’s squad doesn’t have that. You mention some exciting youngsters in the system. Are we going to have to wait for these guys to come through before major success returns to the Bronx or can the old boys, Teixeira, A-Rod, CC deliver? Baseball has become such a crapshoot if you make the postseason that just getting there and buying a ticket means you have as much chance as the next team.
One of the great truisms of sport is that in order for the game as a whole to thrive you need the biggest clubs to be good. The Yankees are always going to be baseball’s biggest name and so a winning Yankee team is good for everything MLB. Good God I excel in the damn awful question. Let’s start over. What needs to go right for the Yankees to really challenge in 2015, aside from health that you already adhered to?
SG: In order for the Yankees to challenge in 2015, aside from their health, would be for all of the other teams in the A.L. East to have health problems of their own. Just kidding! I think it’s possible for there to be a mix of young and old players, kind of like how it was in the late 90s-00s dynasty days. It wasn’t all home-grown players. You had guys like Paul O’Neill, Joe Girardi, Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch who played alongside Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. It’s possible that we can see that sort mix as early as this season. Not sure if that would help things but it could be interesting to watch. You mentioned A-Rod, CC and Tex and so far, out of those three players, the only one having problems is CC. (BTW I just knocked on wood.)
EO: It would be remiss of me not to mention the Captain. How odd is it not to have Derek Jeter out there in his pinstripes each day? Is there a big void or am I being a bit over-sentimental?
SG: It’s pretty strange but I actually don’t feel like there’s a big void. That’s my personal feeling. I don’t know how others are feeling about it but there doesn’t seem to be this whole, “Oh my gosh I miss Jeter so much!” type of thing happening. I also think his injury plagued 2013 season actually helped most of us adjust to him not being around this season. 2014 was a long goodbye and it was time.
EO: One final question, Stacey. I try not to get too wrapped up in Hall of Fame arguments but I have two guys who I desperately want to get in. One is Edgar Martinez, I wonder why, and the other is Tim Raines. The Yankees got three sub par years at the end of Raines’ career but I wondered if you might be able to recount a story or two from his time in New York.
SG: One of my favorite games of the 1998 season occurred on May 19. Most people won’t recognize the date but Yankee fans do. Two days earlier, David Wells, threw a perfect game against the Twins, and on the 19th, the Yankees were facing the Orioles. It was normal Tuesday night game until the bottom of the 8th inning. With the Yankees down 5-4, the Orioles brought Armando Benitez into the game to pitch to Bernie Williams. There were two runners on base thanks to Norm Charlton and Sidney Ponson and Williams hit a home run to put the Yankees up 7-5. Benitez immediately beaned Tino Martinez with a fastball between the numbers which touched off a brawl of epic proportions involving players on the field, the benches and the bullpens. After the game was delayed for 10 minutes, Bobby Muńoz came in to pitch to Tim Raines who deposited the first pitch he saw from Muńoz into the right field seats to put the Yankees up 9-5. I loved that after all that chaos, Raines just stepped into the box and hit a bomb. I also loved the last play of Game 4 of the 1996 World Series when Raines fell down on the warning track in Atlanta-Fulton Country Stadium making the catch. I especially loved Tim McCarver’s reaction to it because he was laughing on the air.
By the way, I agree with you and think that both Edgar Martinez and Raines should be in the Hall of Fame.
EO: Wonderful. I can just sense your enjoyment oozing off the page/screen whatever things ooze off!! I lied about that being the last question. As we’ve been chatting, Masahiro Tanaka has gone on the DL. It’s not season ending, yet. But what has been your reading of his injury and how the Yankees have handled it? All the evidence points to getting the surgery done, and as soon as possible, yet he has been given the opportunity to try and work through it. This has been inevitable hasn’t it?
SG: The latest injury is to his wrist, not his elbow though the wrist strain could be a precursor to something more. Here’s the thing about his elbow: The Yankees had him go to three specialists last season and every single one of them said that TJ surgery wasn’t necessary. I don’t know of many people who would go to a doctor, let alone three, have the doctors say, “You don’t need surgery,” and say in response to all three of them, “You know what, you guys? I’m going to not listen to you and I think I’m going to have the surgery anyway!”