We all have people in our lives who set us on a righteous path.
For me, as a journalist, that person was Joe Lombardi.
Way back in the early months of 1990, I wrote a report card of the Mahopac High boys’ basketball team for our school newspaper, The Chieftain. After it ran, I was called into the office of Gerry Keevins, the athletic director. Thus began my first (of many) writing-related butt kickings.
Hurt and bloodied, I wrote a letter to Joe, who was 23-years old and the sports editor of our local weekly, The Patent Trader. Joe responded with a polite-yet-pointed note, explaining why it’s wrongâ€”at any levelâ€”to give grades to high school athletes. He was, of course, 100 percent correct.
What ensued, I’m thrilled to say, was a lengthy friendship that has lasted through today. I interned for Joe at the Trader, and still often seek his counsel and advice. He was one of the first to call me “Pearl,” and when I was young and poor took me to a Jewish deli in Mt. Kisco for pickles and whitefish on rye. We’re stubborn political opposites who have traveled different paths (Joe spent much time as an editor and TV personality), but I’ll always be loyal to the man. Without his help and guidance, I’m pumping gas (not that anything’s wrong with pumping gas). He took a shot on me when I was nothing but a snot-nosed high schooler with a puny vocabulary and no prom date.
Anyhow, Joe wrote the following piece for today’s North County News. As always, he’s The Man …
|Accomplished author Pearlman returns|
By Joe Lombardi
Iâ€™m working on my first book right now.
So I knew I needed to get some advice. And I knew just where to go.
It just so happens heâ€™s also the first intern I ever hired â€” way back in the days when I was a 23-year-old working as sports editor of three weekly newspapers in Westchester, Putnam and Fairfield.
I got a letter from this Mahopac High School senior named Jeff Pearlman.
â€œI asked you what you thought, and you didnâ€™t agree with me,â€ Pearlman said. â€œYou said, â€˜You donâ€™t do report cards for high school players.â€™ â€
The conversation got us talking â€” which led to a summer internship before Pearlman headed off to the University of Delaware.
â€œI really learned what journalism is about,â€ he said. â€œI think I learned how to interview. I learned how to report. I remember sitting at the computer with you getting advice. I donâ€™t do anything Iâ€™ve done without that internship. That led me on the path. It was everything.â€
Hearing him say that made we wonder what exactly it was I taught him since I wasnâ€™t much older than he was at the time.
â€œItâ€™s really crazy,â€ he said. â€œYou running a sports section at that age. You pulled it off well. For me, it was great because you were young. It wasnâ€™t like having a heavy-handed 40 year old telling me what to do.â€
Now though, the roles are reversed, and Iâ€™m the one seeking advice and input.
â€œThere had never been a definitive biography on him,â€ Pearlman said. â€œThe steroid part was the least significant part for me.â€
Among the aspects of Clemensâ€™ life Pearlman did find interesting:
â€¢ Clemens had a 10-year affair with Mindy McCready, a country singer.
When he was growing up, the librarian there, knowing his love of sports writing, would reserve any new sports book that came in for him. Itâ€™s also the place where he voraciously devoured scores of issues of the magazine he later went on to write for, Sports Illustrated, where he wrote the controversial interview with former Atlanta Braves wild child John Rocker.