So I spent yesterday afternoon driving around Nashville with Catherine Mayhew, the woman who kindly hired me out of college to write for The Tennessean. And it really got me thinking: Without Catherine bringing me to the real world, my career wouldn’t have gone so (relatively) swimmingly. There have been highs and lows and ups and downs, but ultimately I’ve been able to enjoy two decades of journalistic joy. Much of that is due to Catherine taking a shot on a young, immature punk from the University of Delaware.
Anyhow, I’ve been fortunate to have tons upon tons of people help with my career. So last night, while flying home, I compiled a list. We all have them, obviously—people who contributed to making the run better, happier, smoother.
• Joe Lombardi: During my senior year of high school I wrote a letter to the sports editor of our local newspaper, The Patent Trader. I complained about this and that—and he called me back. And we struck up a conversation. Before long, I was writing for Joe. He let me cover all the area high school sports, and stood behind my shoulder making corrections, offering wisdom. Joe was only six or seven years my senior, but he was an invaluable guru. And he gave me that first opportunity. Which, truly, is something everyone needs.
• Chuck Stone: When I arrived at Delaware, Chuck was my intro journalism professor. He was a larger-than-life figure with a bow tie and a gray flat top. He had this amazing history in the field, and told story after story. His big line was “Walk right in …”—as in, walk right in to a story. Chuck inspired me in ways few have. RIP.
• Bill Fleischman: Bill was a well-known sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, and at Delaware he was my teacher, mentor and friend. He lived what I aspired to live, and genuinely wanted to see his student achieve. To this day, he’s one of my all-time favorite humans beings.
• Laura Fasbach: I met Laura in Chuck’s Intro to Journalism class. We were both freshmen from New York, and we had these huge dreams of conquering journalism. Which, in hindsight, is silly and absurd. But Laura and I challenged one another, pushed one another, supported one another.
• Greg Orlando: Still the best singular writer I know. Greg and I worked for the student newspaper, and I stole (and still use) about 8,000 of his lines and words. He was 25 steps ahead of the rest of us—and still is.
• Mike Freeman: So Mike had been editor of The Review, the student newspaper, about six years before I came along, and by the time I reached Delaware he was covering the Giants for the New York Times. Mike was the gold standard. I read everything he wrote; dug through old copies of the student newspaper to study his phrases and ledes and such. When, as a senior, I sent him my clips, he replied with a detailed breakdown.
• Steve Buckley: Steve’s a well-known Boston sports columnist, but back in 1993 he was a writer at Boston Magazine. I applied there for an internship, and while I didn’t land a gig, I did receive a two-page full breakdown of my clips, as well as oodles of advice. Toward the end of his letter, Steve wrote, “You’re going to be a player in this game.” I’ve never forgotten that.
• Jean McDonald: After my sophomore year I snagged an internship at the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette in Illinois. I was cocky and awful, and the staff rightly hated me. I ignored advice, complained about other writers. Again—a complete and total asshole of a human. Anyhow, at the end of the summer Jean, who was the paper’s sports editor, wrote me a scathing letter about growing up and working with others. I still have it. Invaluable smack to the face.
• Rick Jervis: So after my junior year of college I interned at The Tennessean in Nashville. There were a bunch of us—including a kid from Miami named Rick Jervis. Rick was a University of Florida student, and he was insanely talented. We spent that summer fighting for clips, comparing notes, ledes, graphs, etc. He was my first frival (friend-rival), and an amazing measuring stick.
• Catherine Mayhew: I was an asshole. A real asshole. Coming out of Delaware I was cocky, rude and I didn’t have the slightest clue how to report. But Catherine took a shot on me, because she wanted The Tennessean features section to be—in her words—”more lively.” I suppose I was lively. Without that chance … well, I had one other job offer, and it was covering crops for a newspaper in Idaho …
• Patrick Connolly: My first direct editor at The Tennessean. He was a kind, decent, soft-spoken man; a far cry from the can’t-touch-this nonsense of college. Patrick could not have been more patient or supportive—even when I pitched a piece on condoms, then led with the image of me and my girlfriend having sex. His example of humility still resonates.
• Neal Scarbrough: I ultimately made my way to the sports section, and Neal was my editor. There was a night when I complained about not covering better beats, and—as we stood in The Tennessean parking lot—Neal just lit into me about professionalism and my lack thereof. Again—needed.
• Bambi Wulf: She was the woman who hired me at Sports Illustrated as a reporter. For me, this was HUGE. She told me that a certain colleague once complained about how SI only promoted Ivy League alum. Her reply: “You know Pearlman went to Delaware, right?”
• Bill Colson: He was the managing editor at Sports Illustrated during most of my time there. Gave me shot after shot after shot to write. Also a man of character and substance.
• Rival X: Out of respect I’m not going to name this person—who isn’t a bad guy in 2016. But back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I worked as a reporter at SI. I was one of, oh, 15 people trying to work up the pole from fact checker to staff writer—and I was getting lots of opportunity. So one day Rival X (who had been repeatedly mean to me and others) entered my office after I was promoted. My girlfriend was sitting there with me, and he said, “Jeff, everyone here knows that are a lot more talented people than you.” I have never, ever, ever been more motivated by a single sentence.
• Tom Verducci: Tom is the best baseball writer in America. When I was at SI, I was given his scraps (he covered the Yankees, I’d get the Mets). It was bliss, because watching Tom work a clubhouse, interview a manager was a PhD-level class in reporting.
• Mike Bevans: Mike was the SI baseball editor—and he was terrifying. Half of writing was out of self-satisfaction, half was of not having him scream at you. This was a surprising powerful motivator. (Best Bevans line: “Pearlman, if we wanted to give Barry Bonds a blow job, we would have flown him to New York).
• Susan Reed: I’m working at SI, and this woman calls. She’s an agent, and she says, 1. “Have you ever thought about writing books?” 2. “How about a book about the ’86 Mets?” She only repped me briefly, but it was a career changer.
• David Black: My agent for the past decade, and a guy who fights and fights and fights for you.
• Bill Eichenberger: Bill is my editor at Bleacher Report, and he’s the best I’ve ever had. He’s re-ignited my interest in writing long form, and is a superb reminder that editors aren’t just there to poop in your soup. If you’re lucky, you’ll have four or five strong editorial backers in your life. That’s Bill
* In no order. Family members not included. Also, I’m sure there are 200 others I could have also named. My bad if you feel slighted.