LET'S WELCOME SPORTS WRITER & THE AUTHOR OF : Almost Perfect – JOE COX
First, let me say thank you for agreeing to this interview. You are, our first sports author who agreed and for that I am grateful. I am glad it is baseball too.
Rad-Reader: How long did you have the idea for this book and did you take a rough draft to a publisher first?
Joe: The ideas for my books tend to kind of germinate over time. I’ve already read a bunch, and over time, it’s gone from “I wish somebody would write a book about such and such” to “Maybe I could write a book about such and such.” That’s the case here. I read a couple books on perfect games but always wondered about the guys who didn’t quite make it to a perfect game. It was probably a year from having the idea to getting an agent to selling the book. With another year of researching, writing, and then getting the book out. I didn’t draft the whole book, did kind of an outline and a sample chapter or actually two, I think.
Rad-Reader: From the very first chapter when you are talking about George “Hooks” Wiltse, you weave the history of baseball into the chapter, with McGraw, John Bartsch, and Christy Mathewson. Was that planned or did it just work out that way?
Joe: It was planned. I liked the stories of the pitchers themselves and of their almost-perfect games, but I realized very quickly that to anchor it to a big enough concept to make the book work, I had to use the pitchers and games as kind of a jumping off point to talk about old-time baseball or integration or Japanese baseball. It did usually flow pretty naturally, which when you write non-fiction, feels like some sort of divine blessing on your work.
Rad-Reader: How much time in research did it take you to find the games for this book?
Joe: Finding the games literally took 15 minutes. Baseball is such a stat-obsessed sport that somebody has a list of everything. I mean, I can go to baseball-reference.com right now and in 30 seconds, give you a ranked list of the most hits by a left-handed player whose last name starts with Z. It’s a little crazy.
Rad-Reader: The pictures and information from the Baseball Hall of Fame, is that something you could request or did you need to go there?
Joe: You can request it from them, and they literally get older people who will call in and ask them for the scores of the previous night’s ballgames. But it is a wonderful place to go and do research. If you give them some advance notice and an idea of what you’re looking for, it is amazing what they can find.
Rad-Reader: How did you decide how much information was put into each chapter?
Joe: Pragmatically, I knew I had 16 chapters (although it was 15 when I started) and was supposed to deliver around 75,000 words. So, I tried to hold it under 5,000 per chapter. I usually found that by the time I talked about the pitcher, the ballgame, and one other issue, it worked out to be 4,000-5,000 words.
Rad-Reader: Do you have an opinion on any of the umpires in the book?
Joe: Certainly. Baseball balances this romantic notion of fallible human officiating with the fact that people want the right calls to be made. Umpires work incredibly hard and are insanely good at what they do. A few times, they miss a call and very occasionally, it costs a pitcher history. When that happens, the umpire usually feels worst. Except for Bruce Froemming, I guess, but you’ll have to read the whole book to get to that.
Rad-Reader: When did you actually start writing this book?
Joe: I sent my first agent query in May 2014. The sample chapter was written sometime before October… so yeah, actually, there’s a gap of about two and a half years between the pen hitting paper and the book coming out. See, it’s good that I did this interview. I didn’t even realize it was that long. I wrote another book while I was trying to get this one picked up.
Rad-Reader: Do you think Baseball still would have gone to replay if it wasn’t for the game Armand Galarraga had pitched?
Joe: Probably, although Galarraga was a good human example of why it was worth doing. Everybody, up to the POTUS, saw the man flat out getting screwed by a bad call—by a great umpire, who felt terrible when he saw what had happened. If you’re passionate about getting replay, that’s your perfect storm right there.
Rad-Reader: Were you surprised by the fans reaction the next day towards Jim Joyce or do you think being baseball fans had anything to do with showing support?
Joe: I was shocked. It’s moments like that, when you expect sports fans to embody the worst in human behavior, to boo, to throw crap, when instead, everybody gets it. Who hasn’t screwed up? What would be the best thing to do? How about you cheer a guy who is honorable in his worst moment? I was proud to be a baseball fan that day.
Rad-Reader: When you were setting up each chapter and giving the background of the player and teams how did you decide when to go into more detail about the history of the game? For example, Curt Flood?
Joe: Well, the players kind of determined those angles. In reading through a pitcher’s story, there would be these little angles that would present themselves. Some of them could have gone a couple of different ways, but you pick one that is worth talking about and tie it in. Every person who plays baseball for a living relates to Curt Flood. He’s the man who had the courage to say that the United States government regards him as a free man, why does baseball treat him like a slave by binding him to one team that could pay him whatever they wanted? If you make $10 million to play baseball now, be aware that Curt Flood sacrificed a lot (his career was basically ended) to help that to happen.
Rad-Reader: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Joe: I think so. I grew up in eastern Kentucky and really, I never knew people who wrote books. I read books. I knew that somebody had to write them. I met a guy named Jamie Vaught—I write for his website now-- who wrote a book about Kentucky basketball. And it just blew my mind. It all grew from there. I was 31 and had a wife and a kid and practiced law when my good friend Ryan Clark asked me for help on a book of his. I helped—ended up co-writing it, and here we are. You know, one thing I hope that my own kids and really that anybody who reads my stuff takes away is that you can do this. There are certain minimum requirements of being able to write reasonably well. But beyond that, go for broke. The walls that used to exist in our society are crumbling. You can research things from your living room. You can talk to intelligent, influential people on the Internet. If you have a creative spark, go with it. Write a book. Make an album. Take photographs and share them on the Internet. Live the life that you want.
Rad-Reader: Did you have to cut any of the chapters down from your original writing?
Joe: Very minimally. I write columns online so I’m fairly aware of how wordy I’m being. There’s usually a little trimming in my work, but what you see at the end is usually very close to where it began.
Rad-Reader: Was there any one of these stories that were your personal favorite that you wrote about?
Joe: Brian Holman’s story is pretty special. We’re talking about a guy who is a pretty good young pitcher—almost throws a perfect game. Hurts his arm. Is out of baseball before 30. Adopts a little girl with his wife. Loses the little girl to leukemia. Goes through his biological son having a brain tumor. And sees the beauty within his own struggle. His other daughter, when we talked, was completing training to be a pediatric oncology nurse. That’s how you can use tragedy, I think. There are people in the world who would lose a daughter or a sister and would fall into doubt and despair. And there are people who will use what they learned to be a better person with whatever time they have left. The son ended up becoming a professional pitcher too, by the way. Brian was the first guy I talked to for this book, and again, it was one of those moments of confirmation that there were stories worth telling.
Rad-Reader: I think Haddix is more famous for what he did and what happened than if he would have pitched a perfect game, what are your thoughts?
Joe: Yeah, I think Milt Pappas said that in the book. A lot of those guys have at least wondered that. If so, it’s entirely deserved. To be able to get at least 26 major league batters in a row out is phenomenal. The more I study the game, the more I realize that stepping onto the pitcher’s mound or into the batter’s box is itself a giant mark of honor. It is such an unforgiving game, and oddly, that’s part of what makes it beautiful.
Rad-Reader: The forward in the front of the book by Jim Bunning, was that something you were able to get him to do personally?
Joe: I interviewed him and wrote it up from his interview and sent it to him for approval. He was gracious enough to share his time, but he was 80-some years old, and I didn’t feel like asking him to write it out.
Rad-Reader: Did you find the players and umpires that were still alive open and okay with talking about the game?
Joe: I tried to interview every living pitcher in the almost-perfect group. One died before we could do the interview, and otherwise, I got six out of eleven. It’s hard to reach these guys. I didn’t talk to the umpires, solely because the two who were alive had already talked about their experiences pretty thoroughly.
Rad-Reader: Was setting up the interviews different or just having to work around schedules?
Joe: It’s incredibly hard. The thing is that when I can actually talk to guys, it’s rewarding. They have great insight, I enjoy it, they seem to enjoy it. But tracking them down. Phew.
Rad-Reader: Are you working on another book yet, if so what is it and what is it dealing with? Baseball or a different sport?
Joe: Funny that you ask, I just sent a manuscript in for publication next February. It is another baseball one. It’s going to be called The Immaculate Inning, with a very long subtitle. It’s kind of similar in that it’s a book about baseball feats—someone game feats, some season-long things. But I’m talking about 30 different feats, so lots and lots of stories, and more photos than Almost Perfect.
I’ve got Jessica Mendoza from ESPN committed to doing the foreword which is very exciting. She’s a brilliant broadcaster (I could call her a young broadcaster, but I might be pandering because I think we’re the same age).
Rad-Reader: I believe when my wife was trying to find you for and interview she says you and friend have a radio show. Can you tell us about it?
Joe: I did have a podcast for a while. I initially wanted to be the guy calling the ball game on the radio, but I hated the curriculum and mistakenly thought that people still made money in law without working 100-hour weeks. I do a ton of podcasts and even the occasional TV show. I may do podcasting again. I’ve had a blog at times, but between being busy and the really toxic political climate right now, it’s hard for me to consider that.
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers buy your books?
Joe: All the usual spots, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million. Distribution on any of my books is kind of hit and miss, but there’s always the Internet. And if somebody would like a personalized signed copy of something, shoot me an e-mail and I can try to help out. I usually have a handful of extras sitting around.
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers find you on the Web?
Joe: Probably the best way to keep up is Twitter (@KyJoeCox and @AlmostPerfectBk) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). By all means, if you have a question, want to interview me or do a podcast, or even want to read one of my books for your book club, I’m glad to help out however I can. People were nice to me when I got into this business, so if I can return the favor, I will try to do so. If you happen to like college football, I write for SaturdayDownSouth.com, which cover SEC football, and for my old buddy Jamie Vaught over at kysportsstyle.com.
Thank you so much for your time. I enjoyed your book. You are now a 1 Rad-Reader Misfit my wife nabs everyone no sense in running. Just smile and don't struggle it's just better that way. :)
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