Fast Pitch 

Rocker rocked by former 'Tennessean' scribe

Rocker rocked by former 'Tennessean' scribe

In his brief stint at The Tennessean from mid-1994 to late-1996, a green Jeff Pearlman bounced from beat to beat, committing the kinds of factual and contextual errors that prompt young journalists to consider other career options. But Pearlman was by all accounts an exceptional writer and after reviving a floundering career at the paper’s sports section, he took an entry level job at Sports Illustrated. Now, only three years removed from reporting on prep sports for The Tennessean, Pearlman has penned one of the most controversial profiles in recent memory—a devastating feature on Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker.

In the story, Rocker makes insulting, if not bigoted, remarks about nearly every citizen in New York City and elsewhere, including gays, immigrants, blacks, people who dye their hair purple, subway commuters, Asian women, single moms, and, in his one keen observation, Mets fans. He also called an unidentified black teammate a ”fat monkey,“ insinuated that his manager lied to reporters, bemoaned having to speak to a class of disabled children, and casually insulted the defensive capabilities of the team’s back-up shortstop. And all of this he said to SI reporter Jeff Pearlman, himself a New York native, who dutifully documented Rocker’s comments as he and the pitcher were driving down Atlanta’s Route 400.

Naturally, the story made national headlines while providing enough instant fodder for the cable TV chat culture for a near eternity. And interestingly enough, neither Braves officials nor Rocker himself has claimed that the pitcher was misquoted nor even suggested that his comments were taken out of context. All of which suggests that Pearlman’s profile was a slam dunk—a searing and accurate exposé of an obnoxious, hateful athlete.

In his time at 1100 Broadway, Pearlman, a very competitive reporter, wasn’t always the most popular member of the newsroom. But in light of his recent coup of a story, at least some of his former colleagues at The Tennessean have some complimentary things to say about him.

”He was a nice guy with a good sense of humor,“ Tennessean managing editor David Green recalls. ”He was very ambitious and very interested in good writing.“

Adds senior sports writer David Climer, ”He never wanted to write the routine story. I think that’s good. I think that’s how we should approach our jobs.“

But while Pearlman’s short-lived Tennessean career included some memorable features—Climer notes that it was Pearlman who wrote the definitive Peyton Manning piece—it was also marked by some embarrassing journalism, most of which was eagerly chronicled by then-Scene media critic Henry Walker. In one memorable op-ed piece, Pearlman wrote that ”private, Christian-run schools are a bad idea.“ As evidence, he reported that a mother at a school basketball game shouted at opposing players, ”Hey, you A-Head!!! That’s right, you’re an A-Head.“ Pearlman conceded he did not know what an ”A-Head“ was, but nevertheless assumed it was a mean thing to say about someone. Turns out, witnesses told the Scene that the woman was berating the opposing team for running up the score. ”Hey, you’re ahead!!!“ she yelled repeatedly. ”That’s right, you’re ahead!!!“

Even Climer acknowledges that Pearlman was, at times, a tad erratic. ”I think Jeff, like any young reporter, was not as careful about things as he should have been.“ But give The Tennessean credit. For once the paper recognized a talent and allowed him to develop, albeit painfully. That he was poorly edited is undeniable, but at the very least the paper helped nurture his growth from an oft-ridiculed reporter to the author of perhaps the most talked about story in America.

Parting words

Shelbyville, Tenn., native and New York Times reporter Robert McGill Thomas Jr., who brought a rare sense of nuance and personality to obituary writing, died last week after a battle with abdominal cancer. In a suitable tribute, The New York Times penned a loving obituary that featured some of Thomas’ best work. While Thomas usually extracted a routine or even obscure aspect of a person’s personality to depict a life well-lived, he could be brutally honest. In writing about a painter and jazz musician, Thomas said he ”embodied the Greenwich Village hipster ideal of 1950’s cool to such a laid-back degree and with such determined detachment that he never amounted to much of anything.“

♦ After five months of development, ( ), an online business paper edited by Bill Carey and David Fox, is officially up and running. As of Tuesday afternoon, the site was reporting that Gaylord was preparing to build a $500 million, 2000-room hotel and convention center near Washington, D.C. The Nashville Business Journal also had the news on its site. In contrast, as of this writing, the plodding Tennessean, which has infinitely more resources than the other guys, posted no news on the hotel on its online edition.

♦ Finally, WKRN-TV Channel 2, an ABC affiliate, enjoyed impressive ratings for last Saturday’s Titans-Bills game. According to station officials, nearly 316,000 households in the viewing area were tuned to the game, only 26,000 fewer than last year’s Super Bowl and nearly 120,000 households higher than ABC’s ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?“

Matt can be reached by e-mail at, or call him at 244-7989, ext. 445.


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