A Conversation With Molly Knight

Ostensibly, Molly Knight and I are the same.

We both grew up watching sports and, to varying degrees, make our living doing just that to this day. We both enjoy writing books and our moms were very proud of us when our first ones were released. We both have roommates that have Twitter accounts that are also really, really big baseball fans.

We both…

Actually, I guess that’s about it. Probably not really that close, at all.

You see, Molly Knight wrote “The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse”. Not only is the book a New York Times best seller, but it was also a finalist in 2015 in the longest subtitle category, non-fiction division. Unsure, at this point, which is more impressive.

Oh yeah… that roommate of mine? He basically just has a twitter account, while her roommate has one with about 90 thousand followers. But, they’re both big baseball fans?

A couple months ago, I finally got around to devouring Knight’s book. Because this isn’t a proper review, I think it suffices to say that I obviously enjoyed it as I wouldn’t go out of my way to interview an author of a book I couldn’t stand. But, specifically, what made it so fun to read and likely the reason it’s been so successful is that it’s more a book about people who play baseball than simply a book about baseball. The sport serves, in many ways, as setting more than character or plot device.

Without being either overly protective of players or openly salacious, the book properly toes the line and tells the story. Diehards will enjoy the nuggets provided, the insights given, and the casual fan should enjoy the personalities, the characters. It’s well done.

OK, love-fest over.

What follows are snippets of a nearly hour and twenty-minute conversation Molly was gracious enough to have with me. Among many other things, we talked about the reason she wrote the book in the first place, her writing process, why libraries are like churches and what she and Harper Lee have in common.

Molly Knight: I think last year might be the last year where I looked out and there more guys in the Dodgers’ starting lineup on Opening Day who were older than me, than who were younger than me. This was going to be the last time this happens. That was the reason the book happened. They had a bunch of guys that came up… Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russ Martin… that whole group of guys, I’m the same age as them. My first year was their first year. That was sort of why this all came to be, because they were telling me stuff.

Scott Spinelli: Because you were on the level.

MK: Yeah, and also, it would’ve been difficult… I think it’s possible to report on people different ages than you, but it would’ve been difficult. I couldn’t see myself doing a book like that in my 40s or 50s or 60s or older because I wouldn’t know what the hell they were talking about. I wouldn’t get the pop culture references, or understand different musical choices. The stuff they think about, the stuff they talk about.

SS: I would venture that you could’ve probably done something, but it would’ve come out as a totally different book. It would’ve been more like a Jack McCallum sort of thing.

MK: A Buster Olney type, who is so good with all the baseball stuff, he wouldn’t care or know that Juan Uribe taunts Matt Kemp everyday by singing a Rihanna lyric at him. That kind of stuff. Not better or worse, a different vibe.

SS: Describe how the book came to be. How did you go from reporting on this team to thinking, this could be a book?

MK: I would go from the courthouse (editor’s note: Molly was covering the Dodgers’ owner’s very public divorce) to the clubhouse every day. The normal reporter/player relationship, which is totally one-sided, it started to become a little more mutual… they were interested in what I was finding out. They were calling their agents making sure they were still going to be paid. They didn’t know what any of it meant, because it was really complicated. Who was going to be paying them? Were they going to sell the team? What was going to happen? Were they going to have to start trading players? I was asking them questions, and they were asking me questions which is unusual. It helped set a more reciprocal relationship.

Once the team was bought by Magic Johnson’s group for that record sum, some of the guys said you should write a book about us.

SS: Somebody actually said you should write a book about us?

MK: A group of the players, yes. Moneyball had just come out. It was the first full year of the new ownership group. We were walking into the new clubhouse in Glendale, there’s a group of them sitting around… because in Spring Training you just sit around a lot. And they’re saying, “You should totally write a book about us. We’re gonna be so good this year. We’re going to go from being bankrupt, basically, to winning the World Series.” They knew how good (Zack) Greinke was. They just thought no one is going to be able to stop us with (Clayton) Kershaw and Greinke. What a crazy story to go from being worried our checks are going to bounce, to winning the World Series in a year. And, I’ve joked, that Moneyball had just come out, so they were probably thinking Brad Pitt would play them in the movie.

SS: When did you decide, this is it? This is when the story, or at least this story has to end, the book has to be finished?

MK: The 2013 season for a lot of reasons, it would up being lightning in a bottle. They went from bankruptcy to being the richest team and then they started off and they were god awful.

Everyone almost got fired and then they turned it around and played the best summer of baseball of any team since World War II. They had the Cy Young winner in Kershaw and they had Yasiel Puig come out of nowhere and do what he did, which was just unheard of. All of the characters they had, it was really just about them. It’s so unusual to have that many strong, weird, interesting, brilliant characters all together in one locker room. The Giants, for instance, they win championships, but they’re also pretty boring. I think that’s probably why they win championships. Aside from being good, there’s not a lot of drama, not a lot of in-fighting, not a lot of these huge personalities that rub people the wrong way.

SS: I’m a Spurs fan, I think that’s exactly why they win. No one’s ever written this type of book about them. I’d imagine they have a cyanide pill in reserve in case someone was granted the level of access you’d need.

MK: You could write a book about Popovich’s brilliant style, or getting the most out of European players or just how amazing it is they’re in every year. But yeah, Tim Duncan is not a stark raving lunatic. He’s not going to come to fisticuffs with somebody, he’s not going to show up late on Opening Night.

SS: When you’d said it would’ve been nice if they won a championship… I kind of hated Silver Linings Playbook specifically because of the ending.

MK: I think that losses make better books, but the problem with publishers is they have marketing teams. It would’ve been great if they had won the World Series this year. Let’s just throw it in the stocking for Mom, or Grandpa, or whatever. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion about what’s commercially successful versus what’s, you know, good. Which sometimes can be hard to have it both ways. Happy endings, perfect endings are rare.

SS: I’ve read that you joked about how little of a social life you had while writing the book. What was your process, how often did you write?

MK: There were days when I was totally blocked or just didn’t feel like writing. I would just make myself write 500 words a day. I didn’t really take days off. There were days when I was sick or something weird happened, but then the next day I would write 1000 words. I pretty much wrote 500 words a day for 5-6 days a week for 6 months, then it went to every day. I moved into my mom’s house, because I had to get out.

SS: What sort of stresses did you deal with throughout the process of this whole thing?

MK: I think I can be neurotic, like any writer. I guess I had this picture, of writers in my head, ‘it’s writing a book, or writing a screen play, or whatever’ and how you’re ripping your hair out… more than that, I found it to be physically exhausting. Having to will yourself to go to the coffee shop or go here, and I’m doing this, and I’m staying here until I finish this. Some days you just don’t feel like doing it. I guess, it’s like training for a marathon. You just have to get off your ass and do it.

I had a really tight deadline and I just had to get over myself and turn something in. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked to any writer who is 100% happy with something they’ve written. It could just keep going on forever. Part of it was just the nature of this team being insane and all the things that were happening. I didn’t want to release a book, and by the time it came out, it was already really outdated. It’s really hard to write about a moving target. At some point, you just have to stop, and let it go.

SS: The book was released during baseball’s All-Star break. Why then?

MK: It wound up being pretty brilliant. There are no sports that happen the day after the All-Star game. In terms of publicity, all these sports shows are looking to fill their airwaves somehow, so that was a great call… Except then I found out Harper Lee was going to be releasing the “To Kill A Mockingbird” follow-up on the same day as my book, I was just like, “You’ve got to be shitting me.” She sold a few more copies than I did, but I’m OK with it. That was wild though. That was my favorite book growing up. It was surreal, to say the least.

SS: What’s it like to see your book in book stores and airports and all those places? At what point did it hit you how, for lack of a better term, ‘awesome’ it all was, all the hard work you’d put in and finally seeing your book out in the world?

MK: I think there was a moment, this is going to sound so weird, when someone on Twitter sent me a photo of my book in their local library in Chicago or somewhere, and it had the little Chicago Public Library stamp on it and for some reason, that was the moment where I was just like, “Holy shit.” I’m a total nerd, I love libraries. I grew up in libraries, I was always that kid checking out library books and getting really excited. It blew my mind, I don’t know why that blew my mind more than the bookstore. I don’t know. I should probably talk to a therapist about that. What’s better than a library? I’ve always found them to be sort of the same vibe as when you walk into a church. People just seem to be not acting like assholes.

SS: It’s like a church, without the—

MK: –Yes, the dogma, yeah. It’s funny, I was in Minnesota in the airport a month ago, and I saw my book in one of the book stores and I sort of jumped because I was excited. A lot of times when I find my book out in the wild, I’ll totally go rogue and sign it and write a little note in it.

SS: What sort of things are you writing in these?

MK: ‘Um, Hey, just passing through Minnesota, waiting for my flight, totally bored, hope you enjoy!’ This one time, I see the book there. I go up to the guy, I decide I’m going to be polite, I’m not just going to start defacing this book. I walk up to the guy, and I say, ‘So, hey, I wrote this book and I just wanted to know if it would be OK if I signed it?” He misunderstood what I said, he thought I said “I read this book, can I sign it?” So I’m trying to explain it to him, I go to the author photo, then I realize… it’s winter, I’ve been in snow, my hair is back, I look like a mess right now, like an urchin. He was looking at me like I was nuts. If someone bought that book, he probably told some girl claimed to be the author, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was an imposter.

SS: Do you find it to be daunting to keep up with what’s generally required of people on social media nowadays?

MK: (Sighing) Yeah, it was hard for me, because I was never someone who promoted my stories ever. I would just tweet it maybe once, and I would never retweet compliments or do any of that stuff. And then my publisher was basically like you’ve got to tweet about the book. At first I was thinking I was going to lose all these followers and feeling really uncomfortable about it. And then, it was weird—it worked. People started tweeting me when they would buy my book, I’d retweet that, and other people would buy it, almost because of that.

Sometimes I feel like I want to disappear for a while and figure out what I’m going to do next and not be in everyone’s face. I think I have, I don’t know, twenty-three thousand tweets. I joined twitter in 2008 or 2009 and I think I doubled my tweet total in the last year. I definitely got a little burnt out at one point. I kind of feel like I’m gonna, hopefully, have fewer but better tweets this year.

SS: With as many people that want your take on the Dodgers or baseball at large, have you lost the ability to just sit and watch and enjoy? Or is this part of it now?

MK: Oh yeah, I think I can. It is a community building experience. But sometimes it feels like when I spend too much time on the internet, it’s more isolating in my life than it needs to be. It’s about finding the balance. It’s trying to figure out when you need to take a break and go out in the world and be in nature and when you don’t need to weigh in on every little fucking thing that happens.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Scott Spinelli is the author of congratulations? and a former stand-up comedian. He is currently finishing his second novel, searching for (allie), and has an unhealthy obsession with lowercase letters. Visit him at www.scott-spinelli.com or follow him on twitter, or both.[/author_info] [/author]

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