How does a fine Canadian boy like yourself grow up to be a baseball writer? What happened to hockey? Were you ever in jeopardy of being disowned?

I grew up playing basketball and I liked watching baseball. One of the biggest things about baseball was that I was big into numbers, even as a little kid; I used to carry around a Little Professor calculator. So, that was my favorite toy when I was three or four. My dad taught me long division when I was three or four, so I was very good at numbers. He bought me my first Bill James book when I was eight. Bill James is a big stats guru guy. He now works for the Boston Red Socks, but he started as a security guard at a pork and beans factory and he happened to be interested in baseball, so he started writing about it. And he became this revolutionary guy. So, when I was a young kid, I read about Bill James, and that, in combination with the fact that both my grandfathers are very into baseball – they were the ones who took me to the most games. You could go to baseball games for a buck; hockey, you had to have connections. You couldn’t get tickets – it was just really hard to do. Baseball was just easier. So, all of those things kind of came together and then I just grew to love it. Also, the hockey team didn’t really need me – they were winning all of the time. But the baseball team definitely needed me.

Your latest new book – Up, Up and Away – chronicles the brief history of the Montreal Expos. Tell me a little about the book and why you decided to write it.

My editor from my previous book, The Extra 2%, is a guy named Paul Taunton. He’s an American who went to McGill University in Montreal in the late 1990s and he became a big Expos fan. His thing was he was such a big fan that he carried that over to his career as a book editor. While he was in college, he was on the Expos message board and I was also on the Expos message board. I would always look at things from a stats perspective. At the time, I was just a guy doing community newswriting, so this was a long time ago and I had no notoriety whatsoever. Fast forward almost a decade, from Paul and he says, ‘You don’t know me, but I used to be on this Expo’s message board and I remember you said all of these things, and now I am a book editor, come write a book for me. And he’s with Random House. I thought it as a prank at first because that’s not how real things happen in life. But it wasn’t a prank and it turns out he’s this big Expos fan and we got together and we did the first book. Fast forward to 2011 and he says it’s time for another book. I want you to write about the Expos. At first I told him there was no way I would write about the Expos because nobody would care – nobody cared when they existed and it’s seven years later and now nobody really cares. So, for professional reasons, I didn’t want to do it, but we got to chatting and he eventually wore me down and we did it. Since then, there has been this rush of interest in the team and last year, there were exhibition games at the stadium – there had been no games for a decade – and 96,000 people showed up for two games. That’s insane. Lucky for me, the interest in baseball kind of dovetailed with my schedule for writing the book, so it was three days before 96,000 people showed up at the stadium, which had been deserted for 10 years. So, it was an amazing thing. The process was awesome because I got to talk to Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and all of these awesome players who I grew up loving and they were happy to chat with me. In the end, it was super fun and proved to be a labor of love, but I didn’t think that it made sense at first, financially, but that worked out, too.

Who was your favorite Expo?

My favorite Expo was Tim Raines. I think you are always influenced by the people you get to know first and Raines’ rookie year was 1981 and I was six years old. Then I got to meet him and he was super nice and just chill. He was managing the Newark Bears of the Independent League and I went over to the ballpark. He was in his manager’s office and he’s gained a lot of weight and he was just kicking back and he said, ‘Let’s chat’. And we talked for an hour and a half. Raines was a great player and he definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He got caught up in the cocaine stuff in the 1980’s in baseball. He was one of the most infamous players because he would slide head first into second base all of the time – he was a big base stealer – because he had a vile of coke in his back pocket. So, it’s weird to ask those types of questions to anybody, but especially when you grow up loving someone, but he was very honest and we laughed and had a fun conversation. But, I asked him real journalism questions, too. I thought it was my job to convey that I was a fan and a journalist and he handled it great.

Does baseball lend itself to “writing” more than any other sport? What is it about the game that attracts writers and movie makers?

It’s very literary. Baseball is the only game that doesn’t have a clock. Baseball could theoretically go on forever you’re bound by three outs and you’re bound by the limits of your imagination. So, I think that lends itself to this kind of rhythmic description. And I think it’s the season – football is in the fall, basketball and hockey are in the winter, and baseball is in the summer. The summer has long days and you’re sitting out in the sun and you having a beer. So, there is a different feel to being at a baseball ballgame than there is at any other sport. I think that’s reflected in the way that people write about it – they take a very romantic view of it. I think that the numbers inform baseball a little bit more than other sports. We’re starting to see other sports catch up – basketball is becoming really analytical now and we’re getting there with football and hockey. But baseball is a culmination of storytelling that’s been a big thing, but now you can weave in numbers a little bit, which works out great for me.

What’s been the most rewarding thing about writing for a site like Grantland – where most everything is long form, feature style – rather than being a beat writer for a specific team?

I wanted to be a beat writer when I was 18. Then I met my future wife when I was 19 and I didn’t want to be a beat writer anymore. It was literally as simple as that because if you are committed to somebody, it’s a horrible life – you leave and you’re eating hotdogs in Milwaukee and it’s a Tuesday. But I wanted to be able to sit on my high-horse and write about sports, voice my opinion and write about whatever I want and that wasn’t available to me when I graduated college in the late 1990’s. So, I wasn’t a sports writer at first, I was a business writer for a decade because it was an opportunity to advance quicker and then things started happening on the internet. So, even before Grantland, I started writing for a site called Baseball Perspective for a while in 2002 – very analytical and a little storytelling, too. That led to ESPN, ESPN led to book stuff, and that eventually led to Grantland. So, the job that I wanted – to be a full-time sports writer – didn’t happen until I was 37 years old. So, that meant that I was out of college for a decade and a half before I got what I wanted. But that was how it came to be. The day that I got the email from Grantland asking me to write for them was on July 5, 2011, just a month after they had launched. The email said they had watched me for a while and they liked my stuff, but they only had one rule at Grantland and that was “No Assholes.” It’s a good working environment. So, of course, having long-form is great – you get to stretch your legs and I get to pick 99 percent of my topics myself, so that’s great because I don’t have to focus on the Yankees or the Red Socks or whatever sells. (Writing for Grantland), I only worry about what my interests are. No one has ever shown me any traffic numbers. In fact, they purposely hide it from you a little bit. Not that there’s anything wrong with Deadspin or SB Nation – they’re great too – but they’re focused on how many readers they have and how many eyeballs. Grantland does not want their writers to know – that’s how hardcore they are about it. They just want you to write good copy and they’ll take care of the other stuff. So, that kind of freedom is amazing. So, that in combination with the “no assholes” allows for people to be happy. You like your co-workers and your job.

Describe your typical week.

You’ll never see me doing “Sunday Funday” – ever. My Monday column is my biggest column. I rank all 30 teams, which takes some effort, and then I do three-to-five mini profiles of certain teams that I want to call out. When I started that column – it was Bill Simmons’ idea to call it “The 30” – at first I was writing about all 30 teams every week. That was crazy. That was about 7,000 or 8,000 words every week and I would start at nine in the morning on Sunday and would typically file the story at six Monday morning and I’d watch the sun come up every Monday morning. I loved it and it was a cool thing and people would come up to me and say, “Wow, I get so much about the Houston Astros. This is great.’ And I love when the fans of obscure teams are excited, but it killed me and I just had to stop that. So, we pulled it back and it became longer essays on fewer teams – still 3,000 or 4,000 words – but the format is good now. Typically, I write Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That’s the Grantland stuff and my schedule has become a little more flexible because I now also write for a site called 538 – which is a sister site of Grantland under the banner of ESPN – and those are bigger features and not necessarily about sports. 538 is politics, business, lifestyle, weather, science, and also sports. They asked me to start writing sports and they let me start doing other things. I am starting to do more TV.

You write for Grantland and cover Major League Baseball on a national level. Yet, you live in Denver. In your estimation, and in general, how are the Rockies viewed from the outside?

How are the Rockies viewed nationally? I don’t think they’re viewed much at all. I think they fit in with the Milwaukees, and the Clevelands, and the Houstons. A big part of it is because they haven’t had much success in the playoffs. They’ve made it three times in 23 years – so that’s part of it. They’re outside the core media area. The Rockies have this weird time zone, people don’t know what to do with them, and I think that creates an issue nationally. It’s funny because this is the fifth American city that I have lived in now and if you go to Coors Field, it’s phenomenal. The attendance is always good and the Party Deck and all of the new things that they have done are super fun, so I think its one of those things where baseball already is more local, so the Rockies aren’t in the public eye necessarily.

How do other GMs or ownership groups view Dick Monfort?

I really haven’t talked to other executives about the Monforts. Locally, I think they are heavily criticized, and in some cases, rightfully so. I don’t get the impression that they are notorious across baseball. GM’s tend to focus on who’s in the GM chair and there’s a new guy now and they’re trying to figure out what to do with Jeff Bridich.

Your initial thoughts on Jeff Bridich as the new GM?

(Jeff Bridich) talks more while saying less than anybody I have ever met. I wrote a book about the Tampa Bay Rays and Andrew Freidman and he is an expert at that. He’s just will not give away anything and I think the younger generation of GMs have this idea where they are protecting intellectual property. Which I guess benefits the team, but is not so great for reporters. So, you have to find a way to weave a story in a different way, so that could be with managers, with players, or just doing objective analysis from a distance and trying to figure it out. I asked (Bridich) pointed, specific questions designed to elicit answers, and he wouldn’t answer me. He answers, but he just demurs. I rolled my eyes several times, not because I don’t respect the guy or think he will be a good GM, but I wanted to get more.

Do you believe parting ways with Dan O’Dowd was best for the Rockies? Were you surprised it actually happened?

I think they needed to do something different. The thing about Bridich is it’s not like someone brought him in from outside – he’s from the system and he knows a lot of the young players coming up. I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed O’Dowd. I’ve talked to Bill Geivett for like two hours. When I first moved to Denver I went to Coors Field, I sat in that office, which is in the clubhouse, which is crazy, and we talked at length and he was interesting to talk to and he gave some specific answers and I appreciated that. O’Dowd I hadn’t. Geivette and O’Dowd – that system wasn’t really working. I think that for the Monforts to keep O’Dowd in the first place when Geivett came in was more a loyalty thing than anything else. I was a little surprised because they’re so loyal that they would let anyone go, I figured that he would have some ceremonial job but no, obviously. I think they hired Bridich because he’s smart and all of that, but I think it helps that he has familiarity with the organization. I think they would have been reluctant to go after some hot shot GM prospect from another team because they wouldn’t have that familiarity.

Do you think the Rockies should have looked outside the organization for a GM? Why?

I don’t know whether or not they should have (looked outside the organization when hiring a new GM). I think that certainly you can argue either way. With Bridich it’s a clean slate. We don’t know anything yet. Jhoulys Chacin was just let go – that’s the most interesting that’s happened and Chacin might have pitched 20 innings this year so we don’t know anything. I think that you can make a case for going outside, but it helps. Geivett, much like Bridich, talked about no free agent pitchers will ever sign with the Rockies. Not since Mike Hampton who declared that the public schools are amazing in Denver, and that’s why he’s signing with the Rockies, and not since Denny Nagel got busted on Colfax for that thing that he did, have major free agent pitchers signed with the Rockies. Because of that you have to develop your own pitchers. If you’re going to do that it helps to have someone who knows the pitchers really well, and that tends to come from the inside. So, Bridich does. He knows Jonathan Gray, he knows Eddie Butler, he knows all of these guys and he can weigh-in in a way that somebody would eventually catch up if you brought them in from Oakland or wherever, but Bridich has that intimate knowledge and I think they value that, and I think there is a good reason for that.

Do you think he has any actual power?

Sure! Yeah. Absolutely. I think that he’ll be able to make the moves that he wants to make for the most part. I think there’s an impression that the Monforts are cheap. They’re middle of the pack payroll and Denver is a middle of the pack city. It’s a mid-size market and that’s about right. A lot of the money just goes to a few guys. It’s Tulo, CarGo, and now De La Rosa is making $12 million a year, and when you start getting down to it you can’t just go get Max Scherzer for another $30 million a year. That’s not a thing.

I think that Tulowitzki and CarGo are going to get traded in the next year or two at the most. I can’t imagine they are going to stay longer. For various reasons. Tulo is over 30, he has injury problems, I think they are going to realize that they are going to need a lot of different players to make it happen rather than a couple of guys. It’s already started with Arenado and Dickerson and so forth but when that happens that will give Bridich more freedom because now he doesn’t have these big killers of payroll, he can say to the Monforts ‘This guy, 4 years, $60 million, we should sign him. Here are the reasons why and the Monforts are probably more willing to say yes because they won’t be bumping up against the payroll limit.

Do you think the Rockies will ever sign another big name free agent pitcher?

I never say never. If you think about any sport, obviously the New Yorks and the LAs tend to dominate in the headlines because they spend a lot of money, but things change. Baseball has revenue sharing and you can get players from other teams. Think about the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio was never considered a desirable place to play. Then they got Tim Duncan, and Ginobili, and Parker, and they won titles, and low and behold players want to play there. It’s not simple in Denver. It’s a lovely city. I think people would be happy to live here and if the Rockies start reeling off division titles, people say ‘Alright. All things being equal I can go here or I can go to this other place where, yeah it’s a bigger city but they’re finishing last, I’d choose to go to the Rockies.’ The only thing that I would say about that is that it’s always going to be hard to pitch in Coors Field. They can do whatever humidors they want, they can change it up, that’s always going to be a challenge. But if you start winning enough, eventually things will change. It always changes. In every sport.

You outlined some scenarios where the Rockies could be a playoff team. What do you truly believe has to happen?

They need to stay healthy is the biggest thing. Last year was just a disaster. The Rangers had the most days lost to injury, I think they set an all-time record, the Rangers, they were miserable last year. But the team that had the most stints on the disabled list was the Rockies. I think there were 26 different times that somebody went on the DL. That’s a lot. The thing is it wasn’t just their fifth reliever out of the bullpen, it was Tulo, CarGo, Arenado, Cuddyer, all of the big guys got hurt. Pitchers were a disaster – all of the pitchers got hurt. It’s difficult to assess the team without knowing what they’d be like healthy. There’s an argument that you can’t always use health as an excuse. I asked Walt Weiss about it and the first thing he said was ‘We’re not going to use that as an excuse.’ Maybe health is a skill, and maybe these guys aren’t capable of staying healthy, maybe it’s hard to stay healthy at mile high altitude. I’ve asked Bridich about staying healthy at altitude and I’ve asked Geivett about it three years ago. Geivett thinks that there’s really something going on. I think that Bridich believes that it is possible, but he is more open-minded to other possibilities too. These things are hard to figure out. I will say that if all of these guys stay healthy, let’s say this year – because Tulo is in his prime, CarGo is in his prime, Arenado and Dickerson are getting better and all of that. If it happened this year, there is a chance that they can make the playoffs. I think they have enough talent to do that. It’s just that when you write the script for any team, by definition, to make the playoffs you have to finish with some 98th percentile outcome. A whole bunch of things have to go right. So yeah, I can say that about the Rockies, but pick your team. Almost every team has a chance if everything goes right.

Were you surprised at all to see Chacin released?

Yeah just because you hadn’t heard much about it. But that’s Bridich, right? He was not going to tip his hand. But I don’t put any stock in Spring Training performance whatsoever, it has nothing to do with regular season performance. He might have been hurt. He obviously missed a lot of time last year. If his velocity was down, for instance, that might be an indicator that he is still not healthy and maybe wasn’t going to get healthy, and I get that, but pitching is not their area of strength necessarily and maybe it does signal that some of these guys that would seem to be considered prospects will go north with the team. That will be interesting to see.

Do you think Troy Tulowitzki is underappreciated in Denver, or do you think he’s the very reason the Rockies can’t stay away from the basement of the NL West?

I don’t believe hard-core in this stat, but I think that it is an interesting stat. Tulo has only played 150 games twice in his career; both times they made the playoffs. Baseball is not like basketball. If LeBron plays half of his games, that’s a big problem for the Cavs. Or whatever, name your superstar in basketball. Baseball you have to have contributions from everybody. Think about how a pitching staff works. Let’s say De La Rosa is your ace, that’s great. You still need your No. 5 starter to start 32 times, same as your No. 1 starter. Tulo could be great, or not great, or injured, but if the rest of your guys are terrible you’re not going anywhere. So, I think that the star system in general in baseball is overrated, unless you’re Barry Bonds in his prime, and even then he never won a World Series, it’s very difficult to carry the whole team on your back and make it happen. Within the confines of how baseball works, Tulo is a fantastic player. When he plays, he might be top five in the whole game. The thing is he’s not only a great hitter, but he’s a great defender at the position where you need defense the most, which is shortstop. So it’s hard to say where his future is going to go because he just turned 30, he’s got the injuries, he’s going to start to wear down, but in the here-and-now I do think that he might be a little under-appreciated because those guys don’t exist. In the 90s you had A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar came up and they were all amazing at defense, well, Jeter wasn’t great at defense, but they were all quite good all-around players, and they were stars. If it wasn’t for PEDs, two of them would have made the hall of fame, and Nomar was great. That doesn’t exist anymore. Tulo is in a world by himself when it comes to shortstops. He’s by far the best shortstop in baseball by a mile and I think that because fans get frustrated about the Rockies not doing well, and Tulo is their best player, you always scapegoat your best player. If they had a staff that could prevent runs, and a better defense, that would be a bigger deal toward them winning. It’s really not ‘Oh Tulo choked in the clutch.’ He’s a great player.

Let’s do some quick-hitting, around the horn type stuff…Your favorite baseball player of all time?

Tim Raines.

Greatest baseball moment you’ve ever seen in person?

Ok. This is not going to be done in one line. The Expos only made the playoffs one time in their entire history and I was seven, so I wasn’t really there or whatever. Because they didn’t make the playoffs, their best moment by definition was going to be a regular season moment and it was the year ultimately where they fell short. It’s weird to tell this story, but whatever. 1994 was the best season; they had the strike, the season got wiped, it was only time the World Series ever got wiped out. The year before that they were starting to get better in 1993. They’re chasing the Phillies in the NL East, the Phillies had a big lead, the Expos are chopping away at the lead, chopping away, mid-September there’s a big showdown series between the Expos and the Phillies. I’m pretty sure it was the first game of the series, they’re down 7-4 in the seventh inning, and Felipe Alou, the manager, brings in a pinch hitter. A guy named Curtis Pride. Curtis Pride is a rookie. He has one at bat in his whole career; it’s a huge spot. There are two men on base, they’re down three runs in the seventh inning and they need a hit. They absolutely need a big hit in this situation. Curtis Pride gets a fastball on the outside part of the plate and hits a rope to the left center field gap. Two runs score – 7-to-6. Then a pitching change. Philly brings in a new pitcher. Fans are going out of their minds – oh my god – cheering, cheering, cheering. Pride hit a double so he’s on second base. Pride calls time, he walks over to the third base coach Jerry Manual. Jerry Manual starts signaling to him, like this [tipping the cap] and Pride eventually just looks at him and tips his cap. It was deafening. There were 40,000-plus people. I was there, my idiot friends were there, it was an amazing thing, it was this incredible experience. So they asked Curtis Pride after the game, ‘What was that whole exchange? What was going on?’ This, by the way, went on for six or seven minutes with the ovation and the pitching change, this was very long for some reason. So they asked him after the game, ‘What was all of that?’ and Curtis Pride, you see, is deaf. He can’t hear. So they said ‘Did you hear any of this?’ and he said ‘No I did not hear any of it. He indicated to tip my cap so I did.’ He said the only way he knew that any of this was going on was because he felt the vibrations of the crowd through the turf. That’s how loud people were that they made the stadium vibrate. When you are a team that has no respect, when you are a team that gets denigrated for the fans, that the fans don’t show up, there’s no attendance and nobody cares, and then you have that moment in the middle of a pennant race, and it’s not just the player that’s the story. But in a way it’s the fans that are the story, that is a big freakin’ deal. I was there for that, and to this day I remain very proud of that. That was my single favorite moment.

Best uniforms in the majors?

I’m not going to say the Cardinals because screw Benjamin Hochman. I would say the Dodgers. The Dodgers have nice uniforms.

Best baseball movie of all time?

That’s a tough one. I go back and forth on that. It’s almost like I have different categories for them. Like Eight Men Out is a really great movie. Eight Men Out is a drama. It’s about Shoeless Joe and the gambling in the 1919 World Series, but that’s really a drama. The more light-hearted movies like Field of Dreams and Bull Durham – those are the ones that are most popular. I’m just going to give you my best sleeper of all time, which is Little Big League. Little Big League is a movie that was made for children. It came out in the 1990s. I think it was a film targeted towards 11 and 12 year olds, I was probably 18 or 19 when it came out. Even though it was designed to be a kid’s movie, you can watch it now in your 30s or 40s and it’s a good movie. First of all, the baseball scenes are really good, they’re really well shot, they had real, either guys who were in the major leagues at the time or had just retired, so they had talent and could do things, and even the strategies are really good. The premise of the movie is that there is a kid who is 12 years old, his grandfather owns the Minnesota Twins, his grandfather dies, and bequeaths the team to him. So he becomes the owner, and then names himself the manger. So he is a 12 year-old manager, which is totally preposterous, but he is really good at managing. They go through this one situation and say, ‘Okay, what would you do in this situation?’ He points out the things he would do and the pitching coach says ‘No, obviously not. The answer is you should bunt.’ And (the kid) says, ‘No, you should not bunt, because if you bunt, you take the bat out of the hands of your No. 3 hitter, and then they’re going to intentionally walk your No. 4 hitter, and that sets up a situation for your No. 5 hitter, who is a good power hitter, but hits into a lot of double plays, and if he hits a double play that’s the end of the inning.’ And the pitching coach, one of the guys for Beverly Hills Cop – John Ashton is the actor – looks at him like ‘Yeah, you’re right’. And I love that. There are intricacies within this movie. It’s fun, it’s silly, it is a kid’s movie in some ways, but it’s good. It’s really well done. It’s on MLB Network all of the time and if you are flipping through MLB Network, go watch Little Big League. It’s a great movie.

Most important rule change baseball has to make?

I don’t have the same answer that normal people do. I don’t go, ‘Oh the game is too slow’ or whatever. I’m very concerned about fairness. I don’t like interleague because some teams will play lousy teams, and some teams will play the really good teams and you’re comparing Wild Card records when they have different situations. That and the DH is also weird because one league has it and one league doesn’t. So the two rules I would do in tandem: No. 1, put the DH in both leagues. I grew up with a National League team, but pitchers batting is stupid. Back in the day, pitchers used to pay attention to batting. It is so difficult to pitch and not get injured and there is so much focus on training now that pitchers just suck [at batting]. There’s two or three guys that can hit. So that’s one, even though I’m a National League guy. No. 2, it’s not really a rule, but a change. If you expand by two teams to 32, what happens is you can have eight divisions, like the NFL, four each, and then you do not have to worry about interleague because there is an even amount of teams, you can just have the four division winners make the playoffs, or whatever, you can pick your way. It becomes much fairer that way. My hidden ulterior motive, of course, is that if they expand, they would naturally expand to Montreal so hen we get a team back.

What’s next for you? Any intriguing projects you’re working on at the moment?

I kind of don’t want to do another book. Every time I do a book I say to my friends, my wife, and everybody, ‘If I tell you I want to write another book, please shoot me in the head’. I really don’t want to. It’s extremely difficult. I missed big chunks of the first several years of my kid’s life. The only way I would do it is if it was so incredibly, preposterously lucrative that I could go ‘Oh, okay Harvard. Alright, here you go. I’ve got the money now.’ That’s really not how the book world works – there’s only a handful of people on earth that can do that. Assuming that doesn’t happen, then I will kind of keep doing what I am doing. The big thing now is that I am starting to do more TV, which I really like a lot. I’m kind of a regular on Keith Olbermann’s show now which is good, on Baseball Tonight which is good, and there’s a movement towards more SportsCenter. Not too many trips to Bristol, because I like it here and I don’t like Connecticut, and I want be with my family and friends. But a little bit more of that. I think that the biggest change that will occur is that my writing will remain the same, but more time in front of the camera. You know, it’s not the easiest thing. You have to work at it, and get better, but I think anytime you have your rhythm in one thing, it becomes exciting to do something in which you struggle more. It’s almost more fulfilling. It’s like, ‘Wow. Ok, I got to get this right, or I’ve got to hit my mark better, I’ve got to talk slower.’ Those things can always be improved. So when you make improvements, you can really see it. It’s not for the fact that I like TV, it’s not for the fact that it’s good career wise or image wise or whatever, I just think the challenge of it is pretty interesting. Just trying something different.