December 4, 2023
Florida Icon: Peter Golenbock

Photo: Bob Croslin

"Sports, in a way, is like joining a cult. It becomes very, very important in a wonderful way. I mean, where else can you sit in a stadium and scream your lungs out and not feel like a moron?"

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Florida Icon: Peter Golenbock

Sports writer, St. Petersburg; age 76

Art Levy | 4/10/2023

Sports, in a way, is like joining a cult. It becomes very, very important in a wonderful way. I mean, where else can you sit in a stadium and scream your lungs out and not feel like a moron?

Writing is the thing that I enjoy doing the most. It’s my life. I’m very unhappy when I’m not working, which isn’t very often.

As a kid, I wanted to be the centerfielder of the New York Yankees. I played ball all the time. I was the captain of my summer camp varsity softball team that won 100 softball games in a row. That’s how good we were. I was always really athletic. My sophomore year playing baseball at St. Luke’s School in Connecticut, I was batting and this kid — I can’t remember his name; I probably forgot it on purpose — he threw me a curveball, and there was no way I was going to hit that thing. It broke across the plate for a called strike, and I thought to myself: ‘There goes my career as centerfielder of the New York Yankees.’

I have a writing routine. At 9 o’clock, I start working, and somewhere around 3 o’clock, I stop.

Florida is a beautiful place to live, and that’s what Florida does very, very well. It’s warm and sunny and beautiful. What Florida does not do well is elect politicians who treat people well.

When I was 12, I read a book called The New York Yankees: An Informal History by Frank Graham. I still have the book. I was enamored. There were discussions with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, and I thought: ‘How fabulous is this?’ So, when I went to Dartmouth, I joined the sports staff of The Dartmouth student newspaper and very quickly discovered that I was pretty good at sports writing. By my junior year, I was sports editor, and I was writing articles for the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and I was just enjoying the hell out of my life.

One day, I got a telephone call. It was New York Yankees manager Billy Martin’s agent, saying that Billy wanted me to write his autobiography with him. Hell yeah I was interested. It turned out that Billy was too busy to do it at the moment, so the agent, a smart man, said to me: ‘I have another client, and perhaps you could do a book with him?’ It was Sparky Lyle, the Yankees’ star relief pitcher. That became The Bronx Zoo: The Astonishing Inside Story of the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees. And then Billy Martin’s agent called back and said Billy is ready to do his book, and Billy and I spent the next nine-10 months writing his autobiography. The book with Sparky was a bestseller, and the one I did with Billy was a bestseller, and then I did a book with Graig Nettles, the Yankee third baseman, and that was a bestseller — and I had a career.

I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember what happened in 1955.

There was a period during the 1990s and early 2000s when I wrote seven books on stock-car racing. I really got into it. After I did American Zoom, which was my first stock car book, the sponsor that makes the little cars — Matchbox — said: ‘How would you like to have an American Zoom Chevrolet run in a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway?’ It was fantastic and so much fun. In the middle of the race, the car was in third place. Dale Earnhardt was first. Bill Elliot was second. I thought I must be daydreaming. It was incredible, and then the car blew out its transmission, and that was the end of that. It was the first time a book was featured on a NASCAR car — and I think it was probably the last.

Can you imagine a country without sports? Can you imagine how violent this country would be without football?

The headmaster of St. Luke’s was a man by the name of Dr. Joseph R. Kidd. He taught English, so in the sixth or seventh grade we parsed sentences, wrote papers, and that’s really where I learned how to write. One day, Dr. Kidd taught me a lesson. He said to me: ‘You are arrogant.’ I really thought about that a lot. So, really, for the rest of my life, I’ve attempted not to be arrogant.

There’s something that I’ve never quite understood. After you’ve earned your first billion, why is it so important that you should have $2 billion? Isn’t $1 billion enough? Shouldn’t you give some of your money to the people who can’t make it on their own?

There’s nobody funnier than Woody Allen. I used to have hundreds and hundreds of records. I sold them all, but I kept one — a Woody Allen two-record set.

I went to a Tampa Bay Rays game the other day, and these three teenage girls are sitting right in front of us. The entire game, all they did was take pictures of themselves. It was unbelievable. Why would you do that?

It has been my joy to be able to play softball in the half-century league, a 60-game schedule, for the last 26 years. This will be my last year. Why? I stink. I’m too old. I’m very competitive, and too often I’ll come home and I’m furious at myself. At the end of the game, you still have to look yourself in the mirror and not be disgusted by your performance.

Tags: Florida Icon, Feature

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