Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com. He joined Major League Baseball's official website in April 1999 and has covered every facet of the game. For several years, he hosted a variety of shows on MLB Radio, MLB.com's internet radio network, including Around the Minors, a daily show devoted to baseball prospects. Mayo has also done extensive video work ranging from studio analysis and in-game color commentary to sideline reporting at various special events.
More recently Jonathan has focused his efforts on covering minor league baseball and, notably, the baseball draft, which ESPN televised in 2007 for the first time. He is responsible for compiling MLB.com's definitive list of baseball's Top 50 prospects and has covered the Arizona Fall League, baseball's winter meetings and many other events. Jonathan received a B.A. in communications from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sara and his two children, Ziv and Elena. You can read more about Jonathan, including his speaking engagements, at his website.
Jonathan has written a fascinating book called Facing Clemens: Hitters on Confronting Baseball's Most Intimidating Pitcher (which you can also order at the link to his website above). He very graciously took the time to answer some questions about the book, his work with MLB.com, and the Jays' farm system. Check it out after the jump!
Bluebird Banter : Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What team did you root for, and who were a few of your favorite players? Did you play little league, sandlot, or school ball?
Jonathan Mayo: I grew up in suburban New Jersey, about a half-hour away from New York City. It's a small town called Verona (our most famous native may be Jay Mohr, the actor/comedian). I must admit to being a little fickle as a kid. I definitely noticed the Yankees first because they were winning titles in 1977 and 1978 when I was first beginning to pay attention. The Mets drew my interest not because they were good - though that came later - but because Darryl Strawberry got called up in 1983. I loved watching that guy play. So I'm a rare breed, a guy who liked both NY teams. Back then, it wasn't an issue in my mind because they never played each other. Chris Chambliss was my first favorite player and probably the reason I became a first baseman in little league up into high school, where I played for a couple of years before realizing I was over-matched.
BB: I had a similar experience at the shortstop position. Did you always want to write about sports for a living, or did you ever consider doing something else? How did you end up writing at MLB.com? When you started there, it was still a very small operation, wasn't it? How much did you get to impact the development of the site?
JM: Sports writing or broadcasting has always been very high on my wish list. I consider myself very fortunate to be doing pretty much exactly what I wanted to do. I've done a few other things, covered some other subjects, even spent some time at a PR firm, but this has always been my first love. I was working for the NY Post for nearly 4 years when I got the job at MLB.com. At the time, it was majorleaguebaseball.com and had a total of 3-4 people dedicated to working on it. Obviously, a lot's changed since then (that was April 1999). I'm not sure how much impact I had on the initial development of the new site, but let's just say I was involved in a lot of the meetings with the developers.
BB: I have no reason for being able to remember this, but you wrote the first baseball article I ever read on the web. Tell us a little bit about Facing Clemens: Hitters on Confronting Baseball's Most Intimidating Pitcher. How did you get the idea for the book, and was there immediate interest from publishers? What was your approach to organizing and structuring the book, and how did it change during its creation from what you first envisioned?
JM: I have to give credit where it's due. It wasn't initially my idea. I had been discussing a number of projects with Lyons Press. They had done two similar books on boxers - Facing Tyson and Facing Ali - and thought it might work with baseball. I took it from there. Most of the decisions in terms of structure and subjects came from research I did with some major help from the fine folks at retrosheet.org. Looking at Clemens' batter vs. pitcher stats, I was able to find players who had faced him the most (Cal Ripken Jr.), had success against him (Ken Griffey Jr.), had no success against him (Torii Hunter). I even could do things like look at the boxscore from his big league debut and pick someone out who had faced him that day (Julio Franco). I did the same kind of research with World Series and All-Star Games to find more subjects and information. It didn't change all that much from the outset to completion. I shifted gears on a few chapters when I couldn't get in touch with some players I was hoping to get. But for the most part, it looks like the way I envisioned it.
BB: How interested were the hitters in talking about facing Clemens? Did you find that active or former players were more interested? Were there any you especially wanted for the book but weren't able to convince to talk? How did you go about selecting the hitters who made up each chapter?
JM: I think I answered that last question in the previous answer for the most part, but I'll add that I also found someone from his first 20-strikeout game (1986 vs. the Mariners; I spoke to Phil Bradley), and a number of World Series opponents (1986 - Gary Carter; 1999 - Chipper Jones; 2000 - Darryl Hamilton; 2001 - Luis Gonzalez; 2003 - Juan Pierre). I have to say that the one player I REALLY wanted to get was Mike Piazza, to get his official record on the 2000 World Series (the bat-throwing incident). But it never happened. I had some other ideas for chapters, but either didn't get returned calls or there was interest. None of them were as vital to me as having a chapter on the 2000 WS, so it was easy to let those go.
BB: I guess I can understand why Piazza didn't want to revisit any of those events publicly. Did any hitters completely surprise you in their comments? Without giving away the best parts of the book, can you briefly discuss some of the most interesting takes on Roger? Did anyone feel like Clemens just wasn't that great?
JM: The only person who came close to saying "he just wasn't that great" was Gary Carter. Part of that, I think, is Carter's natural self-confidence. Part of it also was that Carter only faced Clemens a small handful of times in the '86 All-Star Game and '86 World Series. It was Clemens' first truly spectacular season and he hadn't yet established that he wasn't a one-hit wonder. Carter goes on to say that watching his entire career he puts Clemens in the all-time great category (this opinion was rendered pre-Mitchell Report; I don't know what Carter would say now). There are some great anecdotes. Without giving them away, one involves Junior Griffey and Roger kind of playfully jawing at each other after Junior had homered twice against him (I think it was in Toronto, actually). The other one involved Chipper Jones and an interleague game, again in Toronto. Let's just say Chipper, early in his career, learned about Clemens right under the chin in one at-bat.
BB: Haha, no one ever accused "the Kid" of being over-modest. Obviously, Roger had two absolutely killer seasons with Toronto, but for whatever reason fans have always perceived Roger as being disinterested in discussing his time with the Jays and even at times commented that Roger was pretending that his time with the team didn't even happen. Did you learn anything interesting about Roger's two years in Toronto?
JM: There was a lot that happened in those two years. Obviously, that's a loaded statement now, but even when I was writing, a lot was discussed about his time there. Most of it centered around the development of his splitter in those years and how that helped reinvent himself moving forward. Many of the players I spoke to had careers that spanned those two seasons - Ripken and Griffey in particular, but also Chipper, Gonzo a little bit and Franco, to name a few. He won two Cy Youngs there, I'm pretty sure he remembers those two years. With recent events, though, maybe he'd rather forget them.
BB: Did your assessment of Clemens' career or skill as a pitcher change at all throughout the research and writing of the book?
JM: I always had had respect for him prior to writing this book, but I definitely came away with a deeper appreciation of what he had accomplished after I was done. To hear hitters from different generations all talk about how hard it was to hit him, either because he would blow you away with the high fastball early on, kill you with the splitter in the middle or even get you with a groundout due to a cutter late in his career, it was pretty fascinating to get that kind of inside look at what a hitter had to try and deal with when standing in the batters box against Clemens.
BB: I'm sure this question has been posed many times and it may not interest you, but did the topic of PED's ever come up during your research? How do you think the recent events concerning Clemens will affect how he is viewed by the baseball world? Do you think that the recent events will affect the interest in your book positively or negatively? I guess I could see the recent events cutting either way.
JM: It kind of has to interest me, unfortunately. I can honestly say the subject never came up once while researching the book. In retrospect, you might find some slight hints in what people said, but no one ever talked about PEDs openly and I never asked about them. Obviously if I were writing this book now and not before the Mitchell Report was released, it would be a whole lot different. I think there is no doubt that Clemens' image is forever tarnished both inside and outside the baseball world. And that's even if you still believe the guy. There's no way he'll ever be perceived in the same light. It remains to be seen what this means for my book. I hope that it's good for sales, but only time will tell.
BB: Moving past Rocket for a moment, what's your take on the Jays' farm system? Is it as bad as everyone says?
JM: It's not good, I'll say that much. Just cling to Travis Snider with all your might. Man, that kid can rake!
BB: A lot of Jays fans are disappointed that Adam Lind isn't poised to have a bigger role with the big team this season? What do you think Jays fans can expect to see from Lind when he does get an everyday role?
JM: The main problem with Lind, I think, is where to put him defensively in the context of what's there in Toronto. I think eventually, he'll be a pretty good corner OF (put him in LF so Snider can play RF). I think he'll hit for average and some power, draw some walks. Nothing spectacular, but a good, professional hitter.
BB: The baseball world seemed a little slow to recognize the emergence last season of several good young Jays pitchers. Were you surprised to see several young pitchers on the Jays establish themselves last season, including Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Accardo, Jesse Litsch, and Casey Janssen? Who of the five do you think are likely to enjoy continued success?
JM: Yeah, that was a little surprising. None of them, except maybe McGowan, had much of a "prospect" profile. They didn't give off that kind of a buzz, if you know what I mean. They may not have been sexy draft picks, but give the Jays scouting department credit: they got some big leaguers in there. I still like McGowan to have the most success because he's still got some nasty stuff.
BB: To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, Travis Snider: A great prospect or the greatest prospect?
JM: Nice reference. I'll go with just great. Can't call him the greatest just yet. I will say this: He's one of the best young hitters I've seen and Jays fans should be very, very excited about seeing him take swings in Toronto very soon.
BB: Oh man, you're just teasing us now. It's true, we are on tenterhooks, to borrow a word from high school english. What are you plans for the future? Do you think you'll write another book, or do you have one planned? Do you plan to continue focusing on minor league players?
JM: My focus for MLB.com will still be the Minors (check out www.MiLB.com for all our great Minors content) and the draft. I definitely feel like I've got more books in me. I've started working on something, but it's way too early to talk about.
BB: I really enjoyed your work on the first-ever televised MLB draft this past year. Is ESPN planning on carrying the draft every year, and would you be interested in doing it in the future? What was the most interesting part of that experience?
JM: Yup, ESPN is doing it again this year and I hope to be a part of the coverage. Hopefully, there will be more players there to interview. I think just being a part of the first broadcast was the most interesting part, especially since I feel our coverage of the draft over the years was a driving force behind getting it to this point. Other than that, trying to get Phillippe Aumont to understand and answer my questions was quite interesting as well.
BB: Thanks very much Jonathan. I'm really looking forward to reading Facing Clemens. For more on the book and Jonathan, check out his website.