Jane Leavy Talks ‘The Big Fella’ and More

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Jane Leavy Talks ‘The Big Fella’ and More
Dec 6, 2018

New York Times best-selling author Jane Leavy visited Merrill College Dec. 5 to talk about her new book “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.”

During an event sponsored by the Povich Center and the Maryland chapter of the Association for Women in Sports Media, Leavy said she originally wanted to write a fiction book about Ruth, but was persuaded to pursue the non-fiction route.

“I have and was interested in him from a very, very early point in my career,” Leavy said. “… He’s the original, orginal. He’s really one of those few American characters about which you cannot say too much. And the reason I wanted to do the novel is because he had become a caricature, and I thought fiction was the way that I would get to inhabit him as a human being.

“It turns out this was a better way to do it. I didn’t think I could do this. I didn’t expect to be able to find anything new about him, but as it turned out, it took eight years to do it, but this was better than the fiction I would have written, and I was able, I think, to inhabit the person that he was.”

“The Big Fella” is Leavy’s fourth book. She has also penned “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” and the fiction novel “Squeeze Play.”

Prior to wiring books, Leavy was a staff writer at The Washington Post from 1979-1988. However, she only ended up at The Post after narrowly missing out on an opportunity with The New York Times when she was 26-years-old.

“I had actually been hired,” Leavy said. “I had a salary. I had been through the whole thing of meeting with the business people. I had a start date for God’s sake.”

Leavy said all that was left was a meeting with editor Abe Rosenthal, which she assumed was just a formality. She was wrong.

“He looks at me, and he says, ‘I am Abe Rosenthal, editor of The New York Times, and as editor of The New York Times I have to ask myself what this young person can bring to The New York Times.’ I am not kidding,” she said, “and I’m going ‘uh-oh.’ He pulled out a clip of mine in which I had referred to George M. Steinbrenner III, the owner of the New York Yankees, as a convicted felon, which in fact he was, … but Abe Rosenthal objected to me writing it and on the basis of that he said I didn’t have the job.”

Leavy said the whole incident was embarrassing, but it eventually led her to The Post, which she said “was the better end of the deal.”

She spent most of her career coving sports, but baseball was her favorite. She said when she was kid, her grandmother took her to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy her first baseball glove, and from there her passion from the game only grew.

“Baseball is the most-writerly sport,” Leavy said. “The pace that drives your generation crazy – all those ellipses and the time for scratching and spitting and conversation, the thing that makes a World Series game go seven hours and drives everybody nuts is what allows writers to actually compose sentences.”

Homepage image: from left to right George Solomon, Jane Leavy, Kaitlyn Wilson (Photo Credit: Paige Leckie)

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