Legendary sports broadcaster and interviewer extraordinaire (winner of 7 Emmys!) Roy Firestone has just released his third book, a thoroughly enjoyable read with unique stories, some funny, some deeply touching and some with surprising endings, but all with typical Firestone passion. Roy says it’s his most personally gratifying tome but first a few words about his 40 year career during which he interviewed over 5,000 sports and entertainment notables.
A young Firestone is best known for essentially changing the nature of TV sports interviews into what became known as the “long form.” The fact is many athletes, are often uncomfortable being interviewed. But Roy seemed to change the under appreciated art form of interviewing. As the late Pulitzer Prize winning L.A. Times Sports columnist, and a God to a generation of young sportswriters, Jim Murray said of Firestone, “Roy is not only the best sports interviewer I ever saw, he’s the best interviewer period.”
Seemingly because Roy is so genuinely interested in the athletes as people, he was able to selflessly draw them out and get them to reveal the stories of their lives, often filled with childhoods with economic hardships and single parent families. Suffice it to say, Roy brings those same unique traits to “That’s What I’m Talking About.” (Which by the way is not a “sports book” Per Se, but includes celebrities in the entertainment field, a politician and numerous “surprise guests,” at least they were to me.)
Firestone’s book of “bite-size” chapters is part memoir, part essays and observations and a fun, breezy read about the unbelievable number of fascinating and accomplished people he’s interviewed and often befriended. Even the Foreword by the quintessential hippy and basketball legend Bill Walton is worth the price of admission. It’s unique, revealing and filled with “peace and love,” mostly love. Roy jokes that whenever they chat if Bill doesn’t end with “love you” something’s amiss. The whole book, even in describing the hardships of life, is very uplifting.
“That’s What I’m Talking About” starts with Roy’s almost lifelong friendship with his greatest hero, outside of his parents, Baltimore Oriole Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. Roy had the great fortune or fate or moxie to become a bat boy for the Orioles for three very formative years in which Robinson befriended him. In so doing he taught young Roy by example what it was to be a man of integrity. It’s clear that those years shaped the rest of Roy’s life, which seems deservedly charmed.
At the risk of a spoiler alert (though I sincerely hope not) Firestone’s book ends five decades later when Robinson and Hall of Fame Oriole pitcher Jim Palmer come to Los Angeles to attend a memorial for the late Frank Robinson, the only player to be an MVP in both leagues and the first African-American manager, and another Oriole Hall of Famer. (I’d say there’s a pattern here, but the Orioles and Roy have suffered through many, long, tough seasons for quite a while.)
Anyway, Roy the former bat boy, picked up his two heroes at LAX and insisted they not go to a hotel. Instead they were to be his guests for he weekend at his large house in the valley, so the book comes beautifully full circle. (Apparently Roy’s house is a museum of sports memorabilia, some of which he took down just for the weekend so it wouldn’t appear to be too over the top, so to speak.)
So here’s just some of the legends Roy interviewed, interacted with and often befriended, some for life. The chapters have great black and white photos though some might critique they are too grainy. To me it just adds to the authenticity of the copy. Anyway, the partial list includes: Bruce Springsteen; Elton John; Robert Klein; Bob Costas (who’s won 28 Emmys!); Glen Campbell; Sammy Davis Jr.; Jerry Lewis; James Taylor; and Gloria Estefan.
As the late night infomercials say, but wait, there’s more! Tony Bennett; the late baseball announcer Harry Caray; Danica Roem, America’s first openly transgender State Legislator in Virginia; Billy Joel; Nolan Ryan; Terry Bradshaw; the late football announcer Keith Jackson; Tom Brady; Ray Charles; Mr. Rogers; (and also Tom Hanks!) rocker Alice Cooper; Tim Tebow; baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew; former NFL star Mercury Morris and, saving the best for last, Billy Crystal and Muhammad Ali.
Each chapter is filled with unexpected information and maybe have a twist or two and some are like the Twilight Zone with a completely surprise ending. Some vignettes might elicit tears and others laughter. (For example, former heavyweight boxer, Tex Cobb took such a ferocious beating in a fight against Larry Holmes that announcer Howard Cosell retired right on camera. Afterwards Cobb quipped, “My gift to boxing.) All the chapters are told with love, an overriding theme of the book.
Firestone says this is his favorite of his three books. It’s mine also.
To purchase “That’s What I’m Talking About” and learn more about Roy’s other endeavors, go to www.royfirestone.com. Jack can be reached at: email@example.com.