Six Minutes in Heaven: Will Leitch, How Are Your Sales?

by Evan Hilbert


In the early fall of 2008, Will Leitch, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, attended a baseball game at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. So Leitch — decked out in Cardinals gear — masochistically forced himself to watch his team’s hated rival, the hometown Cubs, clinch their second consecutive National League Central Division title in front of their adoring faithful. I do not know why he did this. And then he wrote a whole book about it? That can’t be right.

Wait! It’s not right! Are We Winning is not really about that at all. All that’s merely the setting for a story of father and son, family and mortality, baseball and fandom. As it turns out, Leitch was accompanied to the game by his father, Bryan, a devout Cardinals fan himself, and good friend, Mike, a Cubs fan. The story is told in half inning installments, with Leitch recounting the entire game with interjections and discursions. It’s quite brilliant, really, and funny. The interwoven stories of baseball players young and old are juxtaposed against childhood memories, with each chapter closing with a summary of maxims learned intended to be ingested by Leitch’s future son.

There’s also a beautiful parallel throughout: Bryan parents as Will writes. Leitch recounts a story from his twenties, when, as a down-and-out dot-commer, he returns home and is forced to ask his parents for money. They oblige. Later, when the topic is finally broached, there are no lashings or censures from the elder Leitch. Instead, there is an unspoken air of, ‘it’s-OK-just-don’t-ever-do-it-again,’ and the conversation turns where it always does for these two: baseball. And drinking in moving vehicles. But mostly baseball.

And now, we have a six-minute phone call.

How we doing in sales? One week in!

They tell me it’s OK, they’re not unhappy yet. They keep reminding me that it’s not like a movie opening. And it’s not like the first weekend makes all the difference all the way around. Certainly, they’re happy with it so far. I have a firm rule of not checking Amazon numbers, as I didn’t check traffic when I was at Deadspin. I prefer to live in ignorance. As long as they let me keep writing them, I assume we’re selling well.

What was the expectation?

Like a number?

Do you have a number?

No, I don’t have a number. My number is, if they let me do another one, then I sold enough to do that one. [inaudible Mattoonian gibberish] I learned with Catch that if you look at the Amazon numbers and you start obsessing over that, you’re missing the whole point of writing a book in the first place. I just try to stay out of that stuff. If they let me do another one, then I think I’ve sold enough.

Did you cry in the course of writing it?

I didn’t cry.

I cried.

That’s good! Generally speaking, so many books about fathers and sons and stuff are all kind of sappy. At any moment it veered in that direction — someone asked me in the Deadspin chat if it was more of a book that would appeal to Deadspin readers or Mitch Albom readers — and the fact that that question had to be asked made me very, very nervous.

Anytime there was sort of a moment when things were going towards cheap emotion, I tried to back off.

There was enough about chicks and booze and saying the F-word and stuff…

Yeah, I did my best to get chicks and boobs in there. I don’t know if I succeeded or not, but I tried.

Well I said booze, but boobs as well. I think that’s good.

Ah, yes. Booze! Lots of booze. Definitely more booze than boobs.

What was your dad’s reaction?

You know, I haven’t asked. I’m kind of hoping he doesn’t read it, actually. I’ve culled from other sources he’s 200 pages in. I’m hoping he stops. That’s the furthest dad has made it into a book, so that’s a start. I don’t think he’s read any of the other ones. If he has any opinions about it, I’m certain that he will not tell me and I’m certain that I don’t want to hear them.

Hey! You made sense of a Tim McCarver metaphor!

It didn’t make any sense! I was so glad just to be able to transcribe it, because I thought, ‘you know what, this needs to be seen somewhere.’ The medium of television is so fast and over so quickly, so I felt I had to write that down so future generations could study it.

Let’s talk baseball!


You mention that we are currently in the Golden Age of Baseball — -which may get you some hate faxes from old folks. I’ve had a consideration about this, after I read Moneyball, but do you think there lies a connection between Sabermetrics and baseball’s increased viewership? Like: Oh! Now I get Adam Dunn! This is so much more interesting to watch him walk 120 times! That’s why he’s on a roster! Do you think that bring different folks into the fold?

Partly. I think the actual experience of understanding Sabermetrics and the experience of watching a game are two dramatically different things. If anything, the success of baseball has come about because baseball is actually a much better corporation than people give it credit for being. One just assumes, because Bud Selig is in charge, they have no idea what’s going on. In actuality, baseball has grown so dramatically over the last ten years that they’re clearly doing something right over there, whether it’s advanced media or marketing to other countries. To me, that’s one of the major things. People say, ‘nobody watches baseball anymore!’ No, it’s just asshole, beefy, frattish Americans are watching football. Everyone else is still watching baseball.

Also, yeah, (Bob) Costas and those types of people miss the point. The idea of: ‘I’m sorry baseball is not exactly how it was when you were 13. I’m sorry the athletes are not actually mainlining Ovaltine.’ But baseball’s a better game now. And no offense to Mickey Mantle, but if he were playing today, with the skills and conditioning and preparation that he put together then, he wouldn’t be on a Major League roster. He may have had the talent to play baseball, but talent is just not enough anymore. Baseball has become much more of an evolutionary process. It’s a competitive, out-of-control, massive Darwinian fest, and that has led to some great baseball.

You’re going to get a lot of push-back from purists, with their steroid talk.

As if there was ever any sort of pure game in the past. You talk to these guys and some of them were drunk during the game, for crying out loud. Mickey Mantle was famous for talking about how he would drink during games. The game reflects a culture, and we are a culture now that pushes for constant production and results, work, work, go, go, go. The idea that you must succeed and get ahead, in a lot of ways that type of thing is going to lead to enhance a bunch of things.

[Awkward grunt from interviewer, as answer was going on FOREVER]

That type of thing is going to matter, but the idea that baseball was some sort of pure game just because middle-aged sportswriters happened to have been kids when that happened is bunk.

So Buehrle last year, Dallas Braden Sunday — -who’s going to be the next soft-tossing lefty that will throw the next perfect game?

[Without a pause] Jaime Garcia, baby! It’s happening. I freaking love that guy. The Dallas Braden story was so perfect in a lot of ways, not just for the Mother’s Day thing and the A-Rod thing, but typically baseball players have not referred to themselves by their area code. That’s more of a basketball and football type thing. I’m very pleased that a perfect game was thrown by a man that has his area code tattooed across his chest. That’s pretty awesome.

And that’s where we end —

It’s Stockton, CA for crying out loud!

Evan Hilbert really likes books about sports. Do you know any good new or forthcoming books about sports? Share, and we will spend six minutes with them too!