What do Larry King, Lil’ Wayne and Clayton Kershaw have in common? They’ve all had the pleasure of meeting New York Times Bestselling Author Molly Knight. The woman behind The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle To Build A Baseball Powerhouse, Molly probably isn’t what first comes to mind when you picture a bestselling sports writer. Then again, most sports writers don’t have degrees in human biology either.
Lucky for millions of American baseball fans, Molly’s love for the Dodger’s was a lot stronger than her grasp of o-chem. A post-grad decision to move to New York, and the realization that she liked writing a lot more than science, eventually led to writing for publications like Self, Vice and Real Simple. Of course, perhaps most notable and life-changing for Molly is her experience at ESPN. There, with a lot of talent and a little Dodger’s persistence, Molly cemented herself as a baseball expert in a very male-dominated industry.
But the cliché of white, male sportswriter doesn’t faze Molly. After all, in very Cinderella-sports-story fashion she rose the ranks from no-experience writer/bartender to New York Times bestseller! Impressive? Consider us inspired!
When you were growing up, what was your dream job?
I wanted to be a doctor – a pediatrician, actually. I really love children and growing up I wanted to help them. Biology always was a subject that interested me in school. By my time senior year rolled around at Stanford, I really realized I wasn’t wired for organic chemistry. Chemistry was really difficult and challenging for me. And even though I got my degree in biology, it got to point in my life where I felt like I’ve never struggled so much with one subject and if I had to nail this stuff to be a doctor, then maybe that wasn’t where my aptitude or strengths lie.
That senior year of college there was a lot happening for me. I realized that I really liked writing and thought that maybe I should do that. It was right around the time when blogs like LiveJournal, WordPress and Tumblr were starting to happen. You know how you can write some things down on your blog, and at first it was just like two or three of your friends reading it and then you get a comment or email from somebody in Iowa that you didn’t know and it’s like, “Whoa, this is awesome.” So that’s sort of how I began.
I graduated from Stanford and moved to New York. I had no experience, but that’s where you moved if you wanted to be a writer. So, there I was, working as a bartender. I waited tables for years while I took unpaid internships at different magazines [Retail Traffic, Shopping Centers Today and FHM magazines] and learned how to write. Eventually that led to ESPN The Magazine. I was able to make a little rent money from my freelancing, but I still waited tables and bartended to pay my rent for three years, because that was reliable income.
What led you to covering the Dodgers for ESPN The Magazine?
I grew up in LA, a fan of the Dodgers as a kid. Then there was a period of time where I didn’t have a TV, and then lived in New York where there really aren’t any Dodgers fans. So, there was about a five-year gap where I wasn’t really paying attention. Then I started listening to games. I love New York, but it was great to put on Dodger’s games and hear Vin Scully’s voice. It’s a nice reminder of home – a cool thing every night. I’d fall asleep to them three hours later.
So, while I was working on ESPN, I kept pitching Dodgers stories. They were getting tired of it, like “Oh! Here comes another Dodger story!” But I felt like I had something a little different going for me. On the East Coast everybody is so Yankees, Red Sox – or even Cubs – fixated. But when it came to the Dodgers I had the market cornered.
The Dodgers were owned by this married couple who bankrupted the team (McCourts). I saw it coming years ahead of time. As a fan of the team, I was following this stuff and realized, “Oh my gosh, these people are crazy!” I was pitching ESPN stories about them, and then finally, they let me do it! But then, as they got crazier and crazier, my word count for my big story on them and the Dodgers’ divorce grew exponentially.
Once they went to divorce court over the team. It was really serendipitous timing, because ESPN was just launching its regional website, ESPN LA. They weren’t fully staffed yet and didn’t have people on certain beats. I was on contract for the magazine at that point, but they loaned me to ESPN.com. I went to to LA, camped out there, went to court every day and wrote stories on what was happening. I went on TV a lot. I was on the radio every day. It basically launched my career at ESPN.
I would go to the courthouse talk to the players. They were very interested in finding things out like, “Are we going to get paid? What’s happening? The team’s gone bankrupt?” It created an interesting dynamic. Normally it’s only reporters who need something or want something from the players. It’s very one-sided. But then you threaten a ball player’s paycheck, and you get their attention. This was when the whole, “Oh, hey, this is my number. My agent doesn’t know what’s going on. No one knows what’s going on. Everybody says we’re going to get paid, but no one really knows what’s going on. Text me and let me know.” A very reciprocal relationship formed.
At what point did the idea to write a book on this story come to you?
The Dodgers went from being bankrupt to being bought by the Guggenheim Group for the most money in the history of professional sports in the U.S. From that point the players actually said, “You should write a book about us.” They went from not knowing if their checks were going to clear, to winning a World Series in 18 months.
What is it like to be one of the lone women in a male-dominated locker room – both in respect to the players as well as others in the media?
You definitely stand out if you’re a woman or if you are a person of color, frankly, because most reporters are white dudes. That can definitely make you self-conscious, but it also can be to your advantage because people remember you.
I think it is definitely harder because there are some female reporters that do not know sports who are in there, too. They’re being assigned to cover whatever, but then there are also some dudes who have no idea what is going either! It’s funny to me to think that the idea would be that it’s women who don’t like sports, but really, a lot of men don’t really like sports, or know about sports, or haven’t followed the sport in 20 years and then go in there and ask really dumb questions.
I think sometimes being underestimated can play to your advantage, as long as you’re not demeaned. And I also think that once the players know that you understand the topic, and once you can prove that, they will respect you.
My experience in getting to know these guys over time is that they knew that I knew more about baseball than some of them did. And I could tell some of the players were more likely to open up to me than male reporters about their depression, anxiety, alcoholism, being homesick and having girl problems.
I’ve had situations where the guy guarding the door to the locker room yells, “Lady in the locker room,” when I’ve walked in. I had another situation where I was mistaken for a masseuse and this guy basically dropped his towel in front of me. I was mortified. And then every once in a while, you get the guy who is a complete asshole who tries to get naked right in front of you while you’re trying to get your story done. But you know what? Those guys do the same kind of stuff to male reporters. When I first started out, I was definitely embarrassed by the whole situation, but then I realized my male colleagues were just as uncomfortable – if not more uncomfortable – than I was.
What are some things you experienced in your job where you thought, “I can’t believe I’m here/covering this/interviewing this person?”
There are too many to count. I frequently say I’m living the dream. Guys will tell me they want my job. Let’s see: I have a pass so I can get into any baseball game I want to for free. I was at Clayton Kershaw’s house interviewing him when he got the call that his contract extension had gone through. That ended up becoming the opening paragraph of my book.
The rapper Lil Wayne was blogging on ESPN for a while, and that was actually me. I was his ghostwriter. I called him for a story one time. We hit it off and became friends. I would call him with a lead, and then he would give me all the stats on what was happening in the sports world. I would write them down and turn them into a blog. We would text each other all week long about sports. He just loved sports.
There’s been batting practice. Being on the field. Standing in the dugout. Working in the press box. Witnessing great sporting events like the Alabama National Championship Game from the sidelines. That kind of stuff; it’s crazy!
Knowing Larry King is the ultimate Dodgers fan. Have you ever had the chance to interview the ultimate interviewer?
Oh yeah, I know Larry King. Larry King and I have been to dinner many times – especially during the McCourt stuff – because everybody kind of knows everybody else.
I grew up worshipping Orel Hershiser when I was a kid. When I was six years old they won the World Series. He was one of my first sports heroes, and then now I’m in a bar in St. Louis during the playoffs just hanging out with Orel. It’s pretty crazy.
I’m now at the point where I’m trying to stay away from baseball – though not forever. I’ve written this book, and now I want to branch out to something else. I don’t want to ever become jaded to this kind of experience — and walk into Dodger’s stadium and not feel that sense of awe I felt when I was a kid. Baseball writing is so hard because you’re away from your families; the pay isn’t that great; and people get so jaded dealing with prima donna athletes and their bullshit. I don’t ever want to get to that place where I hate my life.
What’s next for you?
That is a great question. I get emails from my publisher and agent all the time asking me that because they want me to figure out what my next book is. I’m going to keep writing books. I really like that. What I’m finding is my problem is that, I have want to be totally worthy of the subject, and I also want the subject to be totally worthy of a book. I don’t want to write a book just to do a book. So, it’s hard figuring out what people really want to know about and read about.
I kinda wish I had allowed myself to think about the next book while I was writing the first book. But, on the other hand, it was such a crazy experience for me. It was one that required like a lot of bravery and stepping out of my comfort zone. When I started, I had never written anything longer than 6,000 words and the book was going to be more like 100,000 words. I was terrified that I couldn’t do it, and also I didn’t even know if I was going to like doing it.
Right now I’m doing a lot of freelance work for magazines while I figure out what I’m going to do next, big picture wise.
I’d Love To Grab A Drink With:
I Can’t Live Without:
My dog, a Dachshund Chihuahua named Pirate
My Go-To Outfit Is:
A t-shirt and either black yoga pants or black skinny jeans
My Favorite Place To Grab Dinner Is:
The Pikey in LA
My Favorite Song To Sing In The Car Is:
“Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
My Favorite Way To Unwind Is:
With a lovely glass of Pinot Noir while I’m sitting at a restaurant bar with a few friends
I Feel My Best When:
My house is clean