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Lupica on the Clintons, Columns, and a Writing Hero

New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica is out with a new young adult sports book, The Big Field, and he joined Meredith this morning to talk about it. WATCH VIDEOBefore that segment, Mike and I talked about his column, Hillary Clinton's resurgence, and one of his writing heroes, W.C. Heinz, who passed away last week.Here's our conversation:DF: First, let's talk about your career as a novelist.

New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica is out with a new young adult sports book, The Big Field, and he joined Meredith this morning to talk about it. WATCH VIDEO

Before that segment, Mike and I talked about his column, Hillary Clinton's resurgence, and one of his writing heroes, W.C. Heinz, who passed away last week.

Here's our conversation:

DF: First, let's talk about your career as a novelist. You churn one of these young adult sports book pretty much every year. How do you find the time to do your day job as a columnist and still write these books?

Mike Lupica: I'm so conditioned, after being a newspaper columnist for 30 years, to working in column bursts of 900 to 1,000 words. If I can get up in the morning and get writing, and write that many pages, by the end of the week, I've written 20 pages of the book.

I can do it in the morning and then go worry about the really pressing know, steroids, Roger Clemens. It's quite natural for me, and I actually feel funny now when I'm not working on a book, because I love telling these stories.

DF: Let's talk about your column for a minute. Yesterday, you wrote that it was time for Hillary to step aside--

ML: What I said was that it would be best for the [Democratic] Party if she lost. But I also was quite clear: never count a Clinton out. Because even if they lose the game, they will wait for you in the parking lot by your car and say, "You think this is over? It's not."

What I really believe happened last night is that every day this goes on now, they help elect John McCain become president of the United States. He's going to run against both of them for months now.

I don't even know how this ends. I'm not smart enough to figure out superdelegates.

DF: Do you think that Hillary cares whether, if she goes down fighting for this nomination, she ends up taking Obama down with her?

ML: No. I always joke with my newspaper column, this is a tough column. Well, this is a hardball league, so wear a helmet. These are hardball players. Karl Rove didn't invent the kind of politics he's used for eight years. He learned bare-knuckle politics from [the Clintons].

In my opinion, they don't care. They don't care what happens to the party in the short run if she doesn't win the nomination. I don't think she cares. No one who gets to this level in politics is without ambition.

But there was this tone for a month that she couldn't believe this was happening, that she was falling behind. It was like she was saying, "Don't you know how long I've waited for this? Don't you know how good I am for you? Don't you know how qualified I am?"

They don't care how much they mess him up. The only end game for them is for her to win the nomination, whether she wins the presidency or not. They're bad losers, and they did just enough over the last five days to peck at him, especially in Ohio.

I think of a description Arthur Ashe had of John McEnroe's tennis game. He said, "A nick here, a nick there, and pretty soon you're bleeding to death." I don't think Obama is bleeding to death, but he's been hit.

DF: Let's take a step back did you make the transition from sports columnist to sports/news columnist?

ML: During September 11, I went downtown and wrote a lot of columns. I spent a lot of time in the front of the paper. And then when the O.J. book was coming out, I really went after the publishing company and Mr. [Rupert] Murdoch for even sanctioning this and acting like he didn't know what was going on.

All of a sudden, it seemed like a natural progression. If you've got teenage children or a college boy, as I do, and you look at the way the world is going, there are things you want to talk about, that I've been talking about forever.

I've been doing it now for 14 months, and it's been really fun to get a chance to talk about this stuff in the newspaper. It's really fun.

DF: Which New York baseball stadium are you going to miss more when they're gone at the end of this season...Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium?

ML: Oh, Yankee Stadium. I've got some wonderful memories at Shea, but it is a dump. I nicknamed Yankee Stadium, "The Home Office," and I keep saying this -- I'm sure the new ballpark will be grand. But it won't be the place across the street. It just won't.

[Derek] Jeter always talks about the ghosts [at Yankee Stadium], and they say the ghosts are gonna move across the street? I'm not so sure.

DF: You mentioned writer W.C. Heinz, who passed away last week, in your column the other day. I first came across his work second-hand, from a profile of him in Sports Illustrated back in 2000, and found him to be a inspirational figure. What did you learn from him?

ML: Well, first of all, let me back up. If I have one hero in fiction, it's Elmore Leonard. When Elmore Leonard read The Professional, he wrote [Heinz] a fan letter. And he said to me the other day, "I read that book, and I said, 'He's doing what I want to do.'" It's a simple, spare, wonderful ability to tell a story and move a story along with dialogue, which you have to do.

I was opened up to his work by that [Sports Illustrated] piece, too. Our friendship really began after September 11, because I knew that Bill had been with the First Army during World War II, carrying this old Remington typewriter through France and Germany.

If you read When We Were's thrilling. I wanted to write a column about how we were supposed to now approach sports after a catastrophic event like September 11. And I didn't know what he was going to say, so I called him and asked him, "What was it like when you came back to sports?" He said, "I loved it!" He didn't try to make it some grand religious experience, he said he just loved going to watch people do something great.

He talked about the beauty of sports at a time like this. From then on, we became really good friends.

To say he's just a sportswriter is way too limiting. He's a brilliant writer. I encourage anybody who loves great writing to read Once They Heard the Cheers. It's a bunch of magazine pieces about guys he wrote about when they were young.

So he goes and writes about [baseball player] Pete Reiser, [jockey] Eddie Arcaro, [boxer] Carmen Basilio. And if you can find his greatest piece, about a boxer named Bummy Davis...if I were to call Jimmy Breslin right now and ask him, "What's the greatest magazine piece you ever read," he'd go, "Bill Heinz, Bummy Davis," and hang up. Jimmy described that piece as "untouchable."

He was a sweet, wonderful man. If you can be, in the same career, the greatest war correspondent and one of the greatest sportswriters, that's pretty good. So if there's anyone who empowered me to think I could write in the other section of the paper half as well as he did, it's him.