In his memoir out this month, Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer’s Life (Ivan R. Dee; $26), Ira Berkow, the New York Times sportswriter, recounts how his Chicago upbringing influenced his unpredictable professional path. Reflecting on his 40-year career, the Pulitzer Prize winner traces his reporter’s tenacity back to early days riding shotgun in a garbage truck in West Rogers Park. “It taught me to keep my ears and eyes open,” says the Sullivan High School grad, whose other odd jobs included selling religious pictures and peddling secondhand belts on Maxwell Street.

Berkow has interviewed some of America’s most iconic figures, including Muhammad Ali, John Wayne, Richard Nixon, and Joe DiMaggio. A champion of the counterargument, he reveals in Full Swing what it’s like to pose tough questions to legendary athletes like Ted Williams and Mike Tyson and to defend controversial figures such as the figure skater Tonya Harding and the banned former Reds manager Pete Rose. “If my views [on Harding and Rose] go beyond the conventional wisdom,” Berkow writes, “I’m not displeased”-a view that, this baseball season, he thinks could extend into personal fandom. “I can continue to root for the Cubs and still remain an ‘objective’ sportswriter because they never win.”