Q&A with ‘Jeopardy!’ champ James Holzhauer on working for Cubs, changing how game is played
CHICAGO — “Jeopardy!” sensation and longtime Cubs fan James Holzhauer threw out a ceremonial first pitch Saturday before the Cubs-Brewers game at Wrigley Field.
Holzhauer, a professional gambler from Naperville, Ill., who lives in Las Vegas, won 32 straight contests and earned $2,462,216 — both figures second in show history behind Ken Jennings. He spoke before the game about his celebrity, his love for the Cubs and whether his strategy will forever change that of future “Jeopardy!” contestants.
Here’s an edited transcript of the interview:
Q: Are you warmed up?
A: No, I’m not warmed up. I played catch with my 4-year-old son. It’s not entirely the same as trying to make it 60 feet, 6 inches. We’ll see how it goes.
Q: You don’t want to go viral with an awful first pitch.
A: I’ve been viral already. I think most of the people who end up on the internet for this, they weren’t already on the internet. So I’m not too worried.
Q: Do you think you have the skills to work for a baseball front office?
A: I probably could, but there’s a difference between “could” and “want to.” It’s too bad I didn’t get this platform half a lifetime ago, before I had a wife and a kid to worry about their needs instead of my own. I’m not at the point in life where I want to relocate, unless it’s to a place that has a special place in my heart. I grew up around here, so Chicago would be a fit. My wife is from Seattle, so Seattle would be a fit. Other than that, a remote consulting thing is about all I’d consider.
Q: Have you spoken to Cubs president Theo Epstein about a job?
A: No comment.
Q: Hmm. I’ll ask him.
A: Go ahead. If they want to disclose anything, they will.
Q: But it sounds like you have a shot.
A: There is a shot, yeah. I’d say it’s not an impossibility. (The Cubs have made no job offer, sources said, but plan to meet with Holzhauer.)
Q: How would your “Jeopardy!”-winning skills translate to decision-making in baseball?
A: I’m not sure “Jeopardy!” would (translate). I think the mindset of how you come into it might — like, we know how everyone else plays this game, but we can do it differently. We can do it better. I think that’s carried with me through sports gambling, through when I used to play poker, when I was on “Jeopardy!” You kind of think about: “Here’s what everyone else thinks is the limit for how you can play this game. But here is what I think the limit is, and I really think we can go above and beyond. I think there is a different way to approach this that no one else has considered.” If you believe in yourself, you don’t have to do things the same way everyone else is doing it.
Q: Did you grow up going to Cubs games?
A: I’m from Naperville. My parents were not the type to splurge on a lot of in-person baseball games, but it was always a treat whenever we got to come out here.
Q: Who were your favorite players?
A: Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player growing up. And, honestly, Frank Thomas because he was so good, even though he was a crosstown (player). It was hard not to love him, and it seemed like he was such a good guy, too, off the field. And Sammy (Sosa) was a big attraction, for sure.
Q: Have things calmed down since the end of your “Jeopardy!” run?
A: I would say no, but I’m pretty selective about what opportunities I’m doing too. Yesterday I went to a collector’s convention in Rosemont. I have a friend working for a card company, and it was a favor to go to his booth. I think we drew attention to his company, which was great, signed autographs for charity and helped female architects get scholarships, which I thought was a nice thing. Yeah, just picking things that are easy. This is the first function I’ve left Las Vegas for.
Q: Have you been asked to do any commercials?
A: They can ask me to do things, but they can’t necessarily get me to do it.
Q: So you don’t care about making more money?
A: That’s a bit overstated, but, yes, it’s fair to say that simply dangling a dollar figure in front of me is not going to work.
Q: Has your strategy changed the way people will play “Jeopardy!” from now on?
A: The episodes were taped. They finished taping the season before I was really a viral sensation, so I think the new season will be when we see if anything has actually changed about their strategy, to see if they can try and be the next James. We’ll find out.