Among certain of my friends, the phenomenon of “Sarah’s Angry Emails” is not unknown. Something sets me off (usually involving politics, sports, ex-boyfriends, feminism, a particular downstairs neighbor, or some combination thereof) and before I can stop myself, I’ve seized my keyboard and pounded out a single-spaced screed. This happened recently in regard to a post I wrote that got picked up by Deadspin (always interesting, the folks that wander over here from Deadspin). Only instead of Sarah’s Angry Email, it was Sarah’s Angry Blog Comment, and instead of going only to an ex-boyfriend/my e-mail drafts folder/the spam filter of one of these columnists, it ended up on the Interwebs for all to see.
Though the ranting began because of a particularly limp Bob Ryan column, the weakness rampant throughout sports journalism had actually been a topic of discussion between Nick and myself for some time. (And of course, it’s been a frequent topic on UmpBump is well, thanks to the provocations of Murray Chass, Jay Mariotti and other MSM folks and their questionable writings or uninspiring broadcasts.) So after a recent spate of emailing between us, Nick and I decided what the heck, let’s post this private conversation and open it up for public comment.
In this case, it began not with baseball but with the “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” columns of Gregg Easterbrook, better known for his political reportage.
Sarah to Nick:
1. Easterbrook writes inflammatory, hearsay-imbued screed on the Patriots and videogate.
2. Easterbrook does it again, with even more paranoia.
3. Then the ombud calls him out.
4. But he continues with the general theme anyway.
The most annoying thing about the last piece is that having been chastened by the ombud, he seems to be using code phrasing, with the overused word “creepy” standing in for “I assume they are still cheating but I have no proof, so I am not legally allowed to write that, so I will just call them creepy, wink wink, nudge nudge.”
Nick to Sarah:
Yeah, all this is pretty bad. But worst of all, these are just boring, over-long, poorly written articles that are really hard to get through. More than ever these days, I find myself enraged by the fact that all these idiots get to keep their jobs forever in some sort of weird tenure system that is far more unfair than the unversity one ever was.
Part of it is “articles” like these, part of it is having to listen to Tim McCarver for yet another postseason despite the fact that he is terrible and everyone hates him, and and a big part of it is that the Dodgers just extended the contracts of announcers Rick Monday and Charlie Steiner, who are two of the most inarticulate broadcasters in all of sports. I mean, I have at least heard some people who like McCarver, but I have never in my entire life heard anyone say a good word about Monday or Steiner – they are openly mocked in the LA Newspapers and radio shows, and when they are on the radio I never even know what the score or the count is. Who makes these decisions, and what planet are they on?
Sarah to Nick:
And the more I think about the people who commented on my post defending Bob Ryan’s inalienable right to “mail it in,” the more angry it makes me! I mean, in Boston, Manny Ramirez gets ripped for not running hard on every ball, right? And among those ripping him are the sports journalists! But it’s okay for those same journalists to slack off every now and then because they are “legends”?? That’s just such hypocrisy. Manny Ramirez is a #$%^&@! legend!!!! Raaaaah!
I would hope if I ever wrote something so terrible, my editor would just tell me. It’s like how Britney Spears needs a friend who is willing to say, “Yes, Brit, that outfit does make you look fat.” The rest of Ryan’s column, as I recall, wasn’t even *bad.* Why couldn’t his editor just be like, “Bob, this first part? You need to re-write that.” Probably because Bob Ryan has been there longer than the editor….sigh indeed.
I was thinking about what I consider must-read sportswriting. And I realized that none of the newspaper columnists make that list. Bill Simmons is always fun. Verducci is always interesting. And the Baseball Prospectus guys are always informative. But though I read the Globe sports pages religiously, I really only read the reported articles with any attention (especially Gordon Edes and the Sunday Baseball Notes, which Peter Gammons pioneered, and which is eerily blog-like in its presentation—-it was way ahead of its time, and Gammons continues to do fine work; now there’s a legend) . I might skim Ryan and Shaugnessy to see what they’re up to, but that’s it. It’s sad.
Nick to Sarah:
Sportswriting today is just so mediocre (when it’s not downright terrible) compared to the past. The same goes for sportscasting. I mean, I know people are always saying the past was better than the present, but I don’t think I’m being hopelessly nostalgic. You can read the stuff written on baseball back in the day by Red Smith or Grantland Rice or Roger Khan or pretty much anyone, and it was so much better than the stuff today.
I mean, Roger Khan was just the beat reporter for the third best paper in New York, but he was great. Back then the sole criterion was that you could write really really well. Now the criteria seem to be many and sundry – pretty much everything *except* that you can write better than anyone else around. And sportscasting – is there any young sportscaster in the Majors today who even has a chance of becoming anywhere close to something like a Vin Scully?
I mean, the problem is more than just blocking young guys with old people who refuse to retire or die. It’s that even the young people they hire are just not all that articulate. They’d rather hire former players than people who can put words together. As a fan, I want to hear people describe sports in ways that make the game more meaningful and more poignant. I don’t care if John Kruk or Eric Karros or Dave Justice or whoever it was really played the game. Who cares, if all they can spout are meaningless cliches?
I think the real problem in sports reporting these days, and in other areas of journalism, is that it’s so ratings driven, and the ratings are measured over such short periods. So even if you know some young person is a great writer or a great broadcaster, the problem is, they are not famous *yet*. And nobody is willing to give these young people two or three or 5 years to get famous while their ratings or subscriptions or whatever are declining. So they’d rather play it safe and keep a senile Big Name til he’s 92 because he’s already famous rather than turning it over to a young person who can write 10 times better but who nobody has heard of yet. There’s no patience.
Sarah to Nick:
I just thought of another must-read for the list. Somewhat ironically, FireJoeMorgan.
Nick to Sarah:
I was just thinking of FJM just now when you were asking who are the good sportswriters of today! Ken Tremendous is tremendous.
UPDATE Nick to Sarah:
Actually, you know who is my new favorite sportswriter? Deadspin’s own Will Leitch. I started reading these little mini-columns he writes for the New York Times, and they were all so good, I couldn’t stop reading them until I got to the bottom of the whole page and it was nearly 2 am here in Yokohama.
Man, THIS is what Murray Chass is blocking? I weep for the world.
No one is saying that certain announcers or columnists are bad people. I think they’re all basically decent human beings. (Except maybe Gregg Easterbrook, and even he isn’t a total ass, just slightly douchey.) And we could go on forever about the “macro” reasons for this trend of sucktitude. And heck, maybe to some out there, UmpBump is certainly no better, and possibly even worse. But at least we don’t get paid for writing this crap.