A Pocket of Resistance: Sports Commentary II

This is a continuation of my lead up to a sports commentary, which i may never finish. My time at The Watertown (NY) Daily Times was a wonderful snapshot of my strengths. I was a very good sports editor and writer. I think i can still be good, but very, very different from what is mostly out there now when it comes to sports commentary. That job interviewee in 1972 solidified my belief in what i thought sports journalism should and shouldn’t be.

I should add that my decision to return to the Navy was mostly financial, but i loved my 15 years at sea, and the shore tours, NROTC Unit at Texas &M and Director of leadership, management and equal opportunity programs for the West Coast and Pacific Rim (with offices at the Naval Amphibious School, Coronado) were pretty good as well.

I love both the sea and sports writing. I made my decisions based on what i thought was right for my family and me at the time. I do not regret those decisions at all.

The background information continues:

As the sports pages at The Watertown Daily Times were beginning to take the shape i envisioned, my friend and the assistant publisher (i think that was his title; “Yanch,” as we called him in college, was the publisher in waiting) John Johnson approached me with the idea of going “cold type,” the initial computer publishing system. We agreed to publish the national sports news in the new cold type and the local news in the old “hot type” system.

The advertising sections of the paper had already migrated to cold type. The old guard in the newsroom were wary and reluctant to change. i readily agreed to give it a try.

It began well. i laid out the first sports page for cold type, inserting the AP news stories from the wires, editing, and writing the headlines. The second page was in hot type for the local news. The following pages would be extra hot type for local sports overflow and cold type for whatever space was available for national sports and commentary.

There was one problem. That new fangled computer driven system could kick out more sports news in one day than i had ever experienced. This was not so evident the first couple of days. I got the AP’s big news and the photographs, laid it out, and produced about three pages of newsprint on national sports; i laid out and filled up the second and third pages with local sports and ads, and it looked like it was going to work out just fine.

The size of the sports section then varied depending on the ads and the newsprint required to allow them to fit well into that edition. The sports section had been about one and one-half pages of newsprint. By the time i left, the section averaged over four-pages of newsprint daily.

Then came the first Thursday with the new system. For those who have not worked in the newspaper business, Thursday is grocery day. That’s the day all of the grocery ads are put in the paper. That means you have to have more newsprint, so the paper looks like a newspaper instead of four or five grocery ads. The new cold type system gave me the ability to fill up the space around ads. On the first Thursday of the new sports pages, the sports department, aka me, was overwhelmed. The paper that Thursday ended up with nine pages of sports section, something never even approached before. But there was only one of me to gather the sports articles and photos, lay out the nine pages, write the headlines, edit the articles (because even the giant wire services make mistakes), and get it to the printing press.

The deadline was 10:00. Somewhere around 9:15, i realized there was no way i was going to get my nine pages to the printing press by deadline. I ran to the general manager’s office and told him the paper was going to be at least a half-hour late because of the new system. He thanked me and said my alerting him would allow him to get the pressmen, the trucking staff, and the delivery boys ready to work faster than usual. I remember feeling good i had alerted him but bad i had missed deadline.

We got the paper out a little bit late but with not a great deal of disruption to the delivery system.

At the daily post-production meeting, the general manager stood at the front and addressed the editors and key personnel. “I want you to know Jim averted a potential disaster today by alerting me he was not going to make his deadline. This was understandable considering the amount of newsprint he had to manage for today, but him notifying me allow our delivery process to adjust and minimize the damage.

“I have been working here for over twenty years. I want all of you to know this is the first time I’ve ever experienced a staffer letting me know of a problem he caused in advance.

“I hope all of you learn from Jim’s example. He saved us a lot of money and anguish today by giving us a heads up, even though he was admitting to missing the deadline.”

As you can see, i’m still proud of that.

After a couple of months, it was apparent i needed full time help, and we advertised for hiring a sports reporter. I screened a couple of résumés and rejected them. Then one with some potential came pass by desk. I called the guy and set up an appointment. The next afternoon after the paper had been put to bed, the young man was escorted to the little area of the newsroom we had set up as the “sports department.”

I began to ask him about his experience. He began to spew out statistics like a slot machine that had hit the jackpot. He was Billy Beane’s and Bill Gate’s predecessor. Back then, we called them “geeks,” or “nerds.” And that wasn’t a compliment. I kept trying to get him to talk about athletes, how they played, and what were great moments in sports from him. I got batting averages, ERA’s, touchdowns, rushing yards, sacks, home runs, points, rebounds, and not one word about what he thought.

I didn’t hire him even though it could have meant i would be pulling another week or so of long hours by myself. But to me sports journalism was all of the things he didn’t mention. It’s become all of the things he thought was important. For the last two weeks, i’ve been sporadically watching the major league too-long playoffs (money, money, money). The airwaves are full of self-righteous former ball-players and announcers slobbering over every useless tidbit these idiots put out:

“The Royals are 36-2 when they are ahead going into the ninth inning.” Duh.

“He throws his changeup a lot after he’s gotten ahead with his fastball.” Duh.

I still believe there is a beauty in the game itself, in athletes overcoming odds and rising to the challenge. This is one reason i’m a terrible bettor: i always root for the underdog. I still think announcers need to let the game speak for itself. I don’t want to hear what these “experts” think i should know before every pitch or play from scrimmage. i have come to enjoy my television being on mute. I think all of these playoffs and “sudden death” playoffs in every sport are moneymakers for pro team owners and college coaches, and really don’t prove very much. If Ohio State beats Alabama in one game, they could get beaten in the next. The drama of last year’s college answer to the superbowl was exquisite, but such drama used to be in four bowl games on New Year’s day.

I believe the MLB season should be 154 games and there should be no wild card teams. Playoffs up the World Series should be best of three games.

If they are serious about shortening the games, then go back to not having the game time controlled by commercial time outs in baseball and football.

But i am old and out of date. I watch all of the descendants of that man who wanted to work for me in the stands, acting like complete idiots. Sports contests should be watched, not be a backdrop for maniacs. Andy Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame” has diminished to five seconds of dressing like a clown and doing something stupid (with a “cute” sign of course). i see my wanna-be-hire’s progeny on tweets and other social media making useless comments about something they inaccurately think they know something about. I listen to radio sports talk shows (why?) to hear rants and observations from unqualified yahoos, both those being paid and those who call in.

I think there are some worthwhile and entertaining things about today’s sports. And i’m tired of ranting about all of the imbecilic money-based things and the pampered overpaid athletes acting like goons instead of showing respect and responsibility (we used to call it good sportsmanship).

So i am stopping with the rants. I plan for this “Sports Commentary” on my blog to be pleasant observations and sometimes humorous observation about the sports. I will be honest in telling you my sources and suspect a great number of them will come from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

A sample will be forthcoming here soon.

I hope you enjoy them.

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