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May 20, 2003

Breaking Balls

Your Guide to Local Sportswriter Identification

by Derek Zumsteg

The Bored and Bitter

The beat writer who long ago decided that it was easier to write up the team-provided game notes, get two, three quotes from players after the game, and make some sausage. Doesn't like his job, resents the players and coaches who make much more money, so he's unwilling to put a hundredth of the effort into his own work. If they ever figured out how to use OCR scanning on the game notes, they'd only have to be at the ballpark in time to pick and load handouts and then attend the post-game interviews.

"The Pirates lost 12-1 when they failed to drive in runners with two outs. The Pirates have hit only 3-32 in their last 11 games with runners on in scoring position, and that continued Tuesday. A workman-like performance by Kris Benson was wasted as the Bucs stranded four runners during the game. 'It was a tough loss,' said manager Lloyd McClendon after the game."

Sisyphus

The intelligent beat writer. Their job requires them to get the same easily-given quotes, to write the standard game stories, and they've discovered that their job doesn't offer them the wide-ranging freedom they thought it might...and they haven't given up. You find little asides of discontent in their stories, little nods to on-base percentage, or actual causes of problems. If given the opportunity, usually in the Sunday section, they frequently produce loving, deeply-researched pieces that shame the other writers. Burnout is high for these writers, and I hope that they find writing jobs in some far better place.

One-Sport Wonder

Frequently a player of his favorite sport, this writer marks off the days until his season starts. His articles on that sport may not be well-written or insightful, but they're enthusiastic and demonstrate that he's trying. When covering sports he doesn't like, reverts to "Bored and Bitter."

ENG408: Creative Expository Writing

Given to attempting stylistic devices he learned in senior seminars at state colleges.

He has this thing, and it's a literary device, where you write a sentence, and it builds, and builds, and builds, to what you hope is a climax the reader is speeding up to read, you've laid the tension on so thick, and then at the end you take a running start, you leap, and you land.

And then you write a short sentence.

And then maybe you repeat the opening of the last paragraph. And then you go to shorter, choppier sentences. You build a rhythm. Fragments OK. So is the use of the passive voice. And then once you've done that, you can start with the longer ones again, looking to build...

Also known to use: fake conversations with made-up friends, extended allegory involving transparent characters with see-through names ("Hi, I'm Cindy. Cindy Reds.") and long comparisons of sports books he half-remembers.

Simmons Surrogate

Bill Simmons (and I love him despite his occasional farewells to/attacks on baseball) has spawned a terrible legion of knockoffs. (Simmons is sort of an anti-one-sport wonder, where he can only write bad things about one sport and loves the others). These are the guys with grinning mugs in the paper who talk a little about something going on with sports in a conversational style:

"Watching Bobby Higginson is like a reminder of when I played IMA fast-pitch softball at Local U and my buddy Zach, who was a high-school ace and the best natural athlete I ever knew, had spent the last four years drinking and chasing women with the rest of our frat buddies, and he'd swing at a pitch you knew he'd have hit, but he just wasn't really there anymore. That's Higginson."

And then when he's milked that topic for all the conversation possible, he runs the Tools - - >Word Count and sees that he's still way under his quota, so he fills the rest of the column with weird, jokingly chauvinistic commentary:

"It'll be a shame if the WNBA goes under, because I'll miss seeing Allison Feaster run up and down the court in those shorts. Feast your eyes on that! Speaking of women with ball control, I heard that local competition pole-dancer Kyndii went on a car shopping spree with quarterback..."

It's a like reading a blog of someone you know but didn't realize was a total jerk, except that you can take some consolation that the blogger isn't getting some fractional reward from the spare change you paid for that daily paper. Yay for honesty, hurled rotten fruit for being a moron.

This Game is Delicious!

The sportswriter who's been moved from another department because they've decided to use syndicates for all their content. A former food critic who got tired of being paid to enjoy fine dining. These writers are blessed with all the surface knowledge of a casual fan and a deep, invasive knowledge of another, unrelated subject that informs everything else they write about.

"The Marlins held a press conference to show off their new alternate Tuesday uniforms today, and I was blue--depressed, that is--over the new navy color scheme. Who designed these beastly outfits? They make our players look like deranged sock puppets, not professional baseball players! If there's one upside, it's that we can expect visiting teams from cities with some style--I'm talking to you, New York--to be so distracted by these gaudy things that they'll be unable to concentrate on the high heat served up by ace closer Braden Looper, who was wearing a fetching neutral ensemble before being draped in these blue curtains."

Pocket Lint

So far in the local teams' pockets he'd get trapped in the filter if they any of them ever washed their pants. Just as lazy as the Bored and Bitter, but more eager because he wants the scoop first. Easy indicator: Are there unsourced comments in their stories that support team goals?

"While the Tigers were one of the only teams to step up to provide significant funding for their own stadium, it's the city that has really put the screws to the financially distressed franchise, asking for the team to pick up the tab for police officers who provide added stadium security, and even going so far as to put off the construction of a new high-speed luxury rail line to and from the airport to serve tourists. The city council may think they're being fiscally sensible, but what kind of economic benefits do they think the team will bring if they can't afford to hire the players their rebuilding effort is going to need?"

Lonely Lint

Was on the ins with the last franchise management and has found the new management uncooperative, and fears for their life. Frantically tries to stir fan sentiment against the new management in the hopes he'll force some kind of coup before readers realize he's got nothing interesting to say, and without the occasional inside tidbit, his columns are of less use than the daily astrology predictions.

"Can anyone else believe that the Padres are bringing in Joe Newplayer to take over at catcher? This is a kid who's been in the minor leagues for only two years after graduating from college--he's probably not even sober yet! And I looked up the minor league stats these bigwigs are saying were so great, and I found that he never drove in over 90 runs in a season. Ninety runs! In the minor leagues, you get issued 75 RBI with your uniform. What this team needs clearly is a veteran catcher for the younger pitchers, a steadying defensive backstop who can control the running game, like Todd Hundley, or Sandy Alomar. How long is ownership going to put up with this silliness?"
Related Content:  Freedom Of The Press,  The Who

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