July 31, 2007
So You Want To Be a Baseball Writer
I am often asked by young aspirants what steps they must take in order to prepare themselves for that most rewarding of careers, that of the baseball writer. My answers to them are often scattershot, as I can never seem to recall for each all that this endeavor entails. I fear that, while I have given the complete picture over the course of time, I have never once laid it all out for any individual young hopeful, owing to forgetfulness, time constraints, or uninterest on my part. I would like to redress that immediately by laying out in a step-by-step fashion the qualities, experiences, and expectations required of those wishing to enter this, the liveliest of the arts.
Stay in school. First of all, by staying in school, you are prolonging your avoidance of an otherwise inevitable entry into the work world, and all the responsibilities that come with that. Ideally, you should be able to delay this entry until you're about 25 or 26, but it is understood that not everyone can milk it for that long. While in school, you might actually pick up some things you need to know, like sentence structure and how to tie a Windsor knot in case you ever win a sportswriting award and are required to wear a tie to the ceremony.
If staying in school seems like an undue burden, just take it one year at a time. Let's say you're in eighth grade right now-don't think way down the road to high school graduation. Just promise yourself that you'll hang in there to ninth grade. Eventually, you'll get to a point in your education where you realize you've learned enough. Then, and only then, should you leave school-unless the building is on fire, in which case you should evacuate immediately.
Learn how to type. While it might look cool in movies to type very fast using just two fingers while a cigarette dangles from the corner of your mouth and a Portis-made fedora is tilted on the back of your head, the reality is you really should use more of your fingers when composing your articles. Besides, nobody allows smoking indoors anymore, so what's the point of even taking it up in the first place if you can't do it while hunkered over your keyboard at the ballpark so as to appear colorful? Two-handed typists write more words, and some publications pay by the word. You do the math on that one and see if you don't sign up at Miss DuCret's School of the Keyboard Arts.
Be probative. Probative is a funny word, isn't it? The first time I heard it I snickered like a schoolboy. Unfortunately, I was 28 years old at the time, and the person who said it was my boss. Writers ask questions, so stop talking about yourself all the time. Writers should be naturally curious people who don't need to spend every second of the day talking about things like what they had for breakfast, what part of their body hurts most, and how much traffic they encountered on the way to the ballpark. Nobody cares anyway. They do, however, care about these things when it comes out of the mouths of their favorite ballplayers, so you might as well learn early that it ain't all about you. You single aspirants out there should try the following as a writing exercise: the next time you're out on a date, talk about nothing but yourself. On your next date, pepper your escort with questions about their lives, opinions and hopes and dreams. See which date goes better.
Get neutral. It is time to put away childish things. Take the pennants off your wall and stop wearing your officially licensed team underwear. You're a professional now, and there's no room for favoritism. Go Swiss, young man. Take no sides. Have no opinions.
Learn the subject. A brief pop quiz, if I may: What was the street address of old Scrilmusky Park in Anthracite, Pennsylvania, home of the 1934 champion Anthracite Canaries of the Class D Black Lung League? You don't know? And you call yourself a worthy aspirant? There's no time like the present to begin learning everything you can about your subject of future expertise. Depending on who you listen to, it is said that humans only use anywhere from three to eight percent of our brains. If that's the case, devote as much of those small percentages of your brain power to knowledge about your chosen subject as possible. Sure, card tricks and the rules to dozens of drinking games might impress them down at church, but will they help you in your field? Not likely. Clear all that other junk out of your brain.
Play the game as long as possible. There is a great weeding-out process in place designed to siphon off those who are not worthy of playing with the hardball and wooden bat at the top of the game's talent curve. Except for those 750 men on active major league rosters, this process gets us all in the end. For some, it is made obvious at the tee-ball level that the future does not hold a pine tar rag. For others, the ceiling is higher. Play as long as you can and learn as much as possible along the way. If it turns out that you are actually quite good at the game itself, perhaps it would be best to drop the reportage aspect of your pursuit and concentrate on the participation end. After all, one cannot do both. While players do have their own blogs, game stories in major newspapers intended for general consumption tend not to be in the first person, and are never written by the participants. For instance, we have never seen this: "The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies last night in Denver behind the five-hit pitching of me, your reporter. I also chipped in with a two-run single in the fourth inning. I was relieved against my wishes in the eighth but we hung on for the 6-3 victory. I am now 7-4."
Don't forget the math. There was a time when a rudimentary knowledge of short division was the only math required of the baseball writing aspirant. These days, it is imperative that you know much more than that. Here's a quick way to determine whether or not you have the mathematical skills necessary to understand today's more involved baseball metrics. Take your verbal SAT score and subtract your math score from it. If the gap is more than 100 points, you might have a problem. If you cannot do this calculation in your head, you definitely have a problem.
Do it for love. There are lots of compelling reasons to want to become a baseball writer: money, power, fame, hours, health care benefits, and free parking at ballyards, to name but a few. These are false gods! You should do it for one reason only: because you love the game and feel that the rest of the world must be convinced of its greatness through the eloquence of your exposition. All other motivations are suspect.
Be ready for change. Perhaps what you must most prepare for is the drastic change in your lifestyle. Baseball writing is so incredibly lucrative that the vast amounts of money it will generate for you may ultimately be your undoing. That is why I only recommend the pursuit to those who were born into money from the very start. You of the highest classes will not be overwhelmed by the sudden jump in income. It is you, much more so than your colleagues who hail from the lower and middle classes, who already know the consequences of having more money than one knows what to do with. Like so many lottery winners who have crumbled under the burden of newfound wealth, most baseball writers are doomed to terrible consequences, because they simply cannot handle the money involved. I wish it weren't so, but it is.
I hope I have done some small service today, and that you will heed my words if and when you enter into this exciting field.