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January 18, 2011

Prospectus Q&A

Paul Hoynes

by David Laurila

The job of a baseball beat writer is evolving, and it is a lot more demanding than most people realize. Few do it better the Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Hoynsie” has been on the Indians beat for nearly 30 years, so from Andre Thornton to Manny Acta, and Albert Belle to the internet age, he has pretty much seen and done it all—in his own inimitable style. Hoynes talked about what goes into the job, how it has changed, and some of the most interesting players he has covered, one of whom attacked him in the clubhouse.

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David Laurila: Most fans know what a beat writer does, but do they really understand what goes into the job?

Paul Hoynes: Probably not. Just like I don't know what a guy does who works in a body shop. Yeah, I know he fixes dents, but I have no idea how he goes about it.
 
The biggest criticism I've noticed from fans is that people think teams can keep writers from reporting negative news by giving them free food in the press box. Whenever I get an e-mail like that, I write back that there are no more free lunches or dinners. So when you see me, you know this stomach is partially bought and paid for by Plain Dealer expense money.
 
This is a great job, it really is. Good teams, bad teams, in baseball there's always a game to write about and there's always something going on. Your office is Progressive Field, Fenway Park, or Yankee Stadium. That's not bad.
 
DL: How has the job changed since you started out nearly three decades ago?
 
PH: More work and less pay. But I know how fortunate I am to still have a job in this business.
 
The baseball beat writer is going to write more stories than anyone at the paper year in and year out. I'm not bragging, it's just the nature of the beast. It's always been that way, but with online obligations, the workload has increased.
 
I think you could literally sit down in the press box at 5 p.m. for a 7:05 p.m. game and start writing non-stop until the last pitch. You have to do your pre-game notes. You have get online with news stories if anything happened before the game. During the game, we do in-game updates every three innings and a short three-or-four graph gamer as soon as the game ends. Not to mention Tweets and in-game posts if there is any news—injuries, fights, ejections—during the game.
 
At home, we usually have someone on hand to handle the internet, but on the road one guy does it all.
 
And that doesn't even include going down to the clubhouse after the game, getting quotes from the manager and players, and rewriting your running game story for the second edition, which is at 12:15 a.m.
 
As you can imagine, there's not a whole lot of time to watch the ballgame. Thank goodness for play-by-play online.
 
The biggest change I've seen since starting the beat in 1983 for The News-Herald—moved to The Plain Dealer after the 1984 season—is the speed of the coverage. I knew I was in trouble at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis before the 2009 season. Anthony Castrovince, the former mlb.com Indians beat guy, and I were talking to Manny Acta after the manager's annual luncheon. Acta told us that catching prospect Carlos Santana had broken the hamate bone in his hand in winter ball and would miss six to eight weeks. It was big news for the Indians during a slow winter meetings. I was getting ready to rush back to the pressroom to write it, when Anthony whips out his Blackberry and tweets the news as we were still talking to Acta. So I'm standing there with my thumb in my ear, getting my ass kicked, and telling myself, "Not only do I have to get a Blackberry, I have to start texting."
 
The speed at which news travels now is amazing. I've left the Winter Meetings the last three years with my head spinning. It used to be you could sit on a scoop for a whole day and beat everybody in the next day's paper. Now if you have a scoop, you have it for a minute after you post it before somebody else picks it up.
 
I marvel at the way Kenny Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi at FoxSports and Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick, and all the other ESPN guys work the meetings and the trading deadlines. Those guys are relentless and they've changed with the times, combining good newspaper work with internet and TV savvy. It's impressive.
 
Another change I've noticed is that the games themselves don't seem to mean as much as they used to. It's the rumors, features, and trend stories that count more now. It used to be the game story was the key to being a good baseball writer. I don't think that's the case anymore as long as you get the score right and file fast.
 
The impact of statistical analysis has changed the job as well. Five years ago if you told me a guy could win the Cy Young with 13 wins, I would have laughed. In fact, I was still laughing this year when it was suggested Felix Hernandez could do just that. I guess the laugh was on me.
 
One more change—baseball writers are dressing better. We're going to have to find a way to stop that. It used to be tennis shoes and jeans. Now so many guys are writing and doing TV, that everybody is walking around in suit coats and ties. Everybody is starting to look like a lawyer. Or, heaven forbid, an agent.
 
DL: How do you view the decline of print and the growing scope of the internet?

PH: The internet? It's just a fad, right?

DL: Who were your role models when you started out, and whom do you most admire in the business now?
 
PH: I grew up in Cleveland reading the Plain Dealer and Cleveland Press. I liked the columnists: Bob August from the Press and Danny Coughlin from the Plain Dealer. I liked the baseball beat guys Russ Schneider from the PD and Bob Sudyk from the Press. My first pro beat was the Browns and Chuck Heaton (Plain Dealer) and Bill Scholl (Press) broke me in. Sadly, both are gone.
 
When I started covering the Indians in 1983 for the News-HeraldThe Press folded in 1982 where I was covering the Browns—their baseball beat guy, Hank Kozlowski, showed me the ropes.
 
I loved Hal Lebovitz's notes column on Sunday in the Plain Dealer and News-Herald. Sadly, he's gone as well.
 
I grew up reading Jim Murray. I've got books of his columns and he still makes laugh. Try writing like Murray. One rim shot after another, while stating an opinion. Very difficult.
 
I like a lot of writers today. As I said, Rosenthal and Morosi are relentless. Same with Jeff Passan and Tim Brown at Yahoo.com. I love the way Jayson Stark does his job. He comes at it from a different angle. He's fun to read.
 
Like the guys in Detroit—Tom Gage, John Lowe, and Jason Beck.
 
I like the Boston writers because they put so much passion into their writing. It's the best baseball town going, especially when there's blood in the water and the Sox are in a tight race. Really like Nick Cafardo's Sunday notes.
 
T.R. Sullivan is great beat writer covering the Rangers. I loved Ray Ratto's column when he was writing for the Chronicle in the Bay area. I love Mark Whicker's work for the Orange County Register.
 
DL: It has been said that there are two kinds of sportswriters: those who love the reporting aspect of it, and those who love the writing. Where do you fit in?
 
PH: I think I'm more writer than reporter and that irritates me. It's something I need to get better at.
 
I'm sure there are readers out there who say I stink at both. One more thing to love about the reader's comments at the end of our stories. We've been asked to respond to those comments. It's a difficult thing to do.
 
If I make a mistake, fine. But anonymity makes people brave.

DL: How much has the reporter-player relationship changed over the past three decades?
 
PH: I think it's pretty much the same. If you're there every day and give guys a fair shake, you'll be able to do you job. You can't hide as a beat guy. If you take a shot at somebody, you have to give them a chance to reply.
 
It has always been that way.
 
One of the biggest differences now is guys give you their e-mail addresses at the end of the year instead of their phone numbers.
 
I wonder sometimes what they think of me. I'll be 60 when the season starts. I've got two sons and they're older than most of the players on the Indians. I wonder if they think, "who is this old man and why is he bothering me?" Then again, maybe they're less likely to kick my butt. That's always a good thing.
 
DL: Who have been the most difficult personalities to cover in your time on the beat?
 
PH: Albert Belle, no contest. He's really the only player I've ever covered on the Indians that I actually disliked.
 
I've talked to him several times since he retired, and we get along better now. But when he played here, he made a beat writer's life miserable. He was always getting suspended, caught with a corked bat, hitting some guy over the head with a ping-pong paddle in a pool room, throwing a ball at a taunting fan, running over Fernando Vina, or trying to drive over trick-or-treaters who egged his house.
 
The old Yankee writers used to say you needed two writers on the Yankee beat—one to cover Billy Martin and one to cover George Steinbrenner. That's how I felt about Belle.
 
What made it worse is that he was the team's best player by far. He was one of the best and most intimidating hitters I've covered. Unfortunately, he tried to intimidate everyone off the field as well.
 
DL: Who are the most engaging and/or unique personalities?
 
PH: I liked Ernie Camacho, a closer when I first started covering the Tribe. He once told me he got seasick sleeping on a waterbed. Another time, he injured his elbow from signing too many autographs in a short period of time and couldn't pitch. Once Ernie had to get surgery on his right elbow. The Indians didn't think Ernie was hurt that bad. After the surgery, Ernie got the bone chips they took out of his elbow, put them in a specimen jar, and taped them to the top of his locker so everyone could see.
 
Mel Hall was an interesting guy. He almost killed me once in the locker room. Otis Nixon and about three other guys saved me by pulling him off me. Tony Bernazard pushed me out of the locker room.
 
Mel told me once, "We were so poor, I signed my first contract in dirt." Then he added, "We had nothing in our house to eat but ice. We'd just roll it in flour."
 
He's in prison in Texas.
 
I liked covering manager Pat Corrales. He always had great stories and he'd save you on a slow news day.
 
The most engaging great player I've ever covered has to be Omar Vizquel.
 
DL: How much do the front office and manager impact what a reporter encounters in the clubhouse?
 
PH: I think it starts with the kind of players the front office and manager puts in the locker room. The Indians, under former GM and current president Mark Shapiro, have always stressed character in putting teams together since he became GM in 2002. New GM Chris Antonetti is the same way.
 
The Indians' great teams from 1994 through 2001 were more talented and much edgier. A lot of that had to do with Belle, but they had a lot of veterans on those club who spoke their mind. Still, I've never felt that a manager or the front office in Cleveland went out of their way to make the locker room a hostile place to work for reporters.
 
That's may not be the case in other cities, but regardless of the atmosphere, there are going to be difficult moments in a locker room for a reporter.
 
DL: What is it like working in the Cleveland market, and is there anything that makes it unique?
 
PH: It's a one-paper town, The Plain Dealer, but there's still competition. The Akron Beacon Journal and News-Herald have good beat guys in Sheldon Ocker and Jim Ingraham. MLB.com has Jordan Bastian covering the beat. Plus all the radio and TV guys.
 
The traveling party has shrunk. Last year I made a West Coast trip and I was the only writer covering the Tribe. You have the team to yourself, but it's a strange feeling.
 
I've lived here all my life so I'm not sure what makes it unique. It does have midges and seagulls. And they can strike at any moment—ask Joba Chamberlain and Coco Crisp—in favor of the home team. Now that's a home-field advantage.

2 comments have been left for this article.

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