The end of the weekend mail
Okay, this is gonna do it.
It’s late Saturday afternoon, I’ve got a big wedding celebration to go to (ceremony was in Jamaica a month or so ago, tonight is the party) so it’s time to shut this down.
Plenty of good stuff here to get you through the day, what I miss I’ll catch up with later. Sunday morning is going to be spent lounging, not typing here.
Q: Hi Doug
You wrote an interesting bit on the challenges of getting to know the people who become the subject of your work. Obviously judgment becomes critical to know when someone is being genuine and when they are feeding you a line. I'm sure over the years you have well developed this skill.
However, have you ever been wrong about anyone? Have you judged them to be one way, only to learn something about them later that made you re-evaluate your view?
In a related question, how much do you see people actively trying to protect their private lives? I'm sure lots of athletes give you canned answers because they lack the skills to give you anything meaningful. But, how many give you the party line because they simply want to keep their opinions to themselves and are only speaking to you because it's a league requirement?
A: If I’ve been fooled, it hasn’t been for long but two that I regret a bit are that I thought – originally – that Oliver Miller and Keon Clark were okay guys. They were self-absorbed disingenuous children. But it didn’t take long to figure that out and, frankly, there haven’t been too many “bad” guys in this organization since I’ve been around it. Character counts.
I think I was able to see through some of the questionable characters – Antoine Wright, Jermaine O’Neal – pretty quickly.
And, yes, I am sure that a lot of athletes speak only because they have to and add very little to a story, you try to avoid using them as much as possible.
And, yes, I am sure there is a lot of biting of tongue done by some frustrated players, if you’ve established a trust and a relationship with them, though, you might be able to get some total honesty at some time. That’s hard and doesn’t happen quickly but it does.
I remember Morris Peterson the year Joey Graham, I think it was, started the first six games or so of the season and I knew Mo was ticked. Took a while but he eventually unloaded a bit to me because he knew he could trust me. That was nice.
Q: I quite enjoy your take on other sports as you provide the perspective of a casual fan rather than the hard core person who knows every stat back to the beginning of time.
What would be your favourite things about the games of baseball and football? I am thinking of the game itself rather than the personalities, schedules, specific teams, etc. by way of inspiration for this question, here is one person's view. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor7.shtml
A: Truth be told, I’m not much of even a casual football fan, I do enjoy writing about the Argos because it’s a nice change and some good guys but I don’t sit around and watch a lot of games.
Baseball? I like the timelessness of it, I like it’s leisurely pace, I think a triple to right with a close play at third might be one of the best things in all of sports and I like that the season unfolds over such a long period of time. And if you go to a game, you don’t have to pay rapt attention, you can chat, look around, enjoy a nice day with friends.
Hope you had a restful week. Thanks for indulging us irregulars during your "vacation".
Seems to be a theme running through the blog this past week: from Charles' letter early in the week about baseball and the affect of steroids, the wonderful link you included about the writer (Quick) in Portland leaving his Blazers beat, and then Raffa's letter in Saturday's mail.
I enjoyed your responses on all three topics. Were I to guess, I think some of the disenchantment could be age related. I think part of the "Magic" of sports is for kids. I"ll never forget walking into Jarry Park as a 12 year old for the first time, watching the Expos play the Phillies. I got the same kick years later out of taking my then 12 year old son to Olympic Stadium for a game and watching his sense of awe with everything that he took in that night.
I wonder if that's part of the problem with pro sports? We as fans get stuck in one dimensional (emotional) views of the teams we follow and the athletes that pass through the organizations. One of the reasons I enjoy your writing as much as I do is because I find you challenge your readers to take a more balanced, mature view of it all.
Professional athletes are elite at their craft (even the journeymen)... But they are seldom the hero's our child like images of them want them to be. When we hear of their periodic transgressions or get exposed to examples of their flaws we then judge them to a standard that few of us could survive ourselves.
When I can keep all that in mind (and it was challenging not to be too emotional when the Raptors traded Jose!) then I can enjoy sports from the perspective of appreciating the skill of these amazing athletes. Sports then becomes a great diversion from the pressures of life rather than an extension of them.
Thanks again for what you do.
A: You make a series of increasingly valid points and I think that might be one of the more troubling aspects of where we are headed.
I think kids – impressionable, still-learning kids – are missing out on sports these days for a couple of reasons.
One, they are too distracted by the “other” things like the proliferation of distractions like video games and the interweb and youtube and things that keep them from going to ball games at 12 with their moms or dads. And they – and their moms and dads – are missing out on something special and I think it creates a lack of passion that is somewhat disappointing.
But equally so, I think parents are so jaded and cynical and have seen the flaws in so many sports “heroes” that they can’t in good conscience point their kids in that direction.
And that’s kind of sad, too, isn’t it?
I understand that even back in our day, the “heroes” were flawed, we just didn’t have 24/7 coverage of them on the field or court and off it and it was in so many ways a better time.
Those times are gone and I’ve said too many times to count, I truly hope people can somehow appreciate these athletes for their sporting excellence and take joy simply from their exploits within the confines of their sports.
Sporting greatness a diversion. A needed diversion. One that should be celebrated.
Don't know if this has been asked since the paywall has been enacted, but have you noticed a dip in your readership/hits of the blog? I know you can still access your blog without paying, but I wonder if people that get stuck at the Home page or Sports Page don't bother clicking on to your link directly?
Brad Gerecht (aka MC_Brad)
A: I haven’t noticed a drop at all, to tell you the truth. It’s always a bit slower here this time of year with no basketball and people having summer things to occupy their time.
We’ll see what happens when the season rolls around but I have a feeling that we’ll be pretty normal in this corner of the world. Hope so, at least.
Q: With reference to Jason Quick’s compelling farewell to the Trail Blazers beat, your job sometimes seems to embody the best (and worst) aspects of straight news reporting, coupled with an additional requirement to be a drama critic who must review actors and director immediately after each performance. That’s some balancing act.
Aside from putting bread on the table, what is the key to doing for as long as you have, and have you ever felt as burned out as Mr. Quick? Does cranking out several columns a week hold any attraction as an alternative (remembering that you already do this five times a week for a select and lucky audience)?
James A, Victoria
A: The key is pretty simple: You have to like your job. Like the interaction with people, like the variety, like the games, like the lifestyle and, no, it’s not for everybody. I don’t mind and have never been to the point of burnout where I’d seriously consider giving it up.
I think I have a passion for it and maybe that’s strange but it hasn’t abated and I’m reminded of it often and it makes me feel good about what I do and how I do it.
Sure, at points you’re dog tired and there’s four games in five nights out west and you wonder what in tarnation you’re doing but you suck it up, find something fun to write and get on with life knowing you’ll be home with friends and family soon enough.
And you know what? I do have the best of both worlds in some ways. The morning stuff allows me to branch out a bit – although I haven’t done as good a job at that as I’d want – and the beat coverage keeps a singular focus. Sure, it’s a workload and I wonder at times of both are suffering because of it but, right now, I’m okay with what I produce.
Q: So Doug, I see Vin Scully is signing on for his 65th season covering baseball next year! Just wondering, will you be taking a run at that record?
A little weekend music? Maybe some CS&N "Lay Me Down"? And/or Lyle Lovett and Keb Mo "Till It Shines"?
Thanks for the great blog!
David M, Ottawa
A: If I was a fraction as good at my job as Vin Scully is at his, I might consider hanging around forever because it’s still fun. But 65 years?
Hahahahahahahahahahaha, as they say.
Q: Hi Doug, I LOVED Quick's articles and they've prompted me to ask a few questions. I'm sure you'll probably get a lot of similar ones but hopefully one or two will merit a response.
1. Have you ever had a "trust me" situation where you sat on a story as a favour or in order to secure a future story only to have it come back and bite you??? I would love to hear it!
2. Have you ever had any confrontation with a player similar to what Quick experienced?
3. Do you think the basketball beat is unique in terms of the close relationships with players and that particular dynamic because the roster is so small??? I mean in relation to foot ball and baseball, basketball teams are so small with sometimes as few as 7 or 8 players playing real minutes... same people reporting on the same small group of players over an 82 day grind... creates a unique environment
4. Quick seemed to suggest that his favourite days covering the Blazers came when the team was having success with its young guys. Do you think your job is easier to do when the team is winning? Less fan angst? Players more cooperative.
5. Quick suggested that he's seen money change people. I only have to remember an extremely introverted Bosh who seemed scared of camera his first few years to think this is true. Do you agree? Most prominent examples?
6. Finally do you have any examples of when you were led to report something or did a profile suggesting a truth that you later found to be contrived or made up?
A: There’s a lot of Jason Quick stuff this weekend, isn’t there?
I’m sure I’ve got to a lot of your questions at other spots but a few look new so let me get at them.
I do think basketball is unique and not just because of the numbers but because of the access and interaction. We get to see and talk to these guys every day at practice, at shootaround and pre-game and post-game on game days and over the course of a 150-day season or so, that’s a lot of time to just chat if you want.
A winning team is a bit easier, I’d suggest. Everyone seems in a better mood, more relaxed or something. There is always a level of tension around a struggling team because everyone’s worried what could happen if things keep going south.
I don’t have a whole lot of specifics about money changing people; I’m sure it’s happened at some small level when a guy gets a big contract and more responsibility within the team but not sure it’s happened with this group of the years.
And, no, I don’t recall a profile I did at any level that turned out to be dead wrong; as I mentioned the other day, I have a bit of built in cynicism that I think is necessary.
Q: What do you think AB said to himself when he saw the Knicks schedule with two pre-season games back in Toronto 10 days apart?
A: “More days to read that insightful Doug Smith in the pages of The Star.”
“It’s the pre-season, no one will be there, the boos won’t be too bad, will they?”
Q: Any chance you'll be reporting on the Toronto Waterfront Marathon again this year?
I am running it this year - Sunday, October 20...and I really enjoyed how you captured the race for all those involved not just the top finishers.
Alas, no doubt the HOTH will have one of their 5 home dates or worse the 3 away dates which will require a trip to Pearson.
Thanks for writing them since I keep reading them.
A: Not sure about the marathon, it was a lot of fun the one year I did it helping out but we have the talented Kerry Gillespie on that beat now and I’m sure she’ll do a great job. But there is no Raptors game that day so if they need help …
Good luck with the run.
Q: Hiya Doug,
Hope the vacay's peachy.
Pardon the ignorance, and maybe over-inquisitiveness, I was just wondering who pays for your game tickets? Is it Mother Star, or do the teams dole out Press tickets to your corps? What time do you get to the stadium(s) for b'ball? I know you were saying as Argo Boy you had a different schedule.
Thanks as always for this most excellent, as not yet paywalled blog!
A: No, there is no payment for tickets and in an effort to increase their revenues, many teams have moved us out of courtside locations, which takes away from the ability to do the job well, a little bit.
For most games, I’m at the arena around 10-11 a.m. for shootaround and then back for about 4 p.m. The big difference with football and the schedule is that there is no pre-game access whatsoever on game days so for a 7:30 p.m. Argos game, I might not get to the stadium until 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. so I can just run into some people and chat.
Q: Hey Doug
Is it true that the Raptors have the 6th largest player salary total in the NBA this season? I know it is silly to start looking at the roster and pointing fingers at who is worth their salaries and who is not, because the truth is that they are going to get paid regardless of how anyone feels about it. But with so many teams with similar player salary expenditures having rosters that include franchise players and, or, multiple all stars, is it possible that the Raptors can't really be competitive until some of the weighty contracts expire? If this is case, then the impending Landry Fields balloon payment makes me want to cry a little.
A: I think you need to look at different places, I’ve got them about 12th in payroll. And I’ll point this out one more time for old time’s sake: Payroll has NOTHING to do with success. It’s how you spend your money and while, yes, you could look at some Raptors numbers and think they’re out of whack just as you could look at every roster in the league and find one or two examples as well.
Nothing about their salary structure will keep them from improving if talent develops and they catch good health and a break or two.
Oh, and there is no balloon payment for Fields; it was structured that way under CBA rules for the Knicks to deal with, his deal is evenly split over the years in Toronto and it’s not as burdensome a contract as so many have decided it is.
But that’s another issue.
Q: Hello Doug,
Before reading (one of) last weekend's mailbags, I'm sure I'd never heard of Ring Lardner. (Just to refresh any memories or readers who missed the mention, Doug was asked to reflect on his lifelong athletic dream and he responded that to sit in a pressbox with the likes of Jim Murray, Red Smith, Ring Lardner and George Vescey while covering a baseball game would be pretty special.) Now, not two hours after reading these words, I picked up a book just borrowed from the local public library, "Dispatches from the Sporting Life", and not only did its author - Mordecai Richler - also mention Ring Lardner, he devoted an entire chapter to the man.
Well, now I'm really intrigued by Mr. Lardner and want to get my hands on anything he'd written. And, because in "Dispatches", Richler wrote: "Of course, the best baseball book ever, published as long ago as 1916 but still fresh and acute, is Ring Lardner's "You Know Me Al"..." this is the Lardner book I wanted to read first.
So, thanks to you, Mordecai Richler and a well-stocked used bookstore here in town, I recently spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon reading the story of Jack Keefe, a rookie pitcher who's just caught on with the Chicago White Sox. Keefe (who has a bit of Nuke Laloosh about him, although minus the garter belt) is already, in his own eyes, the most valuable member of the Chicago White Sox; his wins result from his excellence, his losses from the errors of his teammates.
Yes, "You Know Me Al" was written a century ago, but it has a timelessness that I found resonated and reassured about the game and the people who play it.
Anyway, it all started with a question in the mailbag, and as I've said before...the things we learn here. Thank you.
Lorie P, London
A: Great book. Outstanding. And, yes, part of what we do here is try to spread a few things out so that people can expand their knowledge a little bit. I think we do it pretty well, too.