My final straw with Ray Romano came this spring, shortly after my new neighbor introduced himself. The man speaks English as a second language -- a distant second -- but through our smiles, fragments and nods, we came to understand each other.
I learned, for instance, that he is a nuclear engineer.
"You?" he said.
"I'm a sports writer."
At that, the man's tongue untied as if a spell had shattered.
"Oh, sports writer," he said, beaming. "Like 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'"
At first I thought it was a gag, even flashed that my wife had put him up to it.
But it wasn't a gag. This man believed that comedian Ray Romano's TV character -- the guy never seen writing a story or interviewing an athlete or watching a ballgame or getting a disruptive phone call from an editor -- is in fact a sports writer of the newspaper species.
For my neighbor to divine that thin truth, which is a truth in the way that "it sometimes snows in Mississippi" is a truth, is proof beyond a doubt that nuclear engineers truly are geniuses.
This whole Raymond-is-a-sports-writer conceit has fascinated me for years. I may not know much about many jobs, but I do know what newspaper sports writers do, having been one for 24 years, most of them as a baseball or football beat reporter for San Diego's largest newspaper. Raymond, ostensibly employed by Newsday, rumored to be covering the Yankees, is suitably flippant to be a sports hack. His arrested development rings true, too. Not so his life of apparent leisure. Sports writers actually work. Raymond doesn't work.
There you have it.
My wife, Mrs. West Coast Bias, could confirm this, at least the part about sports writers working, but she's not commenting owing to subject fatigue. Whenever she dared watch "Raymond" in my presence, I pointed out 394 times that this man couldn't be a sports writer. So it's left to my friend Ken Levine to bear witness.
"You put in the hours," Ken says, remembering my beat-writer days, which ended two summers ago. "For a 7 o'clock game, you're at the ballpark at 2:30 in the afternoon and you don't leave the ballpark until 12:30 [a.m.]."
Ken is the quintessential expert on the Raymond ruse. For starters, he fathoms the life of a baseball beat reporter -- my life for 15 years -- because he calls games for the Seattle Mariners and used to call them for the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles. When Ken co-hosted a baseball radio show in Los Angeles, the Dodger Stadium press box was his office.
Ken also happens to work in the TV business, having written for "Frasier," "Cheers," "The Simpsons" and other sitcoms. Better yet, working as a freelance director, Ken directed a few episodes of the popular insidious TV sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"There are only a few episodes that I can even think of where you'd know it," Ken says, not even using the word sports writer and Raymond in the same sentence. "Maybe he's written a piece or he's submitting a piece for an award or he just came from a road trip or he's going on a road trip.
"My episodes had nothing to do with sports," Ken adds.
It's coincidental that I've broached the Raymond subject with Ken; Ken reveals that he wrote a pilot, as they say in the TV business, entirely about sports writers who actually work. It's titled "Press Box," set therein at Dodger Stadium.
Proving that art imitates art, Ken wrote Ray Romano, the actor and comedian, into the script. Raymond appears in a luxury suite where nattering ball writers, not paying attention to the game, spot him through binoculars. Two of the scribes -- Mason and Big Jim -- discuss "Raymond."
MASON: Hey, doesn't Romano play a sports writer on that show?
BIG JIM: I think so. Who cares?
MASON: It seems like there are 15 guys on TV who play sports writers, but you never see any of them actually working.
BIG JIM: This is the inner sanctum, my friend. Only the very privileged are allowed in the press box.
The writers dupe one of their colleagues, Jonesy, into believing this important guy Romano is secretary of state. (Yes, even among hard-boiled ball scribes, there's a gullible apple or two. Jonesy likely also believed that Mark McGwire got bigger by drinking milk.) Jonesy asks who Romano is, then the fun begins.
MASON: You're kidding, right?
JONESY: No. Who is he?
BIG JIM: Do you spend your entire life sitting on the toilet with a stat book?
JONESY: I'm really sorry. I don't know who Ray Romano is.
MASON: (GOOFING WITH HIM) For god sakes, Jonesy, he's the secretary of state.
JONESY: Oh bull#&%.
BIG JIM: Oh yeah, he was coming into the stadium when I was. Secret Service, the whole deal. Hey, you know what he showed me? The black box. He's got one, just like the president.
JONESY: And he let you see it?
BIG JIM: Opened it up for me. Very "Star Wars." High-tech. You owe yourself. Go over there and let him show you.
JONESY: (SCOFFING) Yeah...right.
BIG JIM: No, he's a good guy. I'm telling ya. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
JONESY: (WAFFLING) This is nuts.
MASON: You'll miss Cesar Izturis fouling out. Go.
Jonesy ventures to Romano's suite and introduces himself, then asks Ray to show him the black box. This renders hyenas the hacks watching through binoculars, but Jonesy is only slightly dopier than those who watch "Raymond" and believe Ray's a sportswriter.
Time to call on a family witness: My stepson, who thinks Ray Romano very funny but Ray as a sports writer ... hinky.
"I don't see how he's a sports writer and he has so much time with his family," says the stepson, as stepdad winces. "It's backward."
Ken explains that Raymond's loose connection to sports writing kept with sitcom tradition.
"Like 'Ozzie and Harriett,'" he says. "Ozzie never had a job and he was always around. The fact that you didn't know that, it didn't mar anyone's enjoyment of the show. In 'Father Knows Best,' Jim Anderson worked in insurance somewhere. In 'Leave It To Beaver,' Ward Cleaver worked in an office downtown. It's like you never know what any of these people did because it wasn't important to the show."
Guessing why Raymond was cast as a sports writer instead of an accountant or a masseuse or a violinist, Ken says: "They wanted to give him a job that was testosterone-based because he's dealing with all these women in his life and his job is very testosterone-based."
One of my favorite baseball writers is Susan Slusser, who covers the Oakland A's for the San Francisco Chronicle. Susan, I think, would agree with Ken that both the baseball industry and the sportswriting biz are "testosterone-based." Like the time ballplayer Milton Bradley screamed at her for no sane reason, stilling a clubhouse full of players. This, Susan told me after her A's traded Bradley to my Padres, one ball scribe giving another a scouting report.
At any rate, the introduction of sports writer reality into "Raymond" would've prodded me to watch more than the 10 episodes I've seen. But somehow the show got along without me, winning 13 Emmy awards in its run from 1996-2005 and consistently ranking high up the Nielsens. Agreeing with me on one count, Ken imagines one benefit to a reality intrusion. Say, having Raymond cover a Yankees road trip.
"Absolutely, he'd be happier," Ken says. "He'd get on a plane and get away from that crazy family of his."
If beat reporters went as long as Raymond did without getting phone calls to chase this story or dig up that story, they'd think the newspaper (or website) had folded without their knowing it.
There are loafers among sports writers, too. But even they talk sports and write stories.
"You never see Ray at the ballpark," says my pal Paul Meyer, who was a baseball beat writer for 26 years and estimates he's seen 100 episodes of "Raymond." "You never see him on the phone. You never see him on the computer. You wouldn't know what his job is.
"His job seems to be to get dumped on by his wife because he's an idiot."
Just once, Raymond should get a phone call from his editor telling him to jump on a story, preferably wrecking Raymond's best-laid plans for fun. Meyer could've supplied ample material.
"Bonilla ruined my wedding anniversary one year," Paul says, still sounding angry that Bobby Bonilla, the former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger, accepted a $29 million offer from the New York Mets in 1991.
A fact check confirms Paul's recounting that the Bonilla story broke on Dec. 2, the same night Meyer and his wife, Lisa, were to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary. Meyer had requested a personal day.
"A personal day is sacrosanct," Paul says.
He nonetheless had to cancel his anniversary plans; his boss said no one else at the Post-Gazette could do the Bonilla story. After hanging up the phone, Paul let out a few choice words that "Raymond's" censors would've killed. Lisa cheered up her husband, or tried to cheer him up, by buying him a case of beer. If baseball's Hall of Fame had a wing for beat-writer spouses, Lisa goes in first ballot.
It's not likely that Ray Romano's TV wife, played by Patricia Heaton, would buy Ray a case of his favorite beverage if Newsday had crushed their anniversary plans.
Then again, Heaton knows the sports writing gig better than her "Raymond" character did.
"You know who Patricia Heaton's dad was in real life?" Paul says. "Her dad was Chuck Heaton, and he was a sports writer. He worked forever covering the Cleveland Browns for the Plain Dealer. He was a great guy. I met him in 1969 when I was an intern there. A great guy."
Paul, as sports writers do, then tosses in a piece of sports trivia.
"Chuck Heaton covered the Browns in '64, the year they won the NFL championship," he says. "Browns beat the Colts, 27-zip. You can look it up."
Doing Paul one better, I inform him that the actor who plays Raymond's brother -- Brad Garrett -- was an understudy on Broadway in "The Odd Couple" and played Oscar Madison, the New York sports writer. But Ken argues that even Oscar wasn't true to the job, either.
"Oscar Madison is a sports writer," Ken says, "yet he is able to have poker games nightly. Yeah."
I think Oscar far more of a sports writer than Raymond, and hope to tell Romano this one day. To which Ken says:
"Ray Romano, he'd laugh and go, 'Yeah, what a bleeping joke.' Or he might go, 'Bleep you, that's not what we were doing.'"
Tom Krasovic is a San Diego-based sports writer who writes too much about the Padres, who -- without meaning to be -- are as funny as Ray Romano. He’s a creator of West Coast Bias -- sports as seen from the West. Follow him on Twitter at @tomkrasovic and read his blog, Inside the Padres.