Sports journalism: an up-and-down career   

Updated: May 20, 2008, 9:02 AM ET

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Print
  • Share

In the wake of Buzz Bissinger's, ahem, ill-advised anti-blogger meltdown during a recent segment of "Costas Now," I have been repeatedly asked by the lawyers and plumbers and accountants among us why a man who covers sports for a living could be so bitter.

Not knowing Bissinger personally, I can only guess that he's traveled his own happy-go-angry path from optimistic young scribe to scornful vet. Instead of speculating, however, I will share my own journey, which is responsible for my metamorphosis into the man I am today -- an ornery, frustrated, Big Lots-wardrobed 36-year-old hack wondering why I have to dig out $8 from my own pocket for the Shea Stadium press box buffet. (OK, ESPN reimburses me. But, damn it, that's not the point.)


March 11, 1992 -- As a University of Delaware sophomore, I sit courtside as the Blue Hens -- my Blue Hens -- beat Drexel, 92-68, to reach the school's first-ever NCAA tournament. The Delaware Field House literally shakes with excitement. "I'm going to the tournament!" I scream to my parents over the phone. "I'm going to the tournament!" (+10)

March 20, 1992 -- I go the tournament. On the team bus to the airport, Alexander Coles, the Hens' star forward, looks me over and says, "Who invited you?" Cincinnati crushes Delaware by 38 points. (-5)

March 20, 1992 -- Coles goes 1-for-8 from the field and scores two points (+.5)

July 6, 1992 -- While interning at a newspaper in Champaign, Ill., I am asked to cover a Central Illinois College League clash between the Champaign County Colts and the Danville Dans. Midway through the ninth inning, a Colts pitcher named Matt Arrandale venomously curses out the PA announcer for accidentally asking a trivia question during a pitch.

Arrandale is 21. The PA announcer is in his 50s. (-5)

July 12, 1992 -- An 8-year-old boy named Robbie Martin visits the Champaign dugout. He is suffering from neuroblastoma, and will not live to see Christmas. Arrandale treats him like a little brother. (+10)

August 1, 1992 -- Midway through my internship, I go to Comiskey Park to write a profile of Dave Fleming, Seattle's rookie left-hander. I walk into a major league clubhouse for the first time and see the bottomless jug of Bazooka, the refrigerator packed with every imaginable beverage and the large-screen television. Fleming is as nice as can be, and Mariners manager Bill Plummer says, "Hey, good luck in school." (+15)

August 1, 1992 -- Plummer tells me this as he is naked. (-200)

June 15, 1994 -- I am hired out of college to write for The (Nashville) Tennessean. Starting salary: $26,000! (+5)

June 25, 1994 -- My friend is hired out of college to work on Wall Street. Starting salary: $200,000! (-100)

October 31, 1996 -- In one of my final assignments for The Tennessean, I cover the big Lipscomb-Goodpasture high school football game. In the ensuing story, I write a line that, in my head, reeks of genius: "The Mustangs' [quarterback] David Kirkau, meanwhile, had an up-and-down sort of day -- as in, his passes either went up too high or down too low." (+5)

November 7, 1996 -- Following a week of angry calls to the sports department, my editor sends me to cover Lipscomb's next game. As I stand along the sideline near the end of the fourth quarter, Kirkau -- surrounded by a dozen teammates -- swaggers up to me and says, "Don't you ever show your face around here again!" The next day, I am scheduled to leave Nashville and accept a job as a fact checker at Sports Illustrated.

I am convinced Kirkau believes he forced my departure. (-20)

December 6, 1996 -- My first day at Sports Illustrated. Dreams come true. (+50)

December 7, 1996 -- My second day at Sports Illustrated. I am asked to fact check a 4,000-word story on Czech figure skating. (-40)

June 15, 1997 -- While sitting in my office at Sports Illustrated, I print out a copy of an online dating correspondence. Where the woman asks, "What famous person do you look like?" I write, "Tom Hanks." (+5)

June 15, 1997 -- I mistakenly send the correspondence to the hallway printer, where a pair of fellow reporters pick it up, make dozens of photocopies and proceed to call me "Tom" for the next three months. (-200)

May 10, 1998 -- Editors ask that I conduct a one-on-one interview with Mariners manager Lou Piniella, a man I idolized throughout my boyhood in New York. (+10)

May 14, 1998 -- I conduct a one-on-one interview with Mariners manager Lou Piniella. As we speak, he is simultaneously standing before a urinal, smoking a cigarette and eating a ham-and-Swiss hoagie. (-8,000,000)

April 24, 1999 -- I watch Ken Griffey Jr. play catch with a bunch of kids while running around the Seattle outfield. It is difficult to tell which one is the major league ballplayer. (+5)

December 15, 1999 -- I spend a week traveling through the backwoods of Oklahoma with a pair of rodeo brothers. (+5)

February 7, 2001 -- The mother of an athlete calls Sports Illustrated and asks for me. "I just wanted to tell you," she says, "that you wrote my son's story so beautifully." (+100)

September 21, 2001 -- I am sitting in the outdoor auxiliary press box at Shea Stadium when Mike Piazza steps to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning, with Desi Relaford on first and Atlanta leading 2-1. When Steve Karsay tries to sneak in a fastball, Piazza pounces -- BOOM! As the ball leaves the park, 41,235 fans lose their minds.

It is the first baseball game to be played in New York since 9/11, and I am blessed -- absolutely blessed -- to be covering it. (+1,000,000,000)

April 14, 2003 -- In the process of conducting an interview, Brewers third baseman Wes Helms farts in my face. (-50)

May 8, 2004 -- My first book comes out. Dreams come true more than once! (+50)

May 9, 2004 -- The first review of my book comes out. [BOOK] MAKES ANOTHER HO-HUM TALE, reads the headline. (-20)

July 1, 2004 -- My editor at Newsday says, "Take a break from sports and go interview Rodney Dangerfield. He's in town and promoting his new book." (+100)

July 2, 2004 -- I enter Rodney Dangerfield's suite at Manhattan's Omni Berkshire Place. He is butt naked, fully exposed and smoking one of the fattest joints I have ever seen. (-5,000)

July 9, 2004 -- The nightmares have not ceased. (-100)

Feb. 23, 2005 -- Newsday asks me to profile Reds pitcher Joe Valentine, a Long Island-born ballplayer. Yawn. (-10)

Feb. 23, 2005 -- I ask Valentine for the names of his parents. "Deb and Doreen," he says. Uh, what? "Deb and Doreen." Indeed, I have serendipitously stumbled upon a major league baseball player raised by gay parents. It is, in a sense, the beauty of the profession -- finding the great story. (+100)

May 6, 2006 -- I have spent more than two years researching Barry Bonds, and now my biography is about to be released… (+100)

May 6, 2006 -- … two weeks after "Game of Shadows." (-200)

June 2006-present -- I write a semi-regular column for ESPN.com's Page 2. It is as joyful a gig as I've ever had. (+1,000)

June 2006-present -- I write a semi-regular column for ESPN.com's Page 2 and can't help but scan each and every reader comment posted below my work. Most, to be polite, are not sending flowers. (+1,000)


So here I am, bitter -- but only mock bitter. Truth is, few jobs match the joy, the pleasure, the diversity of experience that comes with sportswriting. Any peers who bemoan their existences need a vacation, some Jell-O shots and a dose of perspective.

Because, at the end of the day, we're being paid to watch games. With occasional nudity to lighten things up.

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," now available in paperback. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.


Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?