An Interview with Dan Daly

An Interview with Dan Daly

An Interview with Dan Daly

“Anybody who works for a newspaper knows the only way you know something is news is if you know what’s old… Be aware of what you don’t know. That’s some of the best advice you can give any journalist. Know that history is not your lifetime. History is history.”

“Can you imagine spending five or six hours on a train with a guy where you talk your life story away or the nuts and bolts of baseball? I’m so jealous of guys who worked in that generation and developed those relationships with players and got to learn things that are so difficult to learn now.”

“Overcoming hardship becomes a cliché. His dad wasn’t there or his mom wasn’t there or he grew up in a trailer with his grandma. We’re bombarded with these stories over and over again – the same story…My question is ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ Why do we have this infatuation with this type of story? To me it’s about the games.”

Dan Daly: Interviewed on October 5, 2007

Position: columnist, Washington Times

Born: 1953, Framingham. Ma.

Education: Williams, 1976, history

Personal: married, two boys (Danny 17, Patrick 14)

Career: Worcester Telegram 1976 – 1980, Arizona Republic 1980-81, Daily Oklahoman 82, Washington Times 82-

Favorite restaurant (home): Food Court at Montgomery Mall “spent my life there after games –the maitre d knows me”

Favorite restaurant (road): Outback Steak House anywhere “prime rib or steak – reasonable, reliable and fast”

Favorite hotel: Parker House, Chicago “Miller’s Pub next door – great downtown restaurant you can get food any hour coming back from an event”

Dan Daly, excerpted from the Washington Times, September 27, 2007:

The people have spoken — the computer-literate people, at least. Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball won’t be shot into space or shipped to the Baseball Hall of Fame without editorial comment; no, it will be sent to Cooperstown affixed with an asterisk, sports’ version of the Scarlet Letter.

It’s a wonderful thing, democracy, and every once in a while it gets it right. Fashion designer Mark Ecko, owner of the historic spheroid, could have decided unilaterally what to do with the ball, could have imposed his own morality on the situation, but he realized the issue was bigger than him. So he put it to an Internet vote, and the Asterisk Party — his party, by the way — prevailed.

Cue the confetti.

After all, blasting the ball to the other side of the galaxy might have made for great television, but it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. The Neptunians, I suspect, would have been utterly flummoxed by the horsehide hurtling toward them — and might even launched countermeasures, thinking they were under attack. (Hell hath no fury like a Neptunian who has just had a baseball land in his yard.)

Instead, the Bonds ball will serve, as it should, as a reminder to future generations — a reminder of the evils of flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. Millions of Little Leaguers will be able to file past the display at the Hall, note ball’s unusual tattoo and be forever warned. It will be Barry’s greatest gift to baseball.

Besides, it’s about time Cooperstown was politicized a bit. The place has always been so darn neutral, so nonjudgmental. And let’s face it, the Hall is full of scoundrels, of players who used to grab base runners by the belt or throw pitches that defied the laws of physics. Maybe a separate wing should be built for them — to keep them quarantined, as it were. I can practically hear the tour guide now:

“And over here, folks, we have a jar of Gaylord Perry’s saliva. Yup, ol’ Gaylord really liked to load ’em up. The umpires finally caught him in the act in 1982 and ejected him from a game. Of course, he was 43 at the time, so it’s hard to know whether he was throwing a spitter or had just begun to drool.

Q. What makes a good column?

A. I try to look for humor where possible. I try to weave as much historical background where appropriate into any column I can. I was a history major in college – not journalism – I’ve always had an interest in history. I spend a lot of free hours going through newspaper archives on the Internet. Before that I spent days at the Library of Congress going through microfilm. Anybody who works for a newspaper knows that the only way you know something is news is if you know what’s old. What drives older readers crazy is when a writer writes about something as if it’s never happened before, or a performance that has never been surpassed, or an athlete is greater than any athlete before him – because older readers know different. They’re thinking, ‘this guy never heard of Bill Russell or never saw Roberto Clemente throw a ball in from right field.’

If you go into my study you would see 750 loose-leaf binders of printouts of stories – stuff I can use for background. A couple of years ago when Doug Flutie drop-kicked for an extra point, for the first time since 1941, I had a wealth of material on drop kicking. Two days later I had a 25-inch piece in the paper putting the whole Flutie event in a historical context.

Q. You’re saying young writers have to be aware of history?

A. Yes. Be aware of what you don’t know. That’s some of the best advice you can give any journalist. Know that history is not your lifetime. History is history. When you’re 25 you’re not going to have time to read the books and do the research on things somebody like me has found out in 31 years in the business. Over time you can acquire that knowledge. Some people who read my stuff probably are mystified why I would spend that much time with the historical part of my columns. It’s one of my niches – it distinguishes my column from somebody else’s.

After the Belichick spying story I wrote that this has been going on from time immemorial, in the time of George Halas and Paul Brown and probably forever. Are we supposed to revisit every championship the Browns won or the Bears won and put asterisks on them? The general reaction to the whole story was self-righteous furor, as if it was unprecedented, as if it was way over the line. It wasn’t way over the line – it was maybe a little more over the line than other people have gone.

Q. What was your historical perspective on the Ecko column?

A. One of the things I tried to talk about is how antiseptic these Halls of Fame can be. They go out of their way to be neutral and non-judgmental and non-political. I think in some instances you can overdo it. If you’re going to have the Bonds ball without editorial comment – how great of an idea is that? Obviously this is a grandstand play by this guy but I understand the spirit of what he’s doing and I agree. I talked about the history of the game and about Gaylord Perry’s habit of loading up on baseballs. Imagine a guy giving of tour of the Hall of Fame and pointing out Perry’s saliva, an odds sheet of Pete Rose’s, or Norm Cash’s corked bat from when he won the batting title in ’61. If the Halls of Fame tried to tell the entire story of their games they would have to have wings to keep articles like this. This will be a real exception going into the Hall identified as it is.

Q. Did you deal with Bonds?

A. I’m so away from baseball. The last World Series I covered was ’87. For years we didn’t have baseball here. Now that the Nationals are established I will have to do more, but I have to be careful because the interest in this market is still with the Redskins, I have to look for every opportunity to write about them – that’s just a matter of trying to serve the readership.

Q. Until the Nationals make a run like the Rockies.

A. That’s like a guy being married and a beautiful woman strides through the room and his head turns and a couple of weeks later the beautiful woman strides out the exit. They’ll still have the Broncos. There will be momentary flirtations, but it will take years of success to attain the Broncos’ popularity.

Q. Who do you read?

A. I like to read the iconoclasts. I don’t read columns to be agreed with – I read columns that help me look at something in a way I wouldn’t before. Bill Conlin (Philadelphia Daily News) is a little like that. He doesn’t necessarily worry about whether it’s in the mainstream, or agreed with by 75 percent of other columnists. He writes what he thinks. Dave Kindred (Golf Digest) – he weaves in stories from other generations.

The guy who influenced me the most was Ray Fitzgerald (Boston Globe). I didn’t get a chance to read him until I got to college, and that’s when I read Leigh Montville (Boston Globe), too. Ray’s columns had a perfect tone of humor – he kept it in the context of sports and not life and death. It was something you can’t imitate – it was all Ray’s personality, the kind of column writing that wears well on you. You can go back day after day.

Q. There’s an anthology of Ray Fitzgerald’s columns – have you seen it?

A. I have it. The great thing about the Internet is that it enables you to get old books – I used to search through old bookstores. I was glad to see some of the columns I liked the most, including one where people wrote him and asked where he got his ideas for columns. He walked you through the thought process – ‘always bash the Sullivans if you need to’ – he goes through seven or eight standbys when he was stuck for an idea – and the last sentence was ‘and this is another one.’

Q. Bob Ryan talks about how Ray was disillusioned before he died (1982). What would he think if he could come back and see sports today?

A. Money was just starting to come in when he died – that was probably a big part for him – the changes it created in sports and athletes. Every guy of his generation was used to having great access to athletes and coaches – access we can only dream of today. Can you imagine spending five or six hours on a train with a guy where you talk your life story away or the nuts and bolts of baseball? I’m so jealous of guys who worked in that generation and developed those relationships with players and got to learn things that are so difficult to learn now. There’s no way to spend that time and knock down the walls of suspicion that exist between athletes and writers today – there’s such guardedness.

Q. That distance – is it manifest in coverage?

A. Sure. I remember a conversation with Mike Wilbon (Washington Post) before a preseason game. He said ‘the thing that drives me crazy about writing sports is that the access is so much more limited. Before, you could get half a dozen guys and a couple of coaches walking off a practice field – now you settle for a couple of guys and one coach’. It forces you to lower your own standard – it forces you to write columns that have less information, less input from individuals. You just don’t have as many people for as long.

The news is so much more managed by teams now. They’re trying to develop websites as sources of revenue – they’re not inclined to make people available – they want exclusive stuff on their own websites. You’re in the same business with these teams and you’re not seen as part of the publicity machine – you’re seen as an actual competitor.

In sports, media is divided into two groups – one group puts money into the pockets of the sports, and one group doesn’t. Print media has become part of that second group, which relegates you to second-class status.

Q. But isn’t print more credible with the public?

A. I try not to speak for the public. Public tastes mystify me. I try to write things that make sense to me. I can’t be sitting over a keyboard worrying whether this agrees with 51 percent of my readers, because in our business I think that can be a concern.

I came across a quote – I’m not going to say from who – but a guy was talking about writing for Sports Illustrated and the pressures involved. He talked about writing stories off Sunday events and having to wait until the middle of the week until it got into print. He said ‘You worry because by the time it gets into publication ESPN has already shaped the national conversation’. And I’m thinking why does anybody in print media worry about what ESPN shapes or doesn’t. To me the biggest danger in the print media is the idea that we somehow have to mirror whatever opinions are being presented on TV. That if we get too far away we run the risk of alienating readership – that we’ll be seen as out of touch. To me I pick up a newspaper looking for different-ness. I know what TV is going to give me. I worry that we try to be too much like TV instead of doing what we do best.

Pete Hamill came up with a great term – he called it ‘necro-journalism’, which means that no story has enough gravitas unless it has a dead body. I envision somebody sitting down for an ESPN interview. The first question is ‘has somebody in your family died recently?’ Second question: ‘Does somebody in your family have a communicable disease?’ Third: ‘Does somebody in your family walk with a limp?’ Sometimes it seems that’s what the business has been reduced to – we’re getting too far away from the game.

Overcoming hardship becomes a cliché. His dad wasn’t there or his mom wasn’t there or he grew up in a trailer with his grandma. We’re bombarded with these stories over and over again – the same story – and it’s choking the life out of the business. I don’t love sports because of that. To me it doesn’t add anything to know somebody came out of meager circumstances. We all have sad stories. To me that’s not the heart of sports coverage.

A story ran in the Washington Post after the APSE awards came out in the spring, announcing the award winners. Mike Wise (Washington Post) won in the feature category for a story about Gilbert Arenas’ estrangement from his mother. The thing that made me smile was that Amy Shipley of the Washington Post won in the same category the year before for a story about an Olympic athlete’s search for his birth mother. Essentially the same story was awarded APSE’s highest honor for feature writing two years in a row.

My question is ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ Why do we have this infatuation with this type of story? To me it’s about the games. People don’t pay fifty dollars for the pay-per-view fight because some boxer spent his life in an orphanage. They pay fifty dollars to see them beat each other’s brains out. The other stuff is so far removed from what it is that causes people to be invested in sports. I don’t know if the attitude is ‘it’s all been done’. Maybe we’re in the era of post-modern sportswriting now. It’s all been done.

Q. You son is a high school senior and he’s interested in journalism – what advice have you given him?

A. My initial reaction was that it’s a tough racket and getting tougher. He’s looking at what I do and thinking it would be a great job. But it took me almost 15 years to get this – there was a lot of pain that took place before I got it. He doesn’t see the pressure of the job, the stories on deadline with a gun to your head when you cover a baseball or basketball team. He doesn’t see the time spend away from the family. It’s not easy on families or on guys traveling in the post 9/11 world. He’s not aware of the non-glamorous aspects of it. Sometimes I have him read SMG interviews. They educate him about this business but also strip away the glamour – the people talk about it’s like any other job and it’s very difficult if you want to do it well.

One thing I said was ‘I hope you’re not thinking about this to make me happy’. I was the first in my family to get in the journalism business – I’m not following anybody else – there’s no reason you have to feel like you have to’.

Q. He could become a hedge fund manager and rule the world.

A. He’d rather be a General Manager if not a sportswriter. He talks about sports management. It wouldn’t shock me if he switched off and headed in that direction. There’s a tough job – imagine having to deal with agents on a regular basis.

Q. You think that’s tough?

A. Sure. You’re talking a lifetime of being second-guessed. I can’t imagine having that job and not having high blood pressure – so many things are out of your control, such as injuries. Face it – how many good jobs are there in that field? If you got into management you might do it on a minor league level, or manage an Arena Football League team. God knows. Obviously it has its rewards, but you have to have the constitution for it. Like all these sports they become 365 deals – it’s so much harder to get away from it than it used to be. I’d like to think that whatever career you choose you have the opportunity for a bit of a life.

Q. Can you have a life as a columnist?

A. Yes. Being free from beat work gives you a lot more flexibility. I don’t work any less hard – I just think it has more flexibility. My focus a lot of the year is the Redskins – that beat is so much more important here than anything else – and covering the football team is so much saner from a travel standpoint. They’re on the road eight weeks, and one is a train ride to Philadelphia and another is a train ride to New York. It makes it easier on families – when the kids get older and need to be carted here and there – you’re not always tied up with night work.

Q. What did you cover?

A. My first beat was Holy Cross, and then I covered the Patriots and the Red Sox in the summer. Then I went to Arizona and was doing Arizona State football and basketball. I was at the Oklahoman for six weeks – I covered OU spring football. In the Alumni game an alumnus blew out his knee, went in for surgery, and died on the table – that was my big story in the brief time I was there. The Washington Times was starting up and a guy who had been with the Republic and was with the Time called me up. I had an interest in being in the east and working on a start-up – it seemed to be such a rare opportunity given the state of the business. How many major metros are ever going to start up? USA Today started a couple of months after we did – that’s it for the last 25 years.

Q. What did the Times hire you to do?

A. They hired me to cover Maryland sports but everything changed when I got here. Some initial hires didn’t work out. I did features for a few years – longer takeouts. In ’88 I started columns on a semi-regular basis. Mo Seigal had health issues – they had me fill in. Within a year it was a regular gig. I’ve been writing columns for 19 years.

Q. Have you mastered the format?

A. Mastered? No. If I did I would stop and do something else. I think I’ve settled into the form. You start thinking in 750 and 800 word bites. The way I knew I settled into the columnist life was when I came back from a vacation in the summer and the first column wouldn’t take so long to write. I had found my voice and my style – getting back was no big deal – it was an extension of me. In the early stages the columns are more of a struggle.

Dan Daly, excerpted from the Washington Times, January 5, 2006:

Today the drop kick, tomorrow the Statue of Liberty play.

It’s hard not to get giddy about Doug Flutie’s old-fashioned extra point the other day. Perhaps you saw the replay, oh, about 64 times on television. That’s how many years it had been since somebody had drop kicked a PAT in the NFL – one more reason to call it the No Fun League.

For the uninitiated, the drop kick is a vestige of the Pre-Facemask Era. It involves no holder, only a kicker standing about 10 yards behind the center. He receives the snap, drops the ball gently – as would a punter – and then, just as it hits the ground, boots it through the uprights.

Hypothetically, at least. It’s harder than it sounds – which is one reason it’s now a lost art. Back in the day, though, pro football fans thrilled to the drop kicking exploits of Fats Henry, Paddy Driscoll, Pid Purdy and Frosty Peters – not to mention Al Bloodgood, who booted four field goals in a game…

(SMG thanks Dan Daly for his cooperation)

Article published Sep 27, 2007

Ecko making sure 756* isn’t forgotten

September 27, 2007

by Dan Daly – The people have spoken — the computer-literate people, at least. Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball won’t be shot into space or shipped to the Baseball Hall of Fame without editorial comment; no, it will be sent to Cooperstown affixed with an asterisk, sports’ version of the Scarlet Letter.

It’s a wonderful thing, democracy, and every once in a while it gets it right. Fashion designer Mark Ecko, owner of the historic spheroid, could have decided unilaterally what to do with the ball, could have imposed his own morality on the situation, but he realized the issue was bigger than him. So he put it to an Internet vote, and the Asterisk Party — his party, by the way — prevailed.

Cue the confetti.

After all, blasting the ball to the other side of the galaxy might have made for great television, but it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. The Neptunians, I suspect, would have been utterly flummoxed by the horsehide hurtling toward them — and might even launched countermeasures, thinking they were under attack. (Hell hath no fury like a Neptunian who has just had a baseball land in his yard.)

Instead, the Bonds ball will serve, as it should, as a reminder to future generations — a reminder of the evils of flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. Millions of Little Leaguers will be able to file past the display at the Hall, note ball’s unusual tattoo and be forever warned. It will be Barry’s greatest gift to baseball.

Besides, it’s about time Cooperstown was politicized a bit. The place has always been so darn neutral, so nonjudgmental. And let’s face it, the Hall is full of scoundrels, of players who used to grab base runners by the belt or throw pitches that defied the laws of physics. Maybe a separate wing should be built for them — to keep them quarantined, as it were. I can practically hear the tour guide now:

“And over here, folks, we have a jar of Gaylord Perry’s saliva. Yup, ol’ Gaylord really liked to load ’em up. The umpires finally caught him in the act in 1982 and ejected him from a game. Of course, he was 43 at the time, so it’s hard to know whether he was throwing a spitter or had just begun to drool.

“On your right is an odds sheet once belonging to Pete Rose, the all-time hit leader with 4,256. Pete denied for almost two decades that he bet on baseball, was suspended indefinitely from the game, then finally confessed to help sell a book he ‘wrote.’ He’s banned from the Hall right now, but a lot of people think he might get in the day after hell freezes over.

“Just ahead you’ll see the corked bat Norm Cash wielded when he won the 1961 American League batting title. Norm batted 75 points higher that year than he did in any other season, so it must have been pretty good cork. I’m guessing it came from a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, probably a ’59.

“There are also a number of other interesting items — Joe Niekro’s emery board, Kevin Gross’ Black-and-Decker sander, the telescope Herman Franks peered through to steal signals for the Giants in 1951 and Barry Bonds’ original size 101/2 cleats, the ones he wore before his feet began looking like Herman Munster’s. A pair of his later cleats, the size 13s, are in the Museum of Natural History …”

Bonds has already called Ecko “stupid” and “an idiot” for not according the artifact more respect, for not treating it as an investment property. “He spent $750,000 on the ball [$752,467 to be exact], and that’s what he’s doing with it?” Barry said incredulously.

But Ecko was undeterred. And indeed, why should he care whether he has the approval of Bonds, the guy who put the “ass” in asterisk? It’s clearly important to him to make this symbolic gesture, to express his concern that “some of the best athletes in the country are forced to decide between being competitive and staying natural.” And while he might have a weakness for self-promotion, his heart is in the right place.

So the ball, adorned with a “*,” will be packed off to Cooperstown, there to reside with Edd Roush’s 48-ounce bat and Joe Morgan’s kid-sized glove. The Hall is happy to get it, branded or unbranded. It’s the ball Barry Bonds belted to break Hank Aaron’s home run record, the foulest fair ball in major league history.

Sing Sing was tough in the ’30s.

Washington Times, The, May, 2005

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Byline: Dan Daly, THE WASHINGTON TIMES Though I’ve yet to see the movie – it opens nationwide tomorrow – I suspect the remake of “The Longest Yard” features more (Chris) Rock than rock pile. Adam Sandler as an NFL quarterback-turned-convict? Not a whole lot of verite in that cinema.

(At least Burt Reynolds, who had Sandler’s role in the original film, played some college ball at Florida State.) So let me tell you about a real prison football team, just so you’ll know the difference. Let me tell you about the team they had at Sing Sing from 1931 to ’35. The Black Sheep,

Publication: The Washington Times

Publication Date: 05-JAN-06

Delivery: Immediate Online Access

Author:

Article Excerpt

Byline: Dan Daly, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Today the drop kick, tomorrow the Statue of Liberty play.

It’s hard not to get giddy about Doug Flutie’s old-fashioned extra point the other day. Perhaps you saw the replay, oh, about 64 times on television. That’s how many years it had been since somebody had drop kicked a PAT in the NFL – one more reason to call it the No Fun League.

For the uninitiated, the drop kick is a vestige of the Pre-Facemask Era. It involves no holder, only a kicker standing about 10 yards behind the center. He receives the snap, drops the ball gently – as would a punter – and then, just as it hits the ground, boots it through the uprights.

Hypothetically, at least. It’s harder than it sounds – which is one reason it’s now a lost art. Back in the day, though, pro football fans thrilled to the drop kicking exploits of Fats Henry, Paddy Driscoll, Pid Purdy and Frosty Peters – not to mention Al Bloodgood, who booted four field goals in a game…

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