An Interview with Derrick Goold

An Interview with Derrick Goold

An Interview with Derrick Goold

“I was built to be a beat writer…I like the idea you wake up each day not really knowing what’s ahead that day…I love the challenge that under duress you have to come up with a voice…I don’t mean inventing a voice under duress – I mean staying true to your voice under duress.”

“If ten sportswriters are in the same room they might not have one trait in common – except curiosity. And confidence probably – you see varying degrees of confidence. Maybe you have to have resolve in knowing what you write is… correct. Sometimes when you’re being thrown a lot of spin you have to have the resolve that you know what the story is.”

“Albert (Pujols) has developed some assumptions about the media and every reporter that approaches him has to get through those assumptions first. Being respectful of his schedule is a start. Asking engaging – and not even “soft”, but pointed questions – helps. Patience and persistence can pay off, but not as much as picking the right day and the right topic.”

Derrick Goold: Interviewed on January 31, 2007

Position: Cardinals beat reporter, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Born: 1975, Elgin, Ill.

Education: University of Missouri, 1997, journalism and liberal arts.

Personal: Married, one child.

Career: New Orleans Times-Picayune 1097-2000; Rocky Mountain News 2000-2001, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2001 –

Favorite restaurant (home): Tanner-B’s, St. Louis “inventive Americana – nice old bar appeal, good ambience, creative comfort food”

Favorite restaurant (road): Jacquimo’s, New Orleans “a sportswriter haunt – to get to your seat you have to walk through the kitchen – it ‘s cruel because you cannot order everything you see – just a fun place – if they run out of tables they pull up a pickup truck out back and seat you”; J.G. Melon’s, NY “best burgers I’ve found on any beat I’ve covered – NBA, NHL, or MLB – recommend the cottage fries and two burgers – splurge – they are that good.”

Favorite hotel: Renaissance Harborside, Vancouver “ a great hotel – overlooking the water – you can walk to the city – wonderful”

Derrick Goold excerpted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 14, 2007.

While nowhere near as intensive as the pre-game mummy treatment David Eckstein needed to play in the World Series, the little shortstop that did had some prep work to do before Saturday’s autograph marathon.

Lessons learned from signings and blisters past, he clipped and filed the nails on his right hand and meticulously wrapped each fingertip in a Band-Aid.

Eckstein then signed for more than five hours.

The Cardinals are considering their approach to having him sign something a little less rigorous in the near future.

The World Series MVP and two-time All-Star is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed with the Cardinals before 2005. Assistant general manager John Mozeliak confirmed Saturday that the team has had preliminary discussions with Eckstein’s agent about a new contract. The chats were to gauge if the shortstop is interested in an extension, one that would most likely be negotiated during spring training.

Q. Nice segue from a signing session to Eckstein’s contract – were you happy with that story?

A. I may have muffed it. There’s a possibility I buried the lead in that story.

Q. The news element was lukewarm – aren’t you being hard on yourself?

A. I second-guess myself constantly. I pick apart sentences – trying to see if they can be more muscular. Sometimes there’s no reason to.

Q. So style important to you?

A. There are two elements to the job – reporting and writing. Usually the better the reporter the better the writer. If anything voice and style has become more important because readers can get play-by-play, and stats and scores online – in any mode they want. What they get from the Post-Dispatch has to be more – and part of that has to be quality of writing. I would lie if I said I didn’t agonize over some sentences or smirk when I get a sentenced right, because style is important. A nice compliment to get is when people say ‘I know you wrote this without reading the byline’. I would like to be known as an excellent writer. Not saying I will be – but that’s a goal.

Q. Will the Cardinals re-sign Eckstein?

A. They’re going to talk to him about an extension – it will happen during spring training. The Cards have a pretty good track record of working out an extension with their own guys when they make it a priority. Both guys realize if it’s done early in the season it’s mutually beneficial. Eckstein has been an All-Star here and he was MVP on a World Series team. He was the engine of a lot of things they do and Cardinal Nation has a crush on him. There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense to work it out – I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

Q. How do you cover Albert Pujols, who is not usually talkative?

You try and cover him as best you can. Being around him on a daily basis, you do get a feel for his schedule — when he’s on his way to hit, when he’s on his way to eat, and when it’s best to attempt to get some time with him or a comment from him. He describes the ballpark as “his office” and creates a cocoon around him because he can.

Albert, however, will surprise you. He’s just as likely to curse at you or yell at you as he is to sit down and talk for a long time about several subjects. Last year, he was standing at his locker, chatting with a throng of media and he brought up drug-testing and steroids and even condemned reporters who question his age. It led to a story that essentially opened with Pujols saying he was clean and that MLB could test him every day. The year before, another reporter and I engaged in a long conversation with Albert about why he dislikes the media and how he was learning to become a leader in the clubhouse.

Albert has developed some assumptions about the media and every reporter that approaches him has to get through those assumptions first. Being respectful of his schedule is a start. Asking engaging – and not even “soft”, but pointed questions – helps. Patience and persistence can pay off, but not as much as picking the right day and the right topic.

Q. You recently put together a list of the Cardinals top 30 prospects for Baseball America – how much time did it take?

A. Lots. I spent weeks working on it. You’re dealing with a massive amount of information. I’m the type of guy who always feels there’s one more call to make – I probably push it too far. It’s a long process.

Q. Are you paid fairly for your time?

A. Interesting question. You get paid well enough. Benefits compensate the rest. I’m one of the Cardinals beat writers, and knowledge of the minor league system is important to my career, and my job, because it helps around the trade deadline, and it helps understand what’s going on in spring training, and it puts you in touch with the younger players. These are players who will be on the team in three years and when they land in the clubhouse I will know them. That’s a tangible benefit. It puts you in touch with members of the organization you should talk to but you’re so consumed during the season you don’t, even though it shouldn’t be that way. It’s valuable to me to be in touch with these people regularly – there are things you can learn – there’s no such thing as an empty interview. Every opportunity you have to talk to somebody about the team of the future is beneficial to covering the team now.

Q. Is covering the beat more intricate than fans realize?

A. It’s not just covering the games and knowing how to figure out an ERA. Sometimes it’s reading a CBA – there are a lot of intricacies to covering a team. Part of it is the fact that the Cardinals are important to the city – there is limitless interest in the Cardinals – not only all the way down to the minor league system but also in their business side and the details of the new stadium, and what some of the guys do with their charities. There’s really no such thing as over-covering the Cardinals.

Something people may not realize is how varied our days can be. One of the reasons you get into sportswriting is you cover not only games but also features and enterprise and you also have the possibility of covering cops and courts. Last year I covered a lawsuit here in St. Louis – in federal district court – about stats and fantasy baseball. I covered a ‘murder for hire’ trial – Mike Danton in hockey. I like the fact that you have to be tested under deadline fire but also have a chance to develop a long takeout feature. Sometimes it makes for a frenetic day as you cover all the things at once, but that goes with it, too.

One thing young sportswriters don’t realize is how many hats you have to wear, and the instant expertise you have to develop. The only way is to get experience. You can’t prepare for some things you have to cover. I found myself at a medical school library looking up wrist surgery for one story. It’s part of the thrill. Look at baseball right now. How many sportswriters ten years ago would have thought they would have a working knowledge of pharmaceutical reports and the definition of precursors? How many sportswriters ten years ago would have thought about whether there’s a blood test or urine test for HGH? That’s the job – it’s fascinating.

Q. Are you saying there’s no blueprint for the job?

A. I go speak at classrooms and they ask what kind of education you need. Education is fantastic but you can be a sportswriter with a political science degree as well as a journalism degree. Experience is the key. That’s the deal.

Q. What kind of personality does it take to succeed as a sportswriter?

A. A lot of different personalities can succeed. If ten sportswriters are in the same room they might not have one trait in common – except curiosity. And confidence probably – you see varying degrees of confidence. Maybe you have to have resolve in knowing what you write is not only going to be entertaining and have style and voice but that it’s also right and correct. Sometimes when you’re being thrown a lot of spin you have to have the resolve that you know what the story is. How that manifests depends on the person.

It helps to have passion – sometimes for newspapering – sometimes for the sports you cover – but somewhere in there you have to have passion because the hours and demands are so much. Passion is what drives you. Some guys have passion for the game they cover and some have passion for the job of journalism and sometimes guys have passion for both.

Q. What about you?

A. Probably passion for both. I know that newspapering is in my blood. The sports I grew up with and am most comfortable around is baseball – and always has been. Those were two constants. If you peel back my life before I realized what was going on it was starting a school newspaper, and watching baseball and having my dad hit line drives to me any chance he had.

Q. Where did you grow up?

A. Outside Boulder – Louisville, Colorado. I started a newspaper at my elementary school just for kicks, and I worked on the newspaper in high school, and on The Maneater at Missouri. I wrote for the Maneater and drew cartoons all four years.

Q. How do you balance this passion for your job with the rest of your life?

A. Good question. I’m not sure I do a good job – maybe I should pass the phone to my wife. It can be a 24/7 job. There’s no prescribed time for news to break and it’s a competitive business. You’re not just competing with what’s on the news that night or the in the paper tomorrow morning, you’re competing with what could be on a website 15 minutes from now – there’s a element of not just having the pulse of news but of being able to quicken the pulse of news – so you get that story out before anybody else.

A scoop in the paper is fantastic but it’s becoming more rare. The competitive nature of this business means there’s a 24-hour call to action – you deal with that in addition to the time commitment of being at the ballpark, which is 3 o’clock to whenever the game ends. And now thrown into the mix is all the mult-media stuff required of reporters – radio to TV to online – those are additional time commitments. Most reporters will spend time in the morning catching up and making beat calls like in the days of yore – you don’t lose that element of keeping up with scouts and G.M.s and things you need to know to parlay into a Sunday story or notes or a long-range feature. It’s become kind of a scattershot job – it can steal an hour there or a day there – and there’s really no off-season.

I’ve been asked if this off-season was harder because the Cards won the World Series. Yeah, maybe so, because there were more enterprise and feature stories to do, and more general thematic stories. But actually the work wasn’t all that different. I’m still trying to break news around the clock – there’s no off-season dead period.

Q. Do you get a vacation?

A. The last three years my wife and I have stolen some vacation time in January. We’ve been going out of the country so my cell phone doesn’t work. We got back from London a week ago. We have a little kid now, almost nine months old. You learn to treasure the time you do have but also to maximize what you can do. The cell phone helps – you’re not shackled to the desk during the free agency period. This year you could exchange text messages for an interview – I had never done that before. You can’t quote it, but at least you can keep up with what’s happening. Now you’re starting to see interviews with e-mails.

Q. What’s your paper’s policy about using e-mails in interviews?

A. My experience is that you write it was from an e-mail. There are times you are sent a statement via e-mail and you write what the person said. If it’s an e-mail in and of itself you write that it came from an e-mail.

Q. Writers you admire?

A. The SI guys – Gary Smith and Tom Verducci – both have a tremendous turn of phrase. (ESPN’s) Buster Olney’s book was fantastic – he has a nice touch with feature stories. Joe Strauss and Rick Hummel (Post-Dispatch) – it’s hard to find two guys who write better game stories. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the last two Spink winners (Hummel and Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News) in my last two jobs. I love Michael Lewis’ new book.

Paul Sullivan at the (Chicago) Tribune has a wit I’m jealous of. We got Gerry Fraley on board here and he’s strong. John Shea (SF Chronicle). Nick Cafardo and Gordon Edes (Boston Globe). If you’re looking for baseball coverage – for depth and expertise – you have to swing by the Globe. It’s tremendous what they do – probably what baseball coverage should aspire to be. I like to think we do a good job at the Post-Dispatch but if you look at the breadth and depth of coverage they offer a hungry, hungry fan base it’s very strong. I would be remiss not to mention the guys in Denver – Jack Etkin (Rocky Mountain News) as a national writer has such a strong feel for the game – he has such a great scope for the leagues. Troy Renck of the Post is a dogged reporter – the competition there makes both papers better.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo. He finds stories off the beaten path that more people should look for. Another Yahoo writer, Josh Peters – I worked with him at the Times-Pic – broke the story on the unnamed (SF Chronicle) informants in the Bonds case. He is one of the most inventive and unrelenting investigative reporters I’ve worked with – very nimble with sources but also able to find the information – he uses every entrance to get information. The other guy is Jeff Duncan (Times-Picayune) – the Saints beat writer – go back and look at his coverage of Katrina – at what he did staying on when everybody else evacuated. He’s the best example of the chops a very good beat writer brings to the table. Beat writers are journalists – you can throw them into whatever needs to be covered – and he is one of the best.

I’m partial to beat writers. A book agent talked to me about something that never came to fruition – they said to me ‘we’d be more comfortable if you were a magazine writer’. I said, ‘great, but you’re really missing something – there are a lot of great writers covering beats’. You might miss their great story because they’re asked to write dozens of articles and their high batting average reveals how truly great their writing is – and that’s lost too much.

There are a lot of beat writers out there who are exceptional writers and their body of work shows it – but if you pick the Thursday they had to write a rain delay story and file it 30 minutes before the game was done and that’s the story you read and judge them on – or a notebook – don’t confuse that with their ability. There’s more going on than just an ability to convey news and the nuggets of the day. These are quality writers – part of the reason is they get more practice than anybody. A lot of strong writers developed their voices by being a beat guy.

Q. Is the beat hard on your health?

A. It can be. You can eat a bad diet – you might be eating pretzels while writing at the airport. But I have a hard time going into that litany without saying that we get paid to cover a game we enjoy. We’re away from our families for seven or eight weeks for spring training, but at the end of the day we’re still covering a game. We get to see history, sometimes on consecutive days and at most places we have a good seat for it. And every day we get to chronicle it – it’s worth the 5. a.m. flights.

Q. You like being a beat writer?

A. I was built to be a beat writer – that’s just how I feel. There’s a prolific-ness – it’s a skill to be prolific – and I like the variety you find in beat writing. I like the idea you wake up each day not really knowing what’s ahead that day. You can be scouring police reports – one day I wrote a story on the oldest living ballplayer – Roland Stiles – and I was at his apartment having him tell me stories about pitching to Babe Ruth. Two weeks later I was doing a Q&A with the Cards’ top prospect. It’s a fascinating job.

I love the challenge that under duress you have to come up with a voice, while also under space constraints. You have to make a 12-inch story sing, and it’s easier to make a 30-inch story sing than a 12-inch.

Q. But isn’t your voice a constant – something that doesn’t have to be re-invented for each story?

A. I don’t mean inventing a voice under duress – I mean staying true to your voice under duress. You’re not conjuring a voice on a daily basis. The challenge is can I write it fast and well.

In sports a voice is more accepted, even though they call it the playpen, the form is better for voice than if you’re covering a City Council meeting. I remember covering a DUI – a guy was killed the day after his wedding invitations went out – and I was thinking this is not where I want to be. Should you write that story with style? Sure, and also with compassion, but I would much rather turn a story about a shortstop.

Q. Are blogs your competition?

A. I don’t know. I just did a survey for a professor at Ole Miss – about professional journalists who have blogs – some still writing for a paper and some who have left. If I say that blogs aren’t competition I don’t mean it to come across as a slight, but I do think blogs can be something we learn from. Blogs can be so specific – some Sabr-metric, some rumor mills, some personalities, some informative. Some are expanding now to fill the holes in our coverage – in that sense maybe they are competition. But more so they should be a lesson in what niches we aren’t covering and how maybe we should cover those. There’s no place in the paper for ‘my life as the Cardinals beat reporter’ – that’s not a forum we can contend with nor should we be.

The beauty of blogs is offering a medium and a voice – an outlet that wasn’t there before. That said, some blogs are covering minor leagues and doing interviews with minor league players and breakdowns of minor league lineups. Could we do a better job of covering the minor leagues? That’s something we talk about improving. Part of the thing that spurs me to ask that question is that blogs have looser rules than newspapers, so there are some things they can do before us and write without repercussions. I have seen many inaccurate news reports on blogs that they don’t apologize for that in the paper would have been more than a correction. It’s such a different medium it’s hard to call it competition. But we have something to learn from it.

Q. Do you read blogs?

A. Sure, some. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t have a feel for what fans are talking about. All of these things are tools we can use. They’re going to come across some stat you didn’t know, or link to some article you didn’t find. The newspaper isn’t a monolith – it’s part of the city – we would be remiss if we didn’t access fans. If you get a question that spurs a story, that’s fantastic.

(SMG thanks Derrick Goold for his cooperation)

Describe your pool of reliable sources?

How will your job be affected by the cards winning the world series?

What’s the hardest part about covering the cardinals beat?

Answering e-mails. Not awful. How many? Hard to say depends on what going on with cards or what we wrote recnelty. Can change. You find hotbutton topics – you find certain times – dtrade deadline tends to bring out the most – people try to float urmos to you or by your or get you to confirm or refut a rumor. Or they like to giv eyou opinion on what card should do.

How do you ask tough questions?

What’s your policy on using non-attributed information?

Who can you go to in the cards clubhouse?

Sports

Eckstein works hard autographing

By Derrick Goold ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

625 words

14 January 2007

Derrick Goold excerpted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 14, 2007.

While nowhere near as intensive as the pre-game mummy treatment David Eckstein needed to play in the World Series, the little shortstop that did had some prep work to do before Saturday’s autograph marathon.

Lessons learned from signings and blisters past, he clipped and filed the nails on his right hand and meticulously wrapped each fingertip in a Band-Aid.

Eckstein then signed for more than five hours.

The Cardinals are considering their approach to having him sign something a little less rigorous in the near future.

The World Series MVP and two-time All-Star is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed with the Cardinals before 2005. Assistant general manager John Mozeliak confirmed Saturday that the team has had preliminary discussions with Eckstein’s agent about a new contract. The chats were to gauge if the shortstop is interested in an extension, one that would most likely be negotiated during spring training.

“Right now we’ve had just peripheral talks,” Mozeliak said, elaborating on a question he was asked during his session with fans at the 11th annual Winter Warm-Up. “Nothing has been set in stone. I think just moving ahead at some point we’re going to have to look into it.”

Eckstein said: “I would like to have the opportunity to explore something. That’s something that the Cardinals will have to want to talk about. So we’ll see. I love this place. It is very family-oriented, it is very much a family.”

The Ecksteins have made this weekend a family affair.

In addition to his wife and her parents visiting St. Louis this weekend, Eckstein’s mother Patricia, father Whitey and two sisters – Susan and Christine – have a booth at the Warm-Up, selling David’s book, “Have Heart.” Eckstein rewrote the book after winning his second World Series. The publisher, Builder’s Stone Publishing, is actually the Eckstein family.

“It’s more than just David’s story; it’s our family’s story,” Patricia Eckstein said. “We’re here because we do everything as a family.”

Said David Eckstein: “My family doesn’t get to do a lot of things together. This is a good holiday to get out and get together.”

The Ecksteins as a family feel adopted by Cardinal Nation, with Patricia being asked to pose for photographs and people recognizing Whitey and her at the airport as far back as the final weekend of old Busch Stadium. Winter Warm-up was a new experience for them, and they manned their booth as Eckstein signed some 400 autographs, amidst posing for photos, talking on a fan’s cell phone and offering to sign something else to spur the bidding at a live auction.

He then met with the media and said he’s all healed.

Before each World Series game, Eckstein underwent a series of treatments to bind and salve his various injuries. He received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder and his entire left side was wrapped. He also had daily acupuncture.

After he drove off with the MVP award, rest was prescribed. The shoulder has mended. The hamstring ache that bit into his September is long gone. The strained oblique that put him on the disabled list has vanished and he began swinging a bat on Dec. 26.

“Everything feels great right now after taking the extra time off,” Eckstein said.

Baseball

You just ranked the cardinals top 30 prospects – how did you report that?

That’s for bb amrercia. Free lance is par tof opportunity and repsonsiblity, oine of free lance jobs I hae that I enjoy – I gerw up reading bb amreica – writi8ng for prospect handbook – asked me to write fr it for first time – probably more than I thought it would be to be honest

I started going through stats – making notes on every player – wasn’t best orgnazioatn – I have stack of 3 by 5 cards to organize my access to players – one for each player – jotting down n otes on them, stats I saw or interviews I dd – most I talked to through year – minor league reporets for p-d or org roeproets for BA – talked ot as many ppl with oponins, minor league magrs, scouts, officals, reviews from scouts and reviww from managers, anonymous stuff that helped shape more detailed scouting reports, – cast a wide net and get as much info as you can – not only number son bb card – some finer point numbers – balls in play , whips – things you cant ge tin boxscore- how many pitcher they threw, how mnay consstntely. Now many major league qulity pitches, what is he learning. Is he starting with oine pitch and will he morph into reliever by double a o tripel a – you cant get this from one person – dissserivce talking ton e perison – sometimes conflicting – everybody does not see same thing in perispec t- very few unaminous op on prpesepct – you got with who you trust – sometimes a blend of diff opionons – obiovu concsnesus about rasum – diff op on picher like trey hearne – tremenoud production but in his words but in his words doenst light up radar gun

Do cards have a list one to 30?

Probably not. They might if they wanted to do it as exercise. But going to deal with depth chart rather tan pure ranking. Little reason to rank pitchers alongside pos players. Lots of reason to keep depth chart. What would org get from top 30. chris perez and haime Garcia are top 5 prospects but guys who are rnaked lcoser to 20 or 30 range much closer to majors than either of htos etwo. Prospects youre reanking what has gjy done but also what can he do. Org has to think this guy has done this stuff and is in positon to do this by this date. They’re thinking what need do we need to address in 07. not to say they don’t think ahead. But it’s more adepth chart and a schedule of arrivals and less a ranking of whose the best in the org.

But it’s great for a parolor game. Gets everybody talking and enc more knowledge of system as whole. Player si didn’t rank but I disc becuasea I was tyring to find out if they belonged in top 30.

How many overall were considsred?

I went through all draft picks – you cull it down – about 40-45 names belong on there and then you shave it down to 30.

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