An Interview with Gordon Edes
“I was surrounded by a ton of talented people at the Globe; it saddens me to see the talent, and institutional memory, that has been lost, a story repeated throughout our industry. It’s absurd to think they don’t have plenty of good people left, but equally absurd to think that they can absorb the hits they’ve taken without feeling the impact.”
“I’ve never accepted the premise that people don’t read game stories—I think they’ll still read a gamer written with style and information they can’t glean elsewhere, like the Series gamer I wrote last October about what led to Papelbon picking off Matt Holliday. That gave me great satisfaction, to have something no one else had among 500 or so other reporters at the Series.”
Gordon Edes: Interviewed on August 13, 2008
Position: National baseball writer, Yahoo! Sports
Born: 1954, Fitchburg, Ma.
Education: North Park College, Chicago, history, political science “hired as a copy editor at the Chicago Tribune three classes short of a degree”
Career: Chicago Tribune, copy clerk 1972-76, copy editor 1976-80; Los Angeles Times, 1980-89; Atlanta Journal Constitution, 1989; The National Sports Daily (RIP), 1990-91; Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 1991-96; Boston Globe, 1996-2008; Yahoo!Sports 2008 –
Personal: Married (Bonnie) with three daughters, “one Iowa Hawkeye fan for a son-in-law and one 6-year-old grandson destined to be a Cubs fan”
Favorite restaurant (home): Walden Grill, Concord, Ma.
Favorite restaurant (away): Trattoria Contadina, San Francisco “neighborhood joint on Russian Hill, with 4-star food. Thank you, Blake Rhodes, Giants PR”
Favorite hotel: Marriott Harbor Beach, Ft. Lauderdale “the place that gave me a grand piano during the World Series”
Gordon Edes, excerpted from Yahoo!, Aug. 12, 2008:
ATLANTA – He was laid to rest on an off day, about right for a man who broadcast in the neighborhood of 5,000 ballgames. And while he couldn’t call his own funeral, Skip Caray almost certainly would have approved, except for all the people wearing neckties, which he loathed.
Still, the service didn’t run too long, it wasn’t interrupted by a rain delay, nobody did the wave, and there were plenty of funny stories from his old partners, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson Sr.
Best of all, his beloved Atlanta Braves
were there to see him at the end – Chipper Jones
was a pallbearer, John Smoltz
and John Schuerholz spoke, and front pews were filled with manager Bobby Cox, his coaches and Braves players past and present, Phil Niekro, Otis Nixon and Rick Camp paying their respects with Tom Glavine
and Jeff Francoeur
and Brian McCann
And no one was allowed to make Caray something in death he wasn’t in life…
…Over countless hot summer nights, Caray, who never lost the radio man’s knack of connecting with one listener at a time, as if he was sharing the same back porch, delivered smiles by the bushel. A foul ball would land in the stands, Caray would pretend to identify the hometown of the fan who caught it.
“He’d say, ‘A fan from Visalia just caught that one,’ ” said Ernie Johnson Sr., whose son, Ernie Jr., has become a fixture on NBA telecasts. “People would actually call up and ask, ‘How did Skip know?’ “
Q. As you leave the Titanic, er, Globe for Yahoo, what are your thoughts on the people who are left behind? How did it come to this?
A. My leaving is very bittersweet. Covering baseball for the Globe, and making regular appearances on NESN as part of my Globe duties, gave me about as high a profile as a baseball beat writer can have. The intensity of the beat trumped anything I had experienced in the past; former Globe sports editor Don Skwar gave me a taste of what was to come when he called my parents’ home at 8:45 on Thanksgiving morning my first year at the Globe because the Herald had a Mo Vaughn contract update in the paper and he wanted me to call Sox GM Dan Duquette—at his parents’ home—to do a folo!
This was my 12th season covering the Sox. I expected to retire at the Globe, working at my hometown paper. How could you ask for a better audience, knowing that one of my heroes, Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as my high school English teacher, Pete Lincoln, were reading me regularly? But the Globe vision of my future did not match up with my own. I expected to return to my former job as the paper’s On Baseball columnist once they settled on a new beat reporter—Chris Snow had left in ’06 to become a hockey front-office man, and when they asked, I had agreed to go back on the beat until they found a replacement. I agreed to remain on the beat in 2007 and 2008 while Amalie Benjamin gained more experience.
But prior to the ’08 season, sports editor Joe Sullivan said that his plan was to have two on-baseball columnists, Nick Cafardo and myself. To me, that was like returning to half a job. I said if he wanted to keep Nick on Sunday Notes, that was fine by me, but I felt I had earned the On-ball designation, we had only one on-ball columnist for other sports and that’s what made it distinctive. He disagreed, and Steve Henson, the baseball editor at Yahoo!, offered me the chance at a baseball writer’s dream job, a national job in which you are restricted only by your imagination.
The Globe offered buyouts; I took mine, and subsequently was denied it. I appealed that decision, Yahoo! waited for that process to play out, but when it became clear it would drag on, I gave my notice and left on Aug. 1. I remain extremely disappointed that the New York Times Co. dispensed over $30 million in buyouts last year but elected to deny me; I remain hopeful that decision will be overturned, but in the meantime I made it a point not to let that impact my work.
I was surrounded by a ton of talented people at the Globe; it saddens me to see the talent, and institutional memory, that has been lost, a story repeated throughout our industry. It’s absurd to think they don’t have plenty of good people left, but equally absurd to think that they can absorb the hits they’ve taken without feeling the impact.
I told Joe Sullivan, and I meant it, that the nearly 12 years I spent at the Globe were the best of my professional life. I trust the friendships I made while there will endure.
Q. What can you tell us about your Yahoo job? How often will you write? Does it involve podcasting or any electronic work? Can you keep a straight face when you introduce yourself as Gordon Edes of Yahoo?
A. I’ll answer the last question first. That does take some getting used to, but I’m learning already that the recognition factor is high. I haven’t had to spend much time explaining who we are. I expect to write at least four times a week, if not more, and my sense of what the job entails, and what I want it to entail, is constantly evolving. I expect there will be a fair amount of videostreaming, mailbags, chats and the like, and I expect podcasting will be a component, too. Breaking news, analysis, opinion, features—the job gives me the freedom to do all of the above. And if Steve wants me to write the gamers during the World Series, I’ll be happy to oblige. And then there is the sweetest of words: No running.
Q. What attracts you to a story? Name a few of your favorite stories.
A. I love the telling of a story in detail, giving people the sense that they are seeing things through a unique window when they are reading me. The stories behind the story, like the pieces I did on the Sox failed attempt to trade for Alex Rodriguez, the signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka, or a reprise of the Kirk Gibson home run in 1988.
I’ve never accepted the premise that people don’t read game stories—I think they’ll still read a gamer written with style and information they can’t glean elsewhere, like the Series gamer I wrote last October about what led to Papelbon picking off Matt Holliday. That gave me great satisfaction, to have something no one else had among 500 or so other reporters at the Series.
I like breaking news, though in our 24-7 cycle scoops have a shelf life of about five minutes. I am drawn to the human element, like weaving Tim Wakefield’s joy at flying with the Blue Angels into the story of a Blue Angel pilot who was a huge Sox fan and died in an air show a couple of years after standing in the Sox dugout at the Series. I surprise myself, sometimes, that after 28 years in the business, I still find as much pleasure as I do in going to the ballpark. I was told long ago that the purpose of my job was to inform and delight: I still strive to do so.
Q. How would you grade yourself on your coverage of the Steroid Era? In retrospect, would you have done it differently?
A. I failed badly, out of naivete and ignorance more than anything else. I didn’t raise the issue enough, and certainly didn’t press it with my bosses. One of the biggest stories I missed was giving light treatment to the fact that the owners and players were willing to shelve drug testing as an issue in exchange for labor peace in the 2002 CBA.
How would I have done things differently? I don’t think beat reporters should have been acting as private detectives on a nightly basis—their primary responsibility was to tell the reader who won and lost and why—but in my On Ball role I certainly could have pounded away at the issue.
Q. You don’t call attention to yourself in your writing – why?
A. The power is in the story itself, not who wrote it. You tell a story well enough, the attention will come.
Q. How have e-mails changed your reporting process?
A. A good deal, I would say. It’s the primary way I communicate with Red Sox owner John Henry for example. In some ways it gives you better access; there are people more inclined to answer an e-mail than return a phone call. But I also think some give and take is sacrificed in the process.
Q. You tend to downplay the more advanced baseball stat measures – why?
A. On a nightly basis, I would agree with you that I downplay some of those numbers, though I think you would find that I have championed the work of Bill James and the people at Baseball Prospectus, and incorporated some numbers (OPS, WHIP) that I paid scant attention to in the past. But I also have never lost sight of the fact that I write for a broad audience that might get lost in the VORPs and WARPs and Win Shares, and the people who are into that stuff can find plenty of places to get their fill.
Q. How do you keep up with baseball? What and who do you read and watch?
A. I receive a daily file of newspaper stories written on every team. I also think Baseball-Reference.com is the single greatest resource to come along in my years in the business. I read Buster (Olney) and Peter (Gammons) at ESPN and Baseball Musings, Steve Henson has introduced me to ProSportsDaily, and I am now immersing myself in all that we have on our site.
Q. Beaver Cleaver – any relation?
A. What would ever make you ask?
Gordon Edes, excerpted from the Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 2007:
…The Sox won their sixth straight Series game and fifth straight of this postseason with one never-before-seen wrinkle. Papelbon, who had not picked off a runner since he broke into the big leagues in 2006, nabbed Matt Holliday straying off first base to close out the eighth inning. Holliday had nearly taken out both Papelbon and second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a line single up the middle, his fourth hit of the night. The ball appeared to glance off Papelbon’s leg and caused Pedroia, who gloved the ball with a sprawling spot, to writhe in pain after he landed heavily on the left shoulder he’d dislocated already once this postseason.
At the plate was Todd Helton, the signature player in Rockies history. But he never saw a pitch in the eighth, as Papelbon whirled and picked off Holliday.
“Probably will go down as one of the biggest outs of my career,” Papelbon said.
It was not happenstance. Holliday was intending to steal – he confirmed so after the game – and the Sox had a strong suspicion he was going.
They knew that the Rockies were scouting them in the Division Series against the Angels, when Howie Kendrick stole second and third unchallenged against Papelbon in the eighth inning of a tie game.
“If you were advancing us, you would have said the same thing, that Pap is 1.8 [seconds] to the plate, and he doesn’t pick,” Mills said. “But it was a different situation in the game against the Angels. We didn’t care if he stole, because we had confidence in Paps getting the hitter and we didn’t want to take anything away from him to try to get the runner on that situation.
“We know they’re advancing us, they’re watching it. That night I was talking to Pap in the shower about that exact thing, and about what was to come. [Bullpen coach] Gary Tuck was talking to him about it, [pitching coach] John Farrell talked to him about it, about different things we were going to do.”
When manager Terry Francona went out with trainer Paul Lessard to check on Pedroia, Mills noticed that Glenallen Hill, the Rockies’ first base coach, never stopped talking to Holliday. Mills also had a color-coded chart he keeps on every player, that showed that Holliday likes to steal on the first pitch with two outs. “It was right there in my pocket,” Mills said.
Indeed, it was right there on the chart, multiple steal attempts Holliday had made on the first pitch with two outs.
“You put all those things together, and it comes up, ‘Hey, we’re going to pick once to see where he’s at, and then we’re going to slide-step.’
“And, we were watching. I got a big lump in my throat because he kept inching, inching, inching off, and Pap did a great job of holding the ball, letting him get off there. And then I’m sitting there, with a lump in my throat, hoping he doesn’t throw [it] away.”
Papelbon made the play, Mills said. “He made the great pick.”
But while it was nowhere as dramatic as Kirk Gibson knowing that Dennis Eckersley was going to throw a backdoor slider on a full count before Gibson hit one of the greatest home runs in Series history, it was a stunning example of how inside knowledge and paying extraordinary attention to detail can turn a Series.
“There are a lot of times we don’t want him to throw over,” Mills said. “But in this situation with Helton and [Garrett] Atkins coming up, we couldn’t afford it, and it just happened to work out.”
(SMG thanks Gordon Edes for his cooperation)