Sam Borden

An Interview with Sam Borden

An Interview with Sam Borden

“We’re in a hugely competitive situation with the Post. We’re competing for attention – people stop at the newsstand for 10 seconds – the way you get attention is by being different. That’s the driving force – to be different. I wake up nervous about what I’m going to see in the other paper. I’m competing against George King…It’s a daunting task.”

“In sports journalism so many things are given to writers – here’s a release and here’s a player to talk to. That’s fine, but my editor, Leon Carter, always begins the conversation by asking, “What do you have that nobody else has?”…If you sit around and wait for something to be given to you – especially with the Yankees – you’re going to do a bad job.”

“I haven’t lost any hair. I haven’t lost my girlfriend either which is a big deal…I’m away 220 nights a year and there are a lot of phone calls during dinner. There are abrupt exits to work on a story. The job can take a toll on your personal life.”

“One thing I hate is when people say the Daily News is doing sleazy journalism. It really isn’t. I consider myself an ethical and moral journalist – we’re not making things up or throwing things in the paper that aren’t confirmed. We hold ourselves to a high standard of journalism.”

Sam Borden: Interviewed on October 27, 2006

Position: Yankees beat reporter, New York Daily News

Born: 1978, New Haven, Ct. (grew up in Larchmont, NY)

Education: Emory, 2001, English major, Jewish Studies minor

Personal: single, (longtime girlfriend)

Career: New York Daily News 2002 – 2006; Florida Times-Union 2006 –

Favorite restaurant (home): Gramercy Tavern, Manhattan, “a gourmet restaurant that doesn’t have a snooty feel to it – great fish – very comfortable yet an elegant place to eat”; Gotham Bar and Grille, Manhattan, “the miso cod is out of this world”; Nobu, Manhattan

Favorite restaurant (road): Blue Room, Cambridge, Mass., “Sunday brunch is unbelievable – the only good thing about a Yankees-Red Sox ESPN Sunday night game – kooky brunch dishes like Creole salmon, scrambled eggs with Fontina cheese, and corn pudding”

Favorite hotel: South Beach Marriott, Miami Beach, “great restaurant on back porch overlooking the water – tremendous grilled grouper sandwich – I had it every day during the 2003 World Series”

Editor’s Note: Sam Borden was hired as general sports columnist for the Florida Times-Union shortly after this interview. His comment: “It was a tough decision to leave New York but I’ve always wanted to be a columnist and this opportunity seemed too good to pass up.”

Q. Is this a dream job for a guy from Westchester?

A. A lot of guys I grew up with dreamed of making big money on Wall Street. I went to college to be an English teacher. I tried to make the golf team at Emory and just missed it and joined a fraternity instead. Then I joined the school newspaper and it went from there.

Q. How many stories did you write yesterday?

A. A lot – three or four. That’s part of the attraction of the Daily News. There are a lot of stories and headlines and pictures. That comes with the territory – especially with the Yankees and baseball. I can’t think of a time I called in and said I have a Yankees story and they said they don’t have room for it. That’s rare. They know how important the Yankees are to circulation.

Q. After the Daily News splashed with Joe Torre’s “firing”, Neil Best wrote in Newsday, “When the dust settled, the New York Post was poised to declare victory today by gloating over a coup that it will be reminding the rival Daily News about for the next, oh, 50 years or so.” Your reaction?

A. Sure they felt good that day. But there are plenty of days the News has stories that made them feel bad. That’s the nature of the battle in New York. It’s good for readers – competition is critical to how each paper operates. I don’t know if they’ll lord it over us for 50 years or vice versa, but I do know it’s a day-to-day battle for 365 days, and a lot of people are motivated by that. I don’t know if I tried any harder after that came out or if George King (NY Post) tries any harder after one of our stories. You wake up every morning motivated to find the news that day. You love it if you find it and the Post doesn’t – that’s the nature of doing business in New York. I don’t have a problem with competition.

Q. It’s only fair to mention that you didn’t write the story.

A. I don’t look at it as a situation where it wasn’t my story. I feel we’re a team. I work with Bill Madden, John Harper, and Anthony McCarron. We all work together – it’s an undertaking covering the Yankees and Mets. I get help from them and try to help them if I can. I felt bad it didn’t pan out the way we reported it. Some people feel we got it wrong – I don’t think we did. It didn’t pan out the way it was represented to us – George Steinbrenner changed his mind. We didn’t take something and throw it against the wall and hope it stuck. We had good solid sources giving us excellent information. Nobody at the Daily News is happy with the way it turned out but we’re not shamed by it.

Q. Was the News set up?

A. That’s not for me to say. When you have a good relationship with people and they’re telling you things and they’ve been trustworthy in the past – you have to believe your sources. We had multiple sources – it passed the test of what a story need to have to run. We have a great Sunday editor who was on top of that story all day – each piece of it was handled correctly. There are instances when the Times and Post wrote stuff that didn’t pan out – with George Steinbrenner nothing is for sure until it happens.

One thing about this job is it makes you humble. There aren’t that many scoops. There are lots of ties – one other paper will have what I have. Or if I don’t have it two other papers will. There are too many good people covering the team. It’s very hard to have a clean scoop.

Q. Are you wary about bad information?

A. A lot of times they’re steering you the wrong way – you get wind of something and check it out and they just lie to you. I’m not saying that’s necessarily with the Yankees but everybody has an agenda and wants to put a message out there – the teams, players and agents. Sometimes the hardest part is trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not – who’s steering you and who isn’t – what’s legitimate and what’s not. You’re putting together pieces to come up with the real story. Probably nobody can be trusted 100 percent – the key is figuring out what percentage is true and how you put it together with what somebody else is saying.

Q. Would you say the baseball beat for a New York tabloid is the most pressurized job in sports journalism?

A. I can’t say for sure because I’ve only worked for the Daily News – but I would believe it if other people say that. Just the sheer volume of games – and the access – 3 1/2 hours every day – and the constant flow of news on and off the field – the trades and free agency and minor league affiliates – it’s a huge task. Covering the Kansas City Royals in a one-paper town is an incredibly difficult job. Add in that we have the Daily News, Post, Times, Bergen Record, Star-Ledger, mlb.com, Hartford Courant – 10 people covering the Yankees full-time – it makes for an incredibly competitive situation. If somebody says this is the most competitive beat in the country it would be hard to argue that it wasn’t.

You can say maybe the Cowboys beat in Dallas or the Lakers beat in LA, but in neither case is there the number of outlets covering day to day. We have a traveling party that’s huge – sometimes our traveling party is bigger than the home press corps. There are good things and bad things about it. I think it makes me a better reporter. It makes me pay attention and be on the ball. There are a lot of talented guys doing this – there’s no lack of motivation to make the extra call.

Q. Do you ever dread waking up in the morning?

A. Yeah. Less now than when I first started. Like it or not, that’s what you’re judged on. We’re in a hugely competitive situation with the Post. We’re competing for attention – people stop at the newsstand for 10 seconds – the way you get attention is by being different. That’s the driving force – to be different. I wake up nervous about what I’m going to see in the other paper. I’m competing against George King, one of the best beat reporters in any sport. He’s been doing it a long time. Ask anybody and they’ll say he’s at or near the top in getting news. It’s a daunting task.

Q. Do you have ulcers?

A. I don’t think so. I haven’t lost any hair. I haven’t lost my girlfriend either which is a big deal. People always ask me how we’ve stayed together. You have to have somebody extremely understanding – and my girlfriend is. I’m away 220 nights a year and there are a lot of phone calls during dinner. There are abrupt exits to work on a story. The job can take a toll on your personal life. It may seem like a dream job to guys from Westchester, but guys also like having beers with their buddies and Friday night dinners with their girlfriends.

Q. What does your girlfriend do?

A. She’s a lawyer – a great person. She works a lot of hours too and she understands that a lot of passion goes into work. You have to be committed to it to do a good job. There are a lot of 6 a.m. wakeup calls. There’s a lot of drinking and divorces in baseball beat writing.

Q. Is it the most important beat at the paper?

A. People tell me it is. I have trouble thinking it’s more important than national news. When I first started doing baseball I talked to Bob Hohler – he covered the White House for the Boston Globe before covering the Red Sox. He said covering baseball was harder than the White House. I was shocked but now I can see how it can be true. I can’t imagine a much harder thing to do.

The biggest difficulty and challenge is that it can be all-consuming – if you want to do a good job. The best beat writers really let it consume them. You have to – it’s a 12-month a year job. That’s the difference between now and 20 years ago – it’s an every day thing. The old-time beat writer wonder why guys don’t do this for 10 years. The difference is that we’re on call for 11 1/2 months out of the year. You go from the World Series to free agency to the winter meetings to spring training. With the Yankees everything is a big story from the owner on down – there’s no such thing as a small story.

I devoted the last three years of my life to covering baseball at the expense of friends and family. I started near the end of the 2002 season and was the Mets backup guy in 2003. I was the Yankees backup in 2004 and the Yankees beat writer in ‘05 and ‘06.

Q. How are your editors when you get beat?

A. They’re focused on the bottom line. I don’t make excuses just because George King’s been doing it a long time – he’s a worthy adversary. Tyler Kepner does a good job for the Times. A lot of talented guys are on this beat for the reason that it’s one of the top beats.

Q. What kind of personality does it take to compete in New York?

A. Everyone has his own personality and style. I look at it from the fans’ perspective – what do they want to know and why should they buy my stories. I’m not a big numbers guy – I wasn’t a baseball fan growing up – and I’m not a Sabr-metric guy. Especially with the Yankees people are interested in the stars and there are millions on that team. Fans want to know what’s going on with the players they care about – what can I tell the readers about those stars – something they can’t see on SportsCenter. Newspapers survive on giving readers what they don’t know – a piece of news that TV didn’t report.

Q. Is there a tabloid style of writing?

A. I interned at the Dayton Daily News and Baltimore Sun and it would be foolish to say that the styles at those papers aren’t different than the Daily News. But there’s probably a false perception that there’s only one way to write for a tabloid. Our sports section has a lot of smart writing – we don’t dumb it down or water down good writing. I don’t feel I can’t write something the way I want to write it. The news section may be different but I don’t’ deal with that.

Maybe I’ve adapted my style a bit, but if you read the Daily News on a daily basis you wouldn’t feel we appealed to the lowest common denominator at all. There are a lot of good solid stories with colorful writing. Do we sensationalize sometimes – sure we do – maybe more than other papers. But when it comes down to it we have solid descriptive evocative writing.

One thing I hate is when people say the Daily News is doing sleazy journalism. It really isn’t. I consider myself an ethical and moral journalist – we’re not making things up or throwing things in the paper that aren’t confirmed. We hold ourselves to a high standard of journalism. We’re like any other newspaper when it comes to putting stories out there – you have to have a source and be able to back up what you’re writing. I’m never told to push a story that isn’t there.

Q. Derek Jeter was quoted saying the reporters don’t really know what’s going on in the clubhouse? How true is that?

A. Interesting statement. Baseball beat writers probably know more about what’s going on in the clubhouse than other beat writers (in other sports) because of the access and time we spend there. Does it mean we know everything about them – no – and I don’t think we should. You need some distance to write objectively. The Yankees nowadays aren’t the most media friendly team – they don’t spend the most amount of time in front of their lockers. Do we know what’s going on? I think we have a pretty good feel. When you spend 200 days with guys you get a feel. That’s Derek’s opinion – it could be his defense mechanism for a story out there he doesn’t like.

Q. Could he be referring to columnists?

A. He could be. Columnists in New York and everywhere else drop in and have opinions that may not be popular with the players. I’ve never been upset by that. Most players have a good understanding of how it works – I’ve never been held accountable by what a columnist wrote. Most guys are savvy about the difference. If you’re around every day you can handle a problem as it comes up. If you’re not a problem can fester. It’s possible Jeter was referring to that.

Jeter is one of the most media savvy guys I’ve ever run across. He has a good feel for being available and avoiding controversy. He knows how to play the game and keep his nose clean. That’s a good trait – something Alex Rodriguez could copy. Alex runs into problems the way he says things.

Q. If more players were like Jeter how boring would your job be?

A. Certainly we love guys like Alex and Gary Sheffield and David Wells – I can’t deny the fact that they provide good copy. Whether they’re nice to reporters or like having you around isn’t that relevant. They provide good copy and say interesting things and that’s refreshing a lot of times. But when you’re a beat reporter it’s nice to have someone who’s understanding and accommodates the job you have to do. It’s pretty rare to find a combination of both.

Q. Do you think covering the Yankees now is harder than during the Bronx Zoo era?

A. I’ve heard the veteran writers talk about the Bronx Zoo days. It’s been a circus in the Bronx for a long time – that much is clear to me. That’s part of the allure and attraction to covering this team – it really is it’s own show – and not just what’s on the field. The biggest difference to covering the Yankees is the amount of off-field reporting. The Carl Pavano situation, the Balco case, Dwight Gooden’s latest legal problems, Cory Lidle – all of these things have little to do with what’s on the field but they’re necessary and readers care about it. My reporting skills had to get better over the last couple of years. There’s so much news and so much happening that you’ve got to get your hands on as much as possible. Very little is given to you – everything is self-generated. In sports journalism so many things are given to writers – here’s a release and here’s a player to talk to. That’s fine, but my editor, Leon Carter, always begins the conversation by asking, “What do you have that nobody else has?” It can be tiring to hear that but the truth is that’s what you’re judged on.

If you sit around and wait for something to be given to you – especially with the Yankees – you’re going to do a bad job. It’s easy to say you’re a sportswriter but the bottom line is you’re a reporter. Would I want to cover City Hall – no – but I think the skills I’ve developed would translate. Anybody who does a good job on a high-profile sports beat could cover City Hall – the skills are the same.

Q. How closely do you keep an eye on George?

A. There’s a difference between what he was 10 years ago and now. I hear stories about guys – before cell phones – who couldn’t leave their hotel rooms all day – they sat by their phones. It’s not like that now – he doesn’t really talk to the media. No doubt he’s a figurehead at the top of the organization and he’s still a huge part of the image and how it’s perceived. If he decrees something it’s huge news. Yankee fans have adopted the attitude he wants them to adopt – that they should be disappointed if the Yankees don’t win the World Series. There’s a certain sense of entitlement Yankee fans have – whether it’s fair or not – and it comes from George.

(SMG thanks Sam Borden for his cooperation)

English

© 2006 Daily News, New York. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.

ST. LOUIS – Derek Jeter reiterated his familiar line about Alex Rodriguez yesterday, saying he expected the Yankees’ embattled third baseman to return next year and maintaining that there isn’t much he can do to help Rodriguez get more comfortable in New York.

“What would you like me to do?” Jeter said. “You’re there, you support him. Everyone supports your teammates at all times. I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do. Maybe I’m not that smart (to think of something else).”

Jeter was in town to receive the Hank Aaron award, presented to each league’s best all-around hitter as voted on by the fans. Ryan Howard was the NL recipient.

After the award ceremony, Jeter, who said he had not seen any of the World Series because he had been traveling in Europe, answered a variety of questions, most of which had to do with either A-Rod or Joe Torre.

Some had to do with both. When asked if he felt there might need to be a meeting to clear the air between Torre and A-Rod, Jeter said, “Clear what air? I haven’t heard that there’s any air that needs to be cleared.”

Trade speculation has loomed over Rodriguez and it figures to remain there all winter, though A-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras, told The News on Tuesday that he got a phone call from GM Brian Cashman assuring him that Rodriguez wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, many observers believe that Rodriguez simply isn’t a good fit with the Yankees. Jeter, the Yankee captain, said anyone who thinks there is tension in the clubhouse is mistaken.

“You (reporters) are only in there for a short time,” he said. “Everyone tries to assume what’s going on in the clubhouse, (but) pretty much when you guys are in the clubhouse (the players are) not around each other anyway. There’s always assumptions of what’s going on, what people think they know, what they think people are doing. They have no idea.”

Henry Abbott

An Interview with Henry Abbott

An Interview with Henry Abbott

Intro: Survival of the Fittest

On his way to founding the pre-eminent NBA blog, True Hoops, Henry Abbott lived in a jungle in Ecuador and covered the Ecuadorian elections for CBS radio. But that was then. Now Abbott rules over a different kind of jungle – a network of bloggers in every NBA city that draws more than a million readers every month.

Founded in 2005, True Hoops was purchased by ESPN in 2007, which makes Abbott an entrepreneurial model for bloggers who claw for scraps in a Darwinian cyberspace. In this interview, Abbott answers one question – about the human side of blogging – with a link to his own blog, which not only saved him time, but drove SMG’s massive traffic to True Hoops. Thus did Abbott demonstrate, with deftness, a practical skill that we can only envy. — SM

Henry Abbott: Interviewed on March 11, 2011

Position: Says “senior writer” on the business card, but I’m a blogger. ESPN.com’s TrueHoop blogger, and the co-founder of the TrueHoop Network.

Born: 1974, England

Education: B.A. (honors) NYU Journalism, 1995

Career: 1995 CBS Network Radio News desk assistant; 1996 Cooking etc. at a cloud forest reserve in Ecuador; 1997 Reporter and producer at CBS affiliate in Madison, WI; 1998 Full-time freelance writing at Gekko Productions, “co-founded with my lovely wife”. Work for HOOP, Inside Stuff, Men’s Journal etc.; 2005 Start TrueHoop; 2007 TrueHoop moves to ESPN.com; 2009 Launch the TrueHoop Network, an affiliation between ESPN and a “fantastic collection of the best independent NBA blogs”

Personal: Married with two kids

Favorite restaurant (home): Matt’s Red Rooster, Flemington NJ. “Run by friends and always good.”

Favorite restaurant (away): “If I’m at Cafe Mingo in Portland OR it means I’m not just on vacation, but enjoying great food, in a charming environment, on a date with my wife. Awesome.”

Favorite hotel: “Hotels to me are all about wireless and work. For pleasure, I’ll take a house with a pool and sun and tons of family and friends who really know how to cook.”

Q. You are the head of a blogging empire – which you founded and sold to ESPN. Give us a description of your job.

A. TrueHoop is ESPN.com’s NBA blog. Nowadays many smart people (Marc Stein! John Hollinger! J.A. Adande!) contribute, but I’m still both the baldest and the only one for whom it’s a full-time job.

In addition, we have three dozen independent blogs that are affiliated with ESPN through the TrueHoop Network, which is the result of many long hours of working closely with the fabulous Kevin Arnovitz. There’s a TrueHoop Network blog in every NBA city, and a few more besides. That’s about two years old, and while it has always been a hotbed of quality, I’m insanely proud of the work the network has been doing lately. There are more than a million monthly unique readers every month in the network alone, and rightly so. My expectations — of quality, of import, of traffic, of credibility — are getting a little crazy.

Worth noting: Not all, but nearly everyone who has gotten their first full-time NBA media jobs in the last two years first worked in this network.

Q. How did you start your career?

A. After interning all over and more than a little work in college radio (I was co-news director and founded a show called Citywide
), I snagged a job as CBS network radio news desk assistant before I graduated from NYU. Then a stream of reporting and producing type jobs, along with roughly a decade of freelancing, mainly for magazines.

Q. How did you conceive and make a success of TrueHoop?

A. Writing for NBA magazines gave me a certain set of contacts and insights. Magazine publishing allowed me to get about 1 percent of those into print, typically eight weeks after it seemed relevant.

I resisted blogging for ages, but eventually my friend Alex, at a Christmas party in Brooklyn, basically forced me to start a blog. He’s a pretty big dude. So I did, and I quickly discovered putting ideas into a conversation in real time for everyone was much more exciting and relevant than putting them onto paper for a few people.

Q. What does it take to make it – in ability and finances – as an independent sports blogger in 2011?

A. Unknown. I tell TrueHoop Network bloggers every chance I get that the key is to pick a niche and own it, to get it right, to build credibility, to build relationships, and to work really hard for a long time.

People who don’t do all that seem to fail. Some who do all that succeed, and we’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of them, although I suspect there’ll be a lot more of that as it becomes clear we’re going about this the right way and these are young writers you can trust.

It does not require all that much money, but it sure does take time.

The main point is: In 2011, you simply cannot e-mail decision makers and tell them about the kind of work you intend to do. Video, audio, writing … it’s all almost free or cheap to produce, if you have the time and know-how. Do it. Show us.

Q. Tell us about the human side of some of the people in your TrueHoop Network.

A. One of the network’s bloggers tells it far better than I can
.

The long and short of it is that I feel they have placed a hell of a lot of trust in us. They are all over the map, socioeconomically, but they are united in having worked really hard to try to serve sports fans in a new and better way, while buying into a vision from ESPN, from Kevin and from me.

That they have poured so much passion and smarts into the whole thing, for basically no money … well, let’s just say I’m determined not to eff this up.

Q. How much basketball do you watch?

A. Most nights from when my kids go to bed until I can keep my eyes open no longer. Sometimes I also get up early and watch more while riding the exercise bike in the basement. Then if there’s a play I need to see again, every game is online one way or another at work.

Q. How do you maintain a balance between work and non-work?

A. Weekends are the key. I’m lucky that I not only get to cover the NBA, but by and large I get to do so five days a week and mostly without travel.

That said, during the playoffs it all kinds of goes to hell for me. I’m physically incapable of sleeping in, so I’m up late watching West Coast games, then up early. Haggard from tax day to the fourth of July. That’s punctuated with a 20-day trip to the Finals. As soon as you touch down it’s a dead sprint to what’s often the biggest traffic day of the year … the draft, which is a week later.

I know, nobody wants to hear it — these are great problems to have in this economy.

But I pity the fool who stands between me and the vacation with my family that follows all that.

Q. Who were your writing and journalistic influences?

A. I read the New Yorker like a junkie, and before that it was Harper’s. As a guy who studied TV and radio and worked at CBS, I loved me some Charles Kuralt. Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” is fantastic and life-changing. Ira Glass and “This American Life.” I interned for a PBS show Robert Krulwich hosted (“Edge”), and love all his work including and especially “Radiolab.” My college roommate has long encouraged me to emulate Bill Bryson. Wright Thompson is a stud. Sarah Vowell may be the voice of my generation. And who doesn’t love Darcy Frey, Hunter S. Thompson, David Halberstam?

Q. What kind of stories are you drawn to?

A. The truth! The opportunities for me, as a journalist, are topics where there’s a lot of “group think” and assuming going on. I like to wreck my car into a pile of assumptions, and see if I can’t get some new kinds of thinking going.

Since challenging the broad assumption that Kobe Bryant is the king of crunch time a while back, I get lots of e-mails from people saying “damn you! Now every time Kobe catches the ball in crunch time all I can think about are your damned stats saying he misses most of the time.” I take no joy in smearing Bryant, but I take a lot of joy in opening eyes.

(SMG thanks Henry Abbott for his cooperation)

Peter Abraham

An Interview with Peter Abraham

An Interview with Peter Abraham

“If Buster links to one of my stories invariably it will be one of the most read stories on our site that day. If Buster likes one of your stories that helps your website, too. He’s creating value for espn.com, but also for boston.com and whoever he links to. There’s a lot of getting in bed with one another in this business that we didn’t used to do.”

“Buster is fair in what he does, but let’s say he wanted to promote the career of some writer – he could link to that guy every day and people would say this guy is great…Every day I get four or five e-mails pleading with me to link to their site. A lot of it is commercial – ‘please include me on your list of sites’. Obviously the paper won’t let me link to anything commercial.”

Peter Abraham: Interviewed on March 29, 2008

Position: Yankees beat reporter, The Journal News, The LoHud Yankees blog

Born: 1964, New Bedford, Ma.

Education: University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1986, journalism

Personal: Single

Career: New Bedford Standard-Times, Watertown (NY) Daily Times 1986; Norwich (Ct) Bulletin 86-99; Journal News 99-

Favorite restaurant (home): Pasquale Rigoletto, Little Italy, Bronx “authentic NY Italian not too far from Stadiumz’

Favorite restaurant (road): Foley’s Back Street Grille, Stoughton, Ma. “my brother-in-law’s place – best clam chowder ever – I liked it before he married my sister”

Favorite hotel: Harbor Beach Marriott, Ft. Lauderdale “like being on vacation – you hate to go to the games – and I like going to games”

Posted by Peter Abraham on The LoHud Yankees blog, March 27, 2008, 10:06 p.m.

It was a nice scene today as George Steinbrenner, surrounded by his family, saw the field renamed in his honor.

People lined up to say what a great man he is and how much he has done for charity. By all accounts, they are exactly right. He has put kids through college, helped wounded servicemen, donated to countless organizations, etc.

I had people tell me today that there are literally hundreds of good acts he has done that have gone unpublicized. In Florida, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, etc. Do you know he donates thousands to the Jimmy Fund, the official charity of the Red Sox?

But there were also hundreds of people who heard about today’s ceremony and were probably sick to their collective stomachs.

Steinbrenner is also the same guy who has fired dozens of employees for no reason. He has made life miserable for some people who worked at his stadiums, his horse farm and his hotels. He once fired a dozen people who worked for the team because he was upset with a new CBA between the owners and the MLBPA. Jokes are made about it now, but it wasn’t funny for the people who ruined their marriages or had to uproot their families.

Steinbrenner gave illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and hired a small-time crook to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. Those offenses got him suspended from baseball. Hank Steinbrenner has said many times that he wanted nothing to do with the Yankees for years because he couldn’t stand working for his father.

He’s an infirm old man, so he’ll get a pass from most of us. I suspect all of the stories tomorrow will reflect well on him, as they probably should. Fans tend to overlook the past because Steinbrenner spends money on the roster. They tend to forget that he charges high prices for tickets and concessions and that next season only the wealthy will sit anywhere close to the field. Or that the Yankees were mismanaged for years under his watch.

There’s no easy answer to this. He’s been a good guy and he’s been a bad guy. As with most things in life, there is no absolute right or wrong, only shades of gray. Those he did right by will love him. Those he tormented will hate him.

But nobody will forget him, that we do know.

Q. How successful is your blog?

A. Beyond what I could have imagined. When I started it in the spring of 2006 I don’t think we had a comment posted for a week. I wasn’t sure who was reading it beyond me and my editors. Now on a given day I receive 1000-plus comments. On a given month our page views will be around 1.5 million and it’s going up steadily.

In terms of our website, my blog often outdraws all other pages on the website.

Q. How do you differentiate the blog from your print stories?

A. A lot go hand-in-hand. You’re out there everyday getting information that ultimately will be for the paper. That’s my priority – I consider myself a newspaper writer first. My secondary job is the blog. I’m not a person who does a blog but also happens to cover the team for the newspaper. Blogging is good for you. If you get information at 2 p.m., instead of waiting until 6 the next morning to present it in the paper, you can present it at 2:01. The days are gone of breaking big stories in the paper the next day – it’s almost impossible to do. If you have anything you should have it online as soon as possible, even if it’s just a few grafs to add to something. If it’s reported correctly you should get it online as soon as you can – then write a complete story for the paper the next day. For me the blog is a big part of that.

Every story you don’t have to present as news on the website. Even something like the lineup – one thing we do is put up the lineup every day as soon as the Yankees post it. I did it in 2006 to put something up there, and people loved it. If I don’t have it up when I should have it up I get questions. Lineups are posted (by managers) three hours before the game and most people don’t know what it is until they see it on TV before the first batter. For whatever reason people are consumed with lineups.

You use the blog for little things like that – this guy is on the disabled list – or this guy got flu and won’t play for a day. People seem to hunger for information. I jot it down in my notebook anyway, so it doesn’t change how I go about my work.

Q. How do you know if something should be a blog item or a news item?

A. I talk about it with my editors. If it’s a significant move – like Pettitte on the DL – we do a blurb on the website. The Journal News is determined to make Lohud.com an important outlet. Anything we have we try to get on the website, then we add a blurb, ‘for more on this see the Journal News tomorrow’. We’re trying to have it be integrated. Lohud.com has done very well. A lot of times editors will take things off my blogs and turn them into short updates that will on the main page of the website. We might have two or three updates during the day along with what I have on my blog.

Q. Does updating go on all day?

A. I’ve studied traffic closely. Most traffic is between 9 and 5, especially on weekdays. People are reading in their offices. Once 5 or 6 comes along it seems to drop off a bit. The blog is different – people seem to have it going during the game. They chat with each other in the comment section if something goes on during the game. If Damon left with a sore knee I throw that up to let people know what’s going on. It’s tough to do during a game if I’m writing a story to make the first deadline, but if I can I throw things up on the blog, too.

Q. You mean you’re writing for the print deadline and you’re posting on the blog at the same time? That’s like a circus act.

A. Another thing we do – and I don’t know how many around the country do this – they’ve given me the ability to put audio up on the blog. I can take the manager’s post-game press conference and upload that after a game. We’re the only ones in New York doing that.

It’s funny. When I had the blog in 2006 I was the only beat writer in New York to have a blog in any sport. People thought I was crazy. My fellow beat writers were like, ‘how can you do this – it won’t work out’. Now, there’s not a beat reporter in this market who doesn’t have a blog.

Q. Do you keep up with all those blogs?

A. The Yankees blogs. I keep up with my competition.

I have a folder set up on my browser with basically everything I want to check, and I go through it one by one. When I get up in the morning I start with Buster Olney’s blog on ESPN – he has a ton of good links.

Q. Why is Buster’s blog up first?

A. He does his outrageously early – he’s an early riser. I know him personally – he was raised on a farm and he’s used to getting up early. Rarely have I got up and his blog wasn’t updated.

Then I look at the coverage in other papers that cover the Yankees. In some cases I’ve read it the night before. The Times tends to post stories right away, and Newsday does the same. The tabs don’t post until 6 in the morning, so I don’t see those until I wake up. I usually check the Boston Globe – their guys throw Yankees news up there. It’s always good to keep up with the Red Sox – Red Sox news is Yankees news. I check Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America for the amateur draft stuff. Baseball Musings – I like what David (Pinto) does. I can’t say I look at every Yankee blog in terms of fan blogs. Some I check in with – like Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter. I found a good Yankees stat blog – Replacement Level Yankee Weblog – ‘replacement level ‘ is a SABR term – they do good SABR stuff with the Yankees. A lot is contingent on the news of the day. If the Yankees are looking at a trade with Seattle I look at the Seattle papers.

It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to cruise around. I’m not reading every single word – a lot of times it’s the same stuff I know I have. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Q. Do you read the magazines?

A. Sure, absolutely, especially if it’s Yankee or AL related. That’s how I got to like reading about baseball in the first place. If (Tom) Verduccie has a story in SI I will read it. In airports or planes or subways I do try to have things to read – especially SI stuff and espn.com’s longer form things – the e-tickets. I try to get to that as much as I can.

Q. How did your blog start?

A. In 2005 I did a story in spring training about bloggers and became intrigued with what these guys were doing. Alex Belth (Bronx Banter) is the reason I started the blog – he was the centerpiece of the story. I was jealous of what he was doing – he had a great platform to do whatever he wanted. That led me to try to convince my paper we should try – they were against it for the longest time. I finally convinced them during the winter meetings. But it was Alex and some other guys who inspired me.

Q. There are so many blogs – how do you find the good ones?

A. If you find somebody whose blog you like, that person will have a blogroll on his blog, which is a list of blogs that person likes. It correlates that those other blogs are decent. If I’m reading Alex and he’s linked to some other blog I’ll check it out.

Q. What’s the difference between a blogger and an aggregator?

A. Most of my own stuff is original. I don’t spend a lot of time with links – every once in a while you throw in something you find out there – it’s really your own discretion. That’s what Buster is doing – he’s deciding what is the news – he has a sense of that. What I’m doing is writing what I find out in my job as Yankees beat writer.

Way too many people are saying what they’re doing is a blog when it’s not a blog. By definition a weblog was supposed to be a journal kind of thing. What Buster is doing is not a journal – it’s a collection of links. But there’s no term for that, which means it just gets lumped under the blog label.

The Post puts up the first couple of grafs of a story somebody sends in and calls it a blog, but it’s not a blog. The word ‘blog’ has come to man almost anything that is online – people use the term because it’s catchy.

Q. So Buster is an aggregator?

A. Yeah, but there’s no catchy term for that. What Gammons (espn.com) does is sort of a blog and sort of isn’t. Jason Stark (espn.com) does more or a blog – it’s random stuff he’s finding out. Peter’s blog is like his column of that day – it’s not much different than what he was doing for the Globe 30 years ago.

I put a time element on my items because I’m updating items as I go along. It’s more of a web log – which is what the term originally meant. A lot of people think anything online is a blog but it’s not really.

At the same time Buster does provide some of his own information. He throws in stuff, usually at the beginning. I guess there’s no one definition to cover all of this – it’s so new.

Q. So he’s creating value for his outlet by aggregating the stories of other outlets?

A. Sure. And he creates value for them, too. If Buster links to one of my stories invariably it will be one of the most read stories on our site that day. If Buster likes one of your stories that helps your website, too. He’s creating value for espn.com, but also for boston.com and whoever he links to. There’s a lot of getting in bed with one another in this business that we didn’t used to do.

Q. The value created by linking – how do you get a handle on what it’s worth?

A. I don’t know. A link on espn.com is valuable because it’s so well read and has a lot of credibility. Buster is fair in what he does, but let’s say he wanted to promote the career of some writer – he could link to that guy every day and people would say this guy is great.

I have a lot of readers on my blog and if I link to somebody it will drive a lot of readership – it could drive 50,000 readers. On a given day I could make that guy’s readership. Every day I get four or five e-mails pleading with me to link to their site. A lot of it is commercial – ‘please include me on your list of sites’. Obviously the paper won’t let me link to anything commercial. I explain to them that I can’t promote products.

The whole thing is very interesting.

Q. Where does your love of baseball come from?

A. My parents subscribed to the Boston Globe and New Bedford Standard Times when I was growing up. The Globe came in the morning and the Standard-Times in the evening. I loved the whole idea of reading about the Boston teams. The Globe had Bob Ryan covering the Celtics, (Dan) Shaughnessy or (Peter) Gammons on the Red Sox, Will McDonough on the Patriots, and Fran Rosa on the Bruins – these were the best guys in the country in my mind. I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do.’

Q. How did you get into the industry?

A. My dad was a high school guidance councilor – he had me join a Junior Achievement club in high school, much to my chagrin. One of the first things they did was tour the local paper, the Standard Times. They showed us the loading dock and the printing press and in the newsroom the Sports Editor was at his desk.

I knew who he was, and I went up to him and said, ‘the high school swim team is doing well but you haven’t done any stories’. He said, ‘they never bring the results down’. I said, ‘too bad, there’s a big meet Friday and you should have the results in the paper’. He said, ‘you get them here and I’ll put them in the paper’. So I did, and lo and behold, it was in the paper the next day. My friends thought that was pretty good. The conference meet was a couple days later. I told the SE, and he said, ‘bring those results in, and while you’re at it get a comment from the coach’. I did that, and the next day there was a story with my name on it – identifying me as a Standard-Times correspondent. A few days later I got a check for $10 and I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. It’s the only job I’ve had since.

Q. How do you like the Yankees beat?

A. Very much. I used to cover the Mets for this paper. I enjoyed it but I enjoy the Yankees more. There are more Yankees fans in our area – Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. I get more feedback covering the Yankees. To me if you’re cover baseball in the New York area, the Yankees are the team to cover – they seem to have the most attention focused on them. Even if the Yankees lose it’s a bigger story than if the Mets win.

Q. Is it the most competitive beat in sports?

A. I think so. I used to cover Connecticut basketball, which I thought was competitive, but it’s nothing like the Yankees beat in New York.

I started doing baseball in 2000 for the Journal News. Just from traveling and seeing different papers I can’t say that all the good baseball writers are in New York, but in terms of a concentration of a lot of writers who know what they’re talking about, and columnists who are baseball-centric, it’s extremely competitive. It’s not just the people in the pressbox – it’s the columnists and national baseball writers and national websites. Everybody has a stake covering the Yankees if you cover baseball, so there’s always somebody out there trying to break something.

Q. Are you at a disadvantage as a suburban paper?

A. We’re based in White Plains, which is a suburb, but it’s not far from Yankee Stadium. I live in White Plains and I’m at the Stadium in 25 minutes. Our coverage of the Yankees goes back a lot of years – we’re established on the beat.

The disadvantage is at home games. The major metros can send five or six people while we send one or two. In terms of them flooding the zone and talking to everybody I’m at a little disadvantage. It’s better on the road. They send one or two except during the playoffs or for a Red Sox series – so the numbers are more evenly matched.

The Yankees, to their credit, don’t treat the metros any differently than my paper or the Star-Ledger or Newsday or Bergen Record, in terms of access. Brian Cashman treats everybody the same, the organization treats everybody the same. It’s not like you wake up and wonder why they gave the New York Times a story.

Q. What does it take to be competitive on the beat?

A. It takes a tremendous amount of time, and with that comes a tremendous amount of effort. I have a list of people I try to talk to every day during the season. It starts with Girardi and Cashman and it goes on to the scouts and agents and people from other teams. I try to get a sense of moves they may make, and to find out the teams Cashman is talking to. Just on a day-to-day basis, being at the park, the clubhouse opens 3 1/2 hours before the game, and I’m there early and often quite late. The Yankees tend to play late games – AL games take forever. During the games you’re updating your story and your blog.

It’s a major commitment of time but that’s what you have to do.

Q. How much time?

A. I never thought about it and probably don’t want to think about it. It’s usually 10 to 12 hours for any given day. If you have a road trip and you’re working five games it’s probably 70 or 80 hours a week. I cover every road game. When they’re at home I take time off. I probably cover about 125-130 games a year.

Q. Where are you now?

A. Miami. I’m waiting for the Yankees-Marlins game – the last exhibition game of the year.

Q. Are you ready to leave Florida?

A. I don’t mind spring training. I hear it’s cold and nasty in New York.

Posted by Peter Abraham on The LoHud Yankees blog, Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 9:02 pm: |

If you’re interested in the minor leagues and you’re not reading Chad Jennings of the Times-Tribune in Scranton, well you should be.

The beat writers all read his blog
because he’s on top of things.

As somebody who once covered the Double-A team when it was in Connecticut, I know how hard it is to extract information from the people who run the Kremlin in Tampa. But Chad finds out plenty.

So while we treasure your loyalty, it’s OK if you sneak off to check out his blog. Just come back.

Meanwhile, here’s your Scranton lineup as far as I can tell:

1B: Miranda

2B: Castro and/or Green

SS: Gonzalez

3B: Ransom

C: Moeller

CF: Gardner

RF: Porter and/or Lane

LF: Christian

DH: Duncan

Starters: Horne, Igawa, Marquez, Wright, White

Bullpen: Britton, Veras, Albaladejo, Ohlendorf (unless he makes it), Patterson, Phillips.

(SMG thanks Peter Abraham for his cooperation)

David Aldridge

An Interview with David Aldridge

An Interview with David Aldridge

“I’m expected to write about sports. I occasionally write about race, but that points up another misconception – that black columnists only write about race – no. They do write about race because…in the context of sports there aren’t too many white columnists who spend time writing about race.”

“I write as a human being that has a particular point of view…same way with any columnist…Sure, being black influences me, but also growing up in Washington, DC with a mother and a father in the house – all of those things influence me.”

“I just wish Jason (KC Star/AOL) and Scoop (espn.com) could get in a room together and talk about what is bothering them…It would be awfully presumptuous of me to say this person represents the black experience and this person doesn’t – nobody has that much wisdom and I certainly don’t. The fact that it’s two African-American male columnists makes it sexy. And it may be the first time two prominent black columnists have disagreed publicly.”

David Aldridge: Interviewed on March 13, 2007

Position: Columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer; reporter/analyst, TNT

Born: 1965, Washington, D.C.

Education: American University, 1987, journalism

Career: Washington Post 1987-1996, ESPN 1996-2004, Philadelphia Inquirer 2004 – , TNT 2004 –

Personal: married, one child, (expecting)

Favorite restaurant (home): Prima Piatti, NW DC “wonderful family run Italian restaurant – they treat me really nice and I love taking my wife”

Favorite restaurant (road): Tao, New York “a food experience unlike any I’ve ever had”; Tuscany, Salt Lake City, “owned by Mark Eaton, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, a lovely Italian restaurant, great ambience”

Favorite hotel: Four Seasons, Miami “pretty sweet”

David Aldridge excerpted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 2007:

In the wake of what are, charitably, unclear media reports about what exactly happened in the streets of Las Vegas during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, there are parallel criticisms being leveled. Some are accurate, some are specious.

After a Las Vegas television station posted a story on its Web site headlined “Violence Erupts During All-Star Weekend,” the tale was picked up nationally. The initial story claimed 362 people were booked into the Clark County Detention Center between noon Thursday, Feb. 15, and the early hours after the Sunday, Feb. 18, game.

Bloggers then augmented the original story, writing about “gangbangers” running rampant through the streets, gunfire, hordes of drunk or high people menacing visitors, rude guests who refused to tip or pay wait staff and a general air of fear for one’s safety.

…AOL Sports’ Jason Whitlock wrote that walking along the Vegas Strip “must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn’t relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger.”

… In response: I was there, from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday night. It was crowded. It was far from ideal.

It was not Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict. They were not plucking people off the roof of the Bellagio.

…It also seems that people are – how does one put this? – talking out of their behinds when it comes to equating cause and effect of crime. The argument you hear is that the NBA “attracted” a criminal element to Vegas – crooks love the hoop! – which has the great benefit of being absolutely impossible to disprove/

Last week, I got an e-mail from a concerned mother who wrote about “thug basketball” and the “vermin” that surround NBA players. I didn’t mean to dismiss her concerns, but I never hear about “thug football.”

…And, let’s get real: “gangbangers” is code for young black men. Many writers have twisted themselves into pretzels saying they weren’t talking about race when they described their fears, but it is hard to recall reading such angst about drunk and menacing white people at Mardi Gras or in Fort Lauderdale during spring break.

…Were all black people on their best behavior in Vegas? No. Not close. Not our finest hour. Martin Luther King didn’t protest and march and die so that we could get our freak on at Tryst. To paraphrase Chris Rock, there were lots of black people in Vegas – and lots of black idiots.

…That’s been the case at every All-Star Weekend I can remember. I have never felt unsafe being at one. I didn’t feel unsafe in Vegas.

…I wish more young black men weren’t so seduced by the worst of hip-hop culture: the misogyny, the glamorization of selling drugs and drinking, the indifference to formal education. I wish VH1 could find better depictions of black life than crackhead singers and illiterate sex-crazed fools. But I don’t know – and neither do any of the writers and bloggers – if a group of young black man approaching in cornrows and baggy jeans are thieves or pre-med students at Penn.

To assume either possibility is to be prejudiced. Period.

Q. What prompted your Las Vegas column?

A. I think it was a couple of things. If you were to get on the blogs and look at some of the things written in columns around the country and on basketball websites it would have been hard not to conclude that Las Vegas was not Saigon in 1975. You would have gotten the sense that people were running crazed and brandishing weapons and stabbing and shooting people – that it was complete anarchy in the streets. There was kind of an echo chamber and people were saying it was terrible and more terrible than that.

It just wasn’t that way, not in my experience. I felt compelled to get out my version of what happened. I wasn’t trying to denigrate anybody else’s version – if that’s what they saw that’s what they saw. There was beginning to be a narrative about the Las Vegas All-Star Game that was at odds with the facts. And this wasn’t according to only me, but to a number of people I talked to – I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy and had been living under a rock. Did I see it wrong? Most people I talked to said, “No, it didn’t happen that way.”

Q. What was propelling the crime narrative?

A. The vast majority of people who did have a bad experience don’t necessarily have any type of agenda. They just saw something that troubled them or gave them discomfort.

The problem is when you start talking about crime or things going on in a city at a given time you have to be really careful. You can’t just say there was a lot of crime during the All-Star Game ergo the All-Star Game attracted criminals. You can’t make that leap. There were also conventions in town and a fashion show and it was Chinese New Year. The only thing connecting everything is that there were a lot of rich people in town – and that’s what attracts criminals. I’m no expert on crime, by the way. There was a lot of crime during All-Star weekend and a lot of black people at All-Star weekend – now they’re starting to make a connection I don’t agree with. Not necessarily writers, but the echo chamber.

Q. Is sport a good milieu to write about race?

A. Anything is a good milieu to write about race. One reason I like covering sports so much – and I have this endless debate with people who aren’t in sports about why sports are important – of course they’re not as important as the Iraq War – is that people see other people through distorted prisms in a lot of ways. We tend not to spend a lot of time with people of different races or different ethnic backgrounds or of a different sexual orientation.

I think sport is one of the few venues where you get to see different people, so it’s important that those meetings are chronicled in an accurate way. In sport you can see the best and worst of people, but you also see people work toward a common goal and sacrifice for one another – that’s what our country is about. Isn’t that why we’re here – to make things better for the next generation that follows. Chronicling that as accurately as I can is extremely important.

Q. Are you expected to write about race because you’re black?

A. No. I’m expected to write about sports. I occasionally write about race, but that points up another misconception – that black columnists only write about race – no. They do write about race because nobody else is – occasionally others do, like Harvey Araton (NY Times) or Charlie Pierce (Boston Globe), but in the context of sports there aren’t too many white columnists who spend time writing about race.

So no, I’ve never been told by my editor to write about race. I tend to be the one who comes up with those ideas. When the APSE (Associated Press Sports Editors) study came out last year (quantifying a miniscule percentage of non-whites and women in sports journalism) nobody wrote about it. C’mon, nobody wrote about it – I thought that was amazing. I know because I asked my boss (APSE president Jim Jenks) and he said two people called him about it. I felt like somebody should be writing about this.

I have no set agenda about what I’m going to write on a given day. I’m like anybody else – it’s how the Muse strikes me – Sixers, Eagles, Phillies, college basketball and once in awhile I write about race. Not one out of every two. I write about it when it comes up if that’s the thing that interests me – you write about what you feel passionately about that day.

Q. Do you write as a black sportswriter or as a sportswriter who happens to be black?

A. As a person. I write as a human being that has a particular point of view. The fact that I’m black obviously tends to influence my worldview based on my life experience – same way with any columnist. You’re influenced by wherever you grew up and the schools you attended and the friends you had – I’m no different. I don’t think Bob Ryan writes as an Irish-American – he writes as Bob Ryan. Sure, being black influences me, but also growing up in Washington, DC with a mother and a father in the house – all of those things influence me.

Q. Isn’t it true that white writers are not defined by their whiteness in the same way that black writers are defined by their blackness?

A. Maybe what was going on in Vegas is that for that weekend whites were a racial minority. It creates a different feeling in you – ask a black person who is the only black at a cocktail party or a college class or a 200-person meeting – you notice it. White people don’t spend time thinking about being white because they don’t have to.

Q. Do you have a black constituency you write to?

A. I don’t think in terms of black people will like this or white people will be angry or vice versa. I don’t break up readership into racial or ethnic categories – it’s for whoever wants to read it. I’ve gotten strong hate mail from African-Americans who think I’ve sold out or haven’t gone far enough – you get it from all directions. I have no problem with that – as long as it’s based somewhat in reason – people can disagree. I disagree with what (Jason) Whitlock wrote for AOL, and I like Jason.

As long as ethnic slurs are not involved I can listen to all viewpoints. When people raise good points I try very hard to send them back a note saying it’s a good point. Some issues are an ongoing discussion. I don’t close down after an article – I like to think I can evolve. You have to be a moron to have the same beliefs throughout your entire life.

Q. What do you make of the Whitlock-Scoop Jackson hostilities?

A. I don’t. I just wish Jason (KC Star/AOL) and Scoop (espn.com) could get in a room together and talk about what is bothering them. It’s bothering Jason more than Scoop. Both of them are friends of mine, and both bring a different perspective to journalism. It would be awfully presumptuous of me to say this person represents the black experience and this person doesn’t – nobody has that much wisdom and I certainly don’t. The fact that it’s two African-American male columnists makes it sexy. And it may be the first time two prominent black columnists have disagreed publicly. But if you tell me two white columnists never had an argument in public you need to spend three minutes in New York.

Q. What in your background shaped you as a writer?

A. I always try to tell people this is how I grew up – as a middle class kid from a middle class family. I didn’t grow up scrounging for my next meal or without a father or mother in the house. On the other hand, I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth – I understand what working means. Both parents worked – my father worked two jobs for twenty years – as a letter carrier and a grocery store bagger. I had one brother and one sister.

I respect people who work for a living. I grew up in northeast Washington, D.C. – not rich or poor but in the middle.

Q. How did you get into sportswriting?

A. I may be the luckiest person ever in journalism. My first job was at the Washington Post – I have no right to complain. The high school sports editor, Mike Trilling, was an AU grad and tried to get AU kids into the Post program covering high schools. He was nice enough to ask me if I wanted to while I was in college – my last year at AU I worked at the Post part-time. From that I was fortunate enough to apply for and get an internship – I got one after graduating in ‘87. At the end of doing that I was incredibly fortunate that they had a g.a. job open and they asked me to apply. I’d like to think that part of the reason was that I was ready to take the job. I was extremely lucky and I was ready.

Q. Why do multiple outlets claim credit for breaking the same story?

A. I can speak to this from both sides having worked at ESPN. Nobody as ESPN is saying you have to claim credit for this story – that’s not how it works. The problem is you can’t see everything and read everything on every blog and newspaper website – so you do your job as quickly as you can and put it out as quickly as you can. I’ve been accused of stealing stories and it’s nonsense. You do the reporting in the time period you have and put it out as quickly as you can. I’ve been on both sides of this. Nobody is doing it to take credit for somebody else’s work – it’s such a competitive business now there’s no way of knowing who is first.

The Iverson story was a good example. We broke the story – as best as I can tell I broke it. Some of the blogs gave ESPN credit – even though I don’t think they were trying to take credit for it. Their reporters got it minutes after I did – they work very hard but you can’t check every website. Just to correct one of the blogs I sent it an e-mail. I wanted to correct it, for posterity. I told them, “Look boys, when you work in Philadelphia you’ve got to have the Iverson story first.” Deadspin or Big Lead – I’m not sure which – ran with it and said I was accusing ESPN of stealing the story. I didn’t. I just don’t’ think they had looked at the Inquirer website.

This stuff happens now. Any number of people come to the same information within 20 minutes. Who’s first? You don’t know.

Q. Does it matter being first?

A. What matters is being right. It’s great to be first but if you’re wrong it doesn’t do a lot of good. I want to be first every time but if I have to be second and right I’ll take that.

Q. What do you read?

A. A lot of things – sports and non-sports. I try hard to not be limited in my worldview. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, everything. In a day probably half a dozen papers online. Selena Roberts (NY Times) is great – she’s amazing with words. Bob Ford (Philadelphia Inquirer) is sensational – he gets to it better than anybody in terms of issues. Mike Wilbon (Washington Post) is a terrific columnist – you find yourself gnashing your teeth in frustration at things he says – which is the point of a column. I like J. Adande (LA Times) – he’s a good distinct young voice with passion. TJ Simers (LA Times) is fearless – I give him that. Gary Shelton (St. Petersburg Times) has been good for a long time. Bill Rhoden (NY Times) always makes me think.

Q. Tell us about your dinner at Tao?

A. Mike Freeman (CBS SportsLine) got married. He’s a friend of Jay Glazer of Fox. Jay is friends with the head chef at Tao. We went in and looked at the menus and he came out of the kitchen and said “ Put your menus away – leave it to me.” And he started bringing us the most wonderful food you could imagine. Dish after dish. This went on all night. If you’ve seen the movie “Big Night” you can picture it. I’ve never had food that fantastic. I’ve been back three times.

(SMG thanks David Aldridge for his cooperation)

SPORTS

David Aldridge | Bad rap for NBA in Vegas; The event was linked unfairly to crimes.

By David Aldridge

Inquirer Columnist

1009 words

4 March 2007

The Philadelphia Inquirer

CITY-D

E01

English

(c) Copyright 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer. All Rights Reserved.

In the wake of what are, charitably, unclear media reports about what exactly happened in the streets of Las Vegas during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, there are parallel criticisms being leveled. Some are accurate, some are specious.

After a Las Vegas television station posted a story on its Web site headlined “Violence Erupts During All-Star Weekend,” the tale was picked up nationally. The initial story claimed 362 people were booked into the Clark County Detention Center between noon Thursday, Feb. 15, and the early hours after the Sunday, Feb. 18, game.

Bloggers then augmented the original story, writing about “gangbangers” running rampant through the streets, gunfire, hordes of drunk or high people menacing visitors, rude guests who refused to tip or pay wait staff and a general air of fear for one’s safety.

“Everyone I know who was there felt like it was out of hand,” wrote Henry Abbott, author of the excellent basketball blog TrueHoop.

“There was no police anywhere to arrest anybody, and everybody knew it,” wrote the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Brian Windhorst.

AOL Sports’ Jason Whitlock wrote that walking along the Vegas Strip “must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn’t relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger.”

In short: Vegas was a dangerous place to be while the NBA doled out its bread and circuses.

In response: I was there, from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday night. It was crowded. It was far from ideal.

It was not Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict. They were not plucking people off the roof of the Bellagio.

Let’s start with the arrests. The New York Times said there were 403 arrests during the four-day weekend (different from the 362 in the original story). But of those arrests, the Times wrote, 239 were for vice-related activities.

That would seem to indicate that 59 percent of the arrests during All-Star Weekend involved men (we’re assuming) trying to pick up hookers.

Not trying to be naïve, but doesn’t that sort of thing happen a lot in Vegas?

It also seems that people are – how does one put this? – talking out of their behinds when it comes to equating cause and effect of crime. The argument you hear is that the NBA “attracted” a criminal element to Vegas – crooks love the hoop! – which has the great benefit of being absolutely impossible to disprove.

I don’t doubt that there were criminals in Vegas. But did the NBA “attract” them there – or lots of rich people? There were 300,000 people in town during that four-day period, including those in town for the game, Chinese New Year and other conventions.

Last week, I got an e-mail from a concerned mother who wrote about “thug basketball” and the “vermin” that surround NBA players. I didn’t mean to dismiss her concerns, but I never hear about “thug football.”

In February alone, seven NFL players were either arrested, pled guilty or pled no contest to various charges, according to the Web site profootballtalk.com – which has documented NFL player trangressions for more than a year.

The one athlete implicated in Las Vegas was Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who allegedly brought thousands of dollars to a strip club, threw the bills at the dancers (the colloquialism is “making it rain”), then tried to take them back. In the resulting scrum, which carried outside, someone shot three people, and the owner of the club says that someone was with Jones.

Jones has been arrested three times since 2005.

Yet the NBA has the “criminal element” problem.

And, let’s get real: “gangbangers” is code for young black men. Many writers have twisted themselves into pretzels saying they weren’t talking about race when they described their fears, but it is hard to recall reading such angst about drunk and menacing white people at Mardi Gras or in Fort Lauderdale during spring break.

Whitlock, himself African American, pulled no punches, blaming what he called the “Black KKK” for ruining the event.

Were all black people on their best behavior in Vegas? No. Not close. Not our finest hour. Martin Luther King didn’t protest and march and die so that we could get our freak on at Tryst. To paraphrase Chris Rock, there were lots of black people in Vegas – and lots of black idiots.

But there wasn’t blood in the streets. The city was not on fire. I stood in long cab lines; stood in line to get into clubs; stood in line at 3 a.m. to eat in the only open restaurant at a casino, with a line full of black folks in front of me and behind me. Walked several times from place to place, during the day and at night. Black people everywhere.

Yes, people were drinking and smoking. Yes, people were loud and occasionally profane in the lobbies. Yes, the traffic was horrendous, and yes, the airport was a nightmare.

That’s been the case at every All-Star Weekend I can remember. I have never felt unsafe being at one. I didn’t feel unsafe in Vegas.

I wish more young black men weren’t so seduced by the worst of hip-hop culture: the misogyny, the glamorization of selling drugs and drinking, the indifference to formal education. I wish VH1 could find better depictions of black life than crackhead singers and illiterate sex-crazed fools. But I don’t know – and neither do any of the writers and bloggers – if a group of young black man approaching in cornrows and baggy jeans are thieves or pre-med students at Penn.

To assume either possibility is to be prejudiced. Period.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.

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Alex Belth

An Interview with Alex Belth

An Interview with Alex Belth

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew that a blog offered a great forum to work all the time – even though it was considered an amateurish format – I thought it would only be as amateurish as I made it, and that no one would take it seriously if I didn’t have a sense of respect for the people reading it.”

“…As you can see the mainstream guys have picked up on things that were thought to be amateurish a couple of years ago. Buster Olney gets blogging as much as anybody. His blog for ESPN is essential morning reading.”

“The funny thing is that there are guys getting paid who are Internet-based who can heckle mainstream media as much as they want but in a certain way they’re becoming mainstream, or will be soon enough…How much of a rebel can you be if you’re getting paid?”

Alex Belth: Interviewed on September 22, 2006

Position: Blogger, Bronx Banter; Contributor, SI.com

Born: 1971, New York City

Education: SUNY- New Paltz; John Jay College, Hunter College, creative writing

Personal: Engaged (“I proposed two weeks ago and she’s a baseball fan”)

Career: Film post-production 1993-2001; Bronx Banter 2002 – ; SI.com 2005 –

Favorite restaurant (home): Katz’ Deli, NYC, Lower East Side – “an old Jewish deli, but the people who work there are Puerto Rican – it’s hilarious”

Favorite hotel: Four Seasons, NY.

Favorite baseball curse word: “horseshit”.

Author of: “Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights”, 2006

Q. What is the history of Bronx Banter?

A. To be quite honest I’m a Yankee fan and being around New York in Joe Torre’s era was the greatest thing that happened to me as a fan. I also root for the Knicks and Jets – so I’ve got a lot of futility on my hands. Around 2000 I started spending periods of time just writing about the Yankees just for myself – not online. Once I decided to leave the film business in 2001, which coincided with 9/11, I started working at Time, Inc., I became hip to working with high-speed computers. Up to then I wasn’t necessarily plugged in which is somewhat unusual for someone my age – I resisted for a long time. For a lot of my friends Bill James was a primary figure in their lives but I didn’t get exposed to his work until 2001 – my cousin gave me his old abstracts and then I understood why he was so influential – I responded to him as a critic and sharp writer as much as a statistician. Towards the end of 2002 my friends told me about blogs – I said ‘this is cool – I’ll start one and use it as a working resume” – the idea was to get in practice by writing every day because it wasn’t like I could go back to journalism school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew that a blog offered a great forum to work all the time – even though it was considered an amateurish format – I thought it would only be as amateurish as I made it, and that no one would take it seriously if I didn’t have a sense of respect for the people reading it.

A couple of months in, it became very addicting. Like a lot of bloggers I found there is an obsessive-compulsive aspect to it. I started blogging in November 2002 and over the next couple of years I found it was a great way to enjoy the game more than I already had. To be honest one reason I enjoy baseball is it brings me close to other people.

I can go to a bookstore and see a guy in the baseball section and start up a conversation. The blog is an extension of that on the net.

I realized after blogging awhile it’s a niche market. Some guys write analytical or statistical stuff. I realized I could write what I want and don’t have to be all things. Just find my comfort zone.

Q. What should we know about Bronx Banter?

A. It’s one of the oldest running Yankee blogs. I would assume one of the most visible and successful. I’ve done it the last two seasons with Cliff Corcoran – he had Cliff’s Big Red blog previously. I was writing a book at the time – the Curt Flood biography – and I knew I would have to spend a lot of time working on it. I was posting every day but I couldn’t if I was working on a book – when you’re trying to do something long-term blogging is a bad temptation – you lose focus. Bringing Cliff on was a perfect complement – like peanut butter and jelly. I know the readers enjoyed it, too.

When I started I was contacted by Will Carroll – he had a great niche that filled a lot of needs – injuries – and I needed a hook. I was in the film business – maybe I could interview guys in the film business. I love books with long interviews – guys talking about the creative process – and I did one with Ken Burns, who I had worked for out of college, as a runner on his baseball documentary. I called Buster Olney at the NY Times and he called back. I was the interview guy. I continue to do interviews but not straight Q & A anymore.

Q. What do you do for SI?

A. I write a baseball column a couple of times a month. I’m doing more stuff on AL things – often Yankee-based things. Over the winter they let me do a bunch of stuff on the Hall of Fame. It’s a terrific opportunity. My editor, Jacob Luft, is a great guy – he also writes for them. The idea is to write for specific audiences in a specific way. One thing I did had to be cut – Jake was apologetic because it didn’t work for the audience – I was appreciative. It wasn’t like he crushed my precious words. I have to learn to adapt to the format.

Q. How did you make the crossover?

A. I was contacted by Jake Luft at SI.com – he linked something from Bronx Banter – actually it was something Cliff wrote. I had correspondence with him and told him about my Flood book and asked if maybe they could excerpt it when the time came. He was interested and approached me about writing some columns – which shows if you put out the effort and aren’t afraid to get yourself out there good things can happen – and obviously if you write decent quality stuff. I worked in the movie business a long time and I learned a lot of lessons – like when to talk and when not to talk – it’s not like they put me in a situation where I would represent the magazine and embarrass it. I worked for Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers – I’ve been in elevators with famous actors – early film business experiences when I was 17 or 18 really helped inform me so later on in my 30s I didn’t make obvious rookie mistakes. I have good people skills and common sense.

Q. Do some bloggers lack those skills?

A. Some people in general lack those skills, never mind bloggers. The bottom line is what you see with the younger generation who are raised solely with computers – they don’t go through the apprentice process like kids used to – you see that with a younger kids who are blogging. This kid might be living in his parents’ house and he’s a real smart-ass who’s never really been out there. They never go into a locker room. That’s what Bill Simmons does – I’m not knocking him. That’s what Deadspin’s Will Leitch is all about. They’re saying, “We don’t need to go into a locker room. We have satellite TV. We have the quotes. We can do our own thing.”

For me blogging is a way to use the medium to learn how to write and fulfill what I wanted but I wasn’t a technology nerd – others have a hard time socializing and use it as an escape.

Q. Have you met Simmons or Leitch?

A. I don’t know Simmons – I’ve had no interaction with the guy and I’m not a longtime reader of him, but I’ve read some of his Red Sox stuff and think he’s good at what he does. I was on a panel with Will Leitch at the 92nd Street Y this year along with Matt Cerone, who writes a Mets blog. I was impressed with Will – he’s extremely bright, charismatic and funny – he really presented himself well.

Q. Could they do better if they showed up?

A. Part of what they’re doing is not showing up – they’re rejecting showing up – saying it’s not important. That’s not my bag personally. I sort of see the value in both sensibilities. To me one of my main influences in wanting to write baseball is Roger Angell of the New Yorker – and he wrote fan pieces. He did have some access – he did profiles, after all. I like baseball talk. I like the old baseball writers. I also listen to Mike and Mad Dog – not because I agree with them but because I’m entertained. And I like the Internet guys I’ve met – they’re so smart it’s ridiculous. Jay Joffe, Cliff Corcoran, Steve Goldman, Christina Kahrl – on all different levels I dig baseball talk.

Q. What do you think of the mainstream press?

A. I have praise and criticism. I guess I’m a lot more moderate than a lot of Internet-based people vis-à-vis their relationship with traditional media. I have a whole lot of respect for beat writers who do it professionally. Guys I met this year – Mike Morrissey of the Post, Anthony McCarron of the News, Pete Abraham of the Journal News – all swell guys and good at what they do.

Do I agree with what I read in conventional columns? No. But I also don’t agree with everything I read on the Internet either. Basically both have things to offer. This week Jack Curry in the Times did a piece on Peter Nash, who used to be a rapper in a group called 3rd Base. Anybody my age remembers 3rd Base. Pete Nash is now a historian who lives in Cooperstown and owns a shop – he’s written two books about 19th century baseball. Jack’s piece was as cool as anything I’ve read online. There’s stuff to be had everywhere. As you can see the mainstream guys have picked up on things that were thought to be amateurish a couple of years ago. Buster Olney gets blogging as much as anybody. His blog for ESPN is essential morning reading.

The funny thing is that there are guys getting paid who are Internet-based who can heckle mainstream media as much as they want but in a certain way they’re becoming mainstream, or will be soon enough – I’m not saying they’ll have the same values as the mainstream media because that’s what they’re rejecting – but will be likened to mainstream media by less established bloggers and fans because they’re getting paid. How much of a rebel can you be if you’re getting paid?

Q. Who do you like on the net?

A. My regular stops include Rich Lederer at baseballanalysts.com; Steven Goldman, The Pinstriped Bible for YES network; bat-girl.com, the Minnesota Twins site; Dodger Thoughts – all the other sites on Baseball Toaster where I’m hosted; futilityinfielder.com by Jay Jaffe, one of the oldest ones around; Baseball Prospectus; HardballTimes.com and a whole bunch of Yankee blogs. Canyon of Heroes, written by an American from Woodstock who now lives in Japan and used to live in my apartment building in the Bronx – go figure. I read Replacement Level Yankees. SI. ESPN. Fox. Local papers.

Q. Does your blog make money?

A. No. The ads are minimal. I don’t do it for cash. No one on Baseball Toaster is doing it to turn a profit.

Q. How many readers?

A. Bronx Banter had 21,688 unique visitors in August, and 341,044 hits.

Q. How often are you writing for the blog?

A. Five or six days a week.

Q. Do you follow every game?

A. Yep – either Cliff or I blog every game. Generally two posts a day. Sometimes more.

Q. You still have enthusiasm for the Yankees?

A. You bet. They’ve been great fun to cover this year.

Q. How many games do you attend?

A. I go to 15-20 games a year – I’m going this year for SI.com with credentials, which has boosted my attendance.

Q. Is it easier to blog now that you’ve got credentials?

A. That doesn’t affect the blog. I don’t interview players and use it on the blog. When I’m there to work on stuff for SI I keep it at that. It wouldn’t be appropriate otherwise. I don’t want to take advantage of the access I have. So no, it hasn’t changed my blogging in a direct way. In a roundabout way maybe it has. I’m there and maybe I have different impressions. But I’m not into gossip writing per se, or breaking news stories.

Q. How much time do you spend reading?

A. Probably a couple hours a day. I do my posting in the morning. I spend 40 minutes reading stuff. If I do a post I might not read the whole article front to back – I might be quickly linking it. I have a 45-minute subway ride each way to work – I commute from the Bronx to mid-town each day – I can’t read long articles online so I print them out and read them on the train.

Q. Do you live near the stadium?

A. 80 blocks from it. It takes me about 25 minutes to get there.

Q. What’s the future of the blogosphere?

A. It’s for real – a whole world unto itself. Guys who do it are very serious. One thing that seems to separate people is longevity. Some people are doing it strictly for fun. I have aspirations to make a living writing but most people are doing it for a hobby, and if they make money it’s fine, but it’s not the way they’re using it. I look at myself as being super fortunate as being one of the first guys who started his own blog to be writing for a mainstream outlet like SI.com.

Q. What was your experience doing the Flood book?

A. It was a great learning experience. Spending three years working on it – I never spent that long on one thing in my life. I’m proud of how it came out – for someone who never wrote anything longer than 15 pages it was daunting but I knew I could do it because the story was so great. I just knew I had to get out of the way of the story – there was no real way to fuck it up – and I was reinforced by my experience with people through the Internet – my strength was asking for help while doing the book. I met so many guys on the net who are ridiculous baseball nerds – guys who pick out mistakes when you write – so instead of waiting I would send people questions. You’d be amazed at how generous people were.

People ask me how the book is doing – how’s it selling. It’s done nicely – it’s with a really small publisher, Persea – they put out literary anthologies and short stories and they sell a majority of their books through schools. It’s distributed by W.W. Norton, which got it into plenty of stores. You don’t find out concrete numbers until later. I’m about to sign a deal to do a second book – that’s how well the Flood book has done for me. And I’m writing for SI.com.

Q. The SI.com gig came from the book?

A. No. It started before the book came out. They knew it was coming out. Because of the consistency of the blog and my credibility out there they said ‘Oh yeah, we can hire this guy’.

Now if I want to do a project – and I need to talk to Joe Torre – I can go to him. He read my book and said I did a good job. I’ve interviewed him in the clubhouse. Before he would have said, “You’re who?”

Q. How did you learn to write?

A. I worked in the movie business – film editing – through the 90s. I was born in New York City – grew up in Westchester County, my parents divorced and my old man lived in the city – so I was there often. I eventually decided to leave show business and got a temp job at Time, Inc. in finance of all things. But I went back to school and got an undergraduate degree in creative writing. I had deejayed out of a restaurant and was involved with music as well as the fine arts – mostly painting – I thought I would go to art school and never did. I had an interest in creative things.

My father’s father was a newspaper editor for the New York Herald, and for years a publicist at the Anti-Defamation League. A sense of essay writing and reporting was in the family. As a kid in my Dad’s family you proved yourself by writing a declarative sentence more than with athletic feats. I had strict teachers and gained a solid idea of what I thought was good writing – George Orwell was a writer I admired. My father loved John O’Hara and Gay Talese and the sports journalist Pat Jordan – things that are reported with mood, atmosphere, dialogue and detail but the author not necessarily being part of the story.

(SMG thanks Alex Belth for his cooperation)

Alex belth@aol.com

My twin sister Sam and I were born on June 1, 1971 at Columbia Pres in Washington Heights, not far from where the New York Highlanders used to play. How could I have turned out to be anything but a Yankee fan? My brother Ben came two-and-half years later. By the time we were in grade school, we moved from Manhattan to the suburbs. A few years later, my folks divorced, we settled in Croton-on-Hudson, visiting my father in New York on weekends and during the summers.

I attended Hunter and John Jay College in New York, but did the bulk of my undergraduate degree (with a major in Creative Writing) at SUNY New Paltz. I left New Paltz in the winter of 1993, moved to Brooklyn and worked in the post-production end of the film business in New York for the next eight years. In and around the many lousy movies I worked on, I had the good fortune to also work for Ken Burns (“Baseball”), Woody Allen (“Everybody Says I Love You”) and the Coen brothers (“The Big Lebowski”).

At the end of the 2002 season, I had lived in Bronx for close to two years when I started the “Bronx Banter” blog. I’ve been writing, virtually daily, about baseball and New York ever since. For the past three years, I’ve worked on my first book, a biography of the late Curt Flood. This past winter I began contributing columns to SI.com.

Just getting warmed up…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alex Belth works for Time Inc. and is a contributing columnist for SportsIllustrated.com. He worked on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary and has also worked with such film luminaries as Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers. A contributing writer for many baseball publications, Belth has interviewed Michael Lewis, Jane Leavy, Jim Bouton, Bill James, and many others. Belth, who currently lives in the Bronx, hosts Bronx Banter, a popular Yankees-based blog.

Elliott Almond

An Interview with Elliott Almond

An Interview with Elliott Almond

“Sports is a multi-billion dollar business. Sports journalism needs to vigorously report on it as reporters would any institution. Everything is ripe to investigate for the curious reporter…The problem is that editors, readers, et al get bored with a subject and want to move on to the next big thing. Journalists need to resist that and keep serious sports issues in the forefront.“

“Hitting the waves transports you to a different world than chasing down stories without enough time or resources to do it. When you’re chasing waves that is all that matters. If the swell is heavy and you need to charge – surfing lingo here – you don’t have time to worry about anything other than letting your instincts take over. After a good session I always felt clear headed and revived. That makes you a better employee, a better person. “

Elliott Almond: Interviewed on November 11, 2008

Position: reporter, Olympics, soccer and GA/enterprise & investigations, San Jose Mercury News

Born: 1953, District of Columbia

Education: Cal State Fullerton, 1975, bachelors in communications and political science; Long Beach State, 1978, advanced to candidacy for a master’s in comparative government and international relations.

Career: Los Angeles Times 1975-95, Seattle Times 95-98; San Jose Mercury News 98 –

Personal: Single

Favorite restaurant (home): House of Nan King, San Francisco. “Even Parisians gobble it up. “

Favorite restaurant (away): Sudestada, at Guatemala and Fitz Roy in Buenos Aires. “After all that grilled meat in Patagonia, I crave for yummy Asian veggies.”

Favorite hotel: Hotel Saint Germaine des Pres, Arrondissement. 7, Paris. “I’m not a big luxury hotel guy but this hotel is situated in the center of the Left Bank art scene.”

Author of: “Surfing: Mastering Waves from Basic to Intermediate” (The Mountaineers Books, April 2009); “Real Sports Reporting” (A chapter on narrative writing, Indiana Press, 2002)

Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News, August 12, 2008:

The Mexican town of Tecalitlán lies in the heart of mariachi country, but Brenda Villa’s mother didn’t have much time for music. As the oldest of nine children, Rosario left her native state of Jalisco for El Norte when she was 18.

Her journey three decades ago wasn’t particularly unusual for a Mexican immigrant. She worked as a seamstress in the Los Angeles area. She sent money home to help her mother, a widow. She lived in the burgeoning Mexican community east of L.A., married another immigrant and hoped for a better life for their children.

But much of what happened since hasn’t followed script. The Villas settled in Commerce, a gritty, working-class L.A. suburb that happened to have a community aquatics complex. The mother sent her children to the pool to learn to swim because she was afraid of the water.

Brenda, along with her older brother Edgar soon began playing water polo as a diversion from swimming. Then she and her Latino teammates began winning junior tournaments, often defeating all-boys’ teams from more affluent areas.

Finally, Brenda became America’s best young women’s player, earning a scholarship to Stanford. And she began her third Olympics on Monday by scoring a goal in the United States’ riveting 12-11 victory over China.

“I couldn’t have imagined it,” Rosario Villa recently said in an interview conducted in Spanish.

How could she? Rosario had never even heard of water polo, growing up in dusty Tecalitlán. When her kids said they wanted to join the Commerce team, “it was a little strange to me,” she said.

Now Villa, 28, is competing in what might be her final Olympics. She helped the Americans win a silver medal in 2000, when women’s water polo made its debut, and a bronze four years later. She wants to end her career with a gold medal, but after the match against China, it appears the top-ranked Americans won’t waltz to the title. It took fourth-quarter goals by Kami Craig and Lauren Wenger to prevent an embarrassing upset at Yingdong Natatorium. The Americans face reigning Olympic champion Italy on Wednesday.

Whatever happens, the U.S. water polo community has Villa to thank for helping the program develop. Villa said it couldn’t have happened without her parents, who traveled to Beijing to watch their daughter compete.

“She never said there wasn’t enough time or money,” Brenda said of Rosario.

While her father often was protective of his only girl, Rosario encouraged Brenda to play the rough-and-tumble game — even against the boys.

John Tanner’s first recruiting visit as Stanford’s coach was to the Villas’ home in Commerce. He hadn’t been to the city before, but he knew its water polo reputation because of Villa’s exploits starting when she was 13.

Commerce now has five coaches and spends more than $250,000 on its youth programs. When Villa played, the city provided transportation to tournaments and gave the kids a per diem for overnight trips.

Villa earned her keep because of the limited number of girls who played. Often she would drive from one pool to another and yet another to play in three age divisions – as many as six matches a day.

But the demands made Villa better. So did playing against boys in junior high when they were similar in size. “You’re a boy, but I’m better than you,” Villa said in reference to the confidence boost it gave her.

She recalled playing against former Stanford star Tony Azevedo, who is leading the U.S. men in Beijing. “I beat him up,” Villa said.

When she starred at Bell Gardens High, Villa played on a mixed team because the school didn’t have a girls’ program. Her teams became legendary in Southern California by often defeating teams from the beach cities and Orange County.

“It gave us motivation, as cheesy as it sounds. If you put in the work, you can match up with anybody,” Villa said.

Added Tanner: “She makes it sound like it was all so easy.” Many “things could have kept her from being great.”

And not just because of her background. “She doesn’t have long arms like other great water polo players, Tanner said.”

Villa has become one of the world’s best scorers because she can anticipate opponents and teammates alike.

“I was surprised at how much better she made other people,” Tanner said.

Rosario Villa once felt the same way because she knew so little about the game.

“I didn’t know she could do so much,” she said.

Q. I’m a new Olympics reporter assigned to women’s water polo. You are among the few reporters who understand this under-appreciated sport. What do I need to know?

A. The obvious answer is to do as much homework as possible before covering a new, and perhaps arcane, sport. But sometimes there isn’t time, especially during the Olympics. Fundamentally sound reporting skills will get you through it. Ask, ask and ask again when you don’t understand something. Find the reporters who seem to have a base knowledge. Almost every Olympic journalist is willing to help. Or seek out the venue communications chief, who often is an expert in the sport.

In this case that person was an Australian who had followed water polo much of his career. Too many times egos get in the way of sportswriters who don’t want to appear unknowledgeable. I have been around water polo since high school and covered it since then. But even as I covered much of the 2008 Olympic water polo tournament I tried not to forget to ask basic questions when I saw something that didn’t make sense. The participants understand how difficult their sport is for spectators, and usually are willing to try to help you make sense of it all.

Now, I didn’t really answer your question. What does one need to know about water polo? The best advice is this: you need to know that what you think you saw might not be what really happened because so much action occurs under water. And how one team describes something controversial might differ completely from another’s interpretation. Always try to get all perspectives so you can report as accurately and balanced as possible. If you get only the perspective of the country you’re covering then you are going to miss out in telling the story properly.

This advice transcends water polo and applies to any story that you are researching.

Q. What was your assignment in Beijing? Can you describe one of your typical workdays?

It’s funny, but we really don’t experience “typical days’’ at the Olympics. All the best plans go out the door as soon as something happens. And something unexpected always happens. For example, I was settling in to write three stories the morning Liu Xiang, the famous Chinese hurdler, suddenly withdrew in the morning round of his race. Fortunately I was watching and able to put everything else on the backburner and produce a deadline story. That set me back for the next 48 hours but that’s the way it goes.

I actually love the Olympics as an event because of the spontaneity of the reporting. You never know when, but you know something crazy is going to happen and you just have to be ready to jump. I admire so many of the veterans such as Mark Ziegler of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Scott Reid of the Orange County Register, because of their methodical approach to the major breaking news stories. They usually are one-reporter operations going against big papers such as the Times and Post that mobilize teams of reporters to cover the story.

My Beijing experience, though, did have familiar traits of what it’s like to cover the Olympics. Here is my best attempt to describe a typical day:

— Wake up at 9 a.m., shower, shave, blah, blah.

— Dress, pack everything I’ll need for the next 18 hours.

— Go to the mess hall dining facility and eat breakfast (If I had a morning event to cover I would take something like yogurt, fruit and baked goods with me and eat on the bus to the Main Press Center, or the second bus to my event).

— While on the bus to the MPC I usually checked e-mails with a Blackberry, as well as communicated with my editor on site, Rachel Wilner. Because of the time difference, she edited stories early in the morning; this was our time to go over changes and fix copy before it was filed to San Jose.

— Cover a morning event for that day’s paper.

— Return to the MPC to get a quick lunch, or if there wasn’t enough time, go directly to the next event or news conference that needed covering.

— Depending on the day’s schedule, I was covering a night event or chasing down athletes for a preview story.

— Get situated at my venue or the MPC or somewhere with Internet access and write whatever needed writing. We also were responsible for blogging immediately at whatever events we covered, so writing for the paper sometimes had to come second to the immediacy of the Internet. There were times I wrote as many as six versions of the same event.

— Return to my hotel at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., sometimes 4, but never 5 or 6 like in Athens.

I averaged five hours of sleep per night and was able to break for a real dinner four times during the three weeks of the Games. Those two little tidbits are a departure from previous Games and made the experience much more civilized.

Q. Here’s a deep one: If one believes the 68 Summer Olympics – and the black-gloved fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos – had a bearing on the 68 presidential election, can you draw a similar connection between Beijing and the 2008 election?

A. From what I have been told Americans got Michael Phelps 24/7. As a result, the Beijing Games were about selling and celebrating American heroism as a symbol at a time of waning global influence.

No definitive American moment in Beijing came close to the level of political statement as the actions of 1968. The cyclists who wore protective masks at the BJ airport were looking out for themselves. The U.S. Olympic Committee spent time prepping the athletes about proper behavior and encouraging them to steer clear of any kind of political pronouncements.

Also, I’m not sure the periods have strong parallels with regard to the question. We didn’t have a figure such as Martin Luther King or RFK assassinated, or racial riots in the streets of major U.S. cities, before the Olympics. The underlying reasons for racial unrest still exist but no one was calling for a boycott to protest the circumstances. As it is now abundantly clear, the failing economy trumped all other issues in this historic presidential election. But it does make me wonder what Smith and Carlos would think of Barack Obama’s victory: They certainly can claim a small part of why we have reached this point in history.

The Games might prove to be transformative for China and its leaders. Political and social scientists will need to investigate this as time passes. I can only guess what Chinese think today as the government initiates its own economic stimulus package. I heard lots of grumblings about spending billions on sports venues at the expense of schools, hospitals and other social services.

Q. Your top three sports investigative stories?

A. The Balco investigation, 2003-2007. Washington Huskies football, 1993.

Hank Gathers’ death, 1990.

Q. What are the fertile areas for sports investigative going forward?

A. I once was asked this question by Joe Sexton, the New York Times’ metro editor. As sports journalism has matured, it does seem as if the major media miss fewer and fewer penetrating stories. In other words, you will find ESPN, Sports Illustrated or New York Times reporters digging below the surface of a major, or minor, news event to illuminate through reportage. This isn’t traditional investigative reporting per se, but it shows the depths sportswriters go to tell a good story.

My stock answer to the question: Sports is a multi-billion dollar business. Sports journalism needs to vigorously report on it as reporters would any institution. Everything is ripe to investigate for the curious reporter.

Some suggest stories on cheating in college athletics are passé; I say you need to pursue wrongdoing wherever you find it. That’s the mission of journalism, even at a time when we’re running on fumes. By extension, we need to follow the recruiting pipelines that exist outside the college sphere. Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian did a great job with Raw Recruits in the late 1980s, and then New Yorker writer Susan Orlean wrote a spectacular piece in 1993 – “Shoot the Moon” – on the recruiting of Felipe Lopez. But since then recruiting has become more sophisticated, the stakes higher. The story is more difficult to get because of it.

We never do enough on sports ownerships. Pick a team and do a serious explanatory piece on the ownership group.

We need to continue to monitor abuses in youth sports and women’s sports – those investigations are timeless because we often are a voice for the voiceless. The trafficking of African soccer players is a huge international scandal. There might be similar situations closer to home for all the reporters who don’t work at the New York Times. Juliet Macur exposed serious health problems of Chinese gymnasts, and athletes in general.

The drug issue isn’t going away. In fact we need to continue to follow issues in health and sports. The supplement industry is unregulated and uses ingredients from China, where there are serious questions about some food products such as milk.

The problem is that editors, readers, et al get bored with a subject and want to move on to the next big thing. Journalists need to resist that and keep serious sports issues in the forefront.

You never hear about the nefarious influences of the mob in professional sports anymore. Remember the issues of the Russian mafia and athletes, particularly hockey players? These stories are so difficult to unearth, and perhaps dangerous. But we haven’t done enough with it because the athletes fear for their lives.

This is an endless list, and that is why journalism is so interesting. An enterprising reporter can do good investigative work while covering the local high school team, or community college team. Where there is a sport, a team or an event, there is bound to be something interesting behind the scenes.

Q. Could the BALCO story have happened anywhere? Or was it destined to happen in the Bay Area?

A. Balco in fact wasn’t simply a Bay Area story. No one in Victor Conte’s crew was a chemist. The chemical mastermind lived in Illinois. Without chemist Patrick Arnold Balco would never have found the secret formula to completely circumvent the drug-testing system.

Furthermore, as it is becoming increasingly clear, Balco was just one of the drug enclaves, so to speak. The lines eventually stating blurring, but the Raleigh sprinters, according to published reports and my own reporting, had drug-supply connections in Laredo, Texas.

Cycling has nothing to do with Balco but has been rife with drug allegations, stemming from Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. Speaking of which, track and field has seen its share of problems in China, Greece and Eastern Europe. This is a worldwide problem and underground suppliers are everywhere. Victor Conte’s biggest problem was not staying underground.

Q. How competitive was the BALCO story in the 2003-05 period? How difficult was it to go against the Chronicle?

A. It was as competitive as anything I have done in my life. It was stressful every waking moment. It would have been stressful had it not been so competitive.

It was very difficult going against the Chronicle. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams are terrific reporters. They were well suited as a team because Lance has been considered one of the state’s best investigative reporters for some time. And Mark is excellent.

What made it doubly difficult is that the Chronicle’s editors from Phil Bronstein on down identified Balco as a major local story from the moment they finally jumped on it. They gave it the proper resources and attention. Our first editor, George Judson, switched to the Chronicle early on. He knew who my original sources were because of a newspaper policy to identify unnamed sources to your supervisor before going to press. I’m not accusing George of doing anything unethical; it simply was bad timing for us.

Q. Trevor Graham was sentenced to one year of home confinement for perjuring himself in the Balco case? How do you envision the Barry Bonds prosecution ending?

A. This is a great question because it is making those of us who follow the case wonder as well. You can add cyclist Tammy Thomas
to the equation: She was sentenced last month to six months of home confinement for lying to the grand jury in the Balco case. Barry Bonds’ lawyers must love these decisions because the legal parallels appear to be strong. Can Judge Susan Illston now send Bonds to prison after essentially letting two others in the case go free after their convictions? I try not to guess or bet. But it now seems doubtful that Bonds would serve any time – if he is convicted by a jury.

Q. Your thoughts on Jamaican sprinters and drug-testing?

A. I was in the stadium in Beijing when we confronted Herb Elliott, the famous Jamaican physician involved in the country’s track program. Elliott was celebrating with the athletes after their great victories and was defiant when asked about drugs.

Elliott said Usain Bolt was clean because he had been personally testing him, that Elliott was in charge of Jamaica’s drug-testing program for the 2008 Olympics. Many reporters quoted Elliott at his word. But it made me, and some others such as Mark Zeigler and Wayne Coffee of the New York Daily News, shake our heads. Can you imagine the chief of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency – or officials from any sports anti-doping agency – celebrating with athletes in the mixed zone after any race much less the Olympics?

If Elliott’s intention was to ground out drug rumors, he failed miserably. His narrative of being the one testing the Jamaican sprinters calls into question the validity of those tests because of his closeness with the team. It goes against every basic principle of independent drug testing and harkens back to the day when sports organizations such as The Athletics Congress – now USA Track & Field – conducted testing on its own athletes. In 1990 I obtained US Olympic Committee documents showing that many American track athletes had tested positive but the TAC was covering them up. Such situations led to the USOC forming the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a quasi-independent group to conduct drug testing of all American Olympians.

I have exposed serious flaws of drug testing in the Caribbean from a piece before the 2005 track world championships. Although I cannot say with certainty what the Jamaican athletes were or were not doing, my reporting leads me to believe we must question the legitimacy of the drug-testing system. To be fair and take it a step further, I believe we should be vigilant with questioning all systems, not simply the Caribbean.

Q. Does surfing help your reporting, or vice versa?

A. Surfing helps my reporting immensely in the way any recreation helps with a balanced life. Hitting the waves transports you to a different world than chasing down stories without enough time or resources to do it. When you’re chasing waves that is all that matters. If the swell is heavy and you need to charge – surfing lingo here – you don’t have time to worry about anything other than letting your instincts take over. After a good session I always felt clear headed and revived. That makes you a better employee, a better person.

But I would be lying if I didn’t add that surfing detracted from career just after college because I spent much more time hunting waves than worrying about writing a good story. Now, how do I get back to those days?

Q. Closest you have come to a perfect wave – in surfing and reporting?

A. President’s Day weekend, 1983. I worked the copy desk late at the L.A. Times, and didn’t get home until 2 a.m. Had to get up at 5 to drive south. We spent the weekend at Todos Santos, a relatively unknown island about 8 nautical miles from Ensenada, Baja California.

Because of an extreme El Nino condition, the winter of 1983 brought incredible surf to the Pacific Coast of the United States, as well as Hawaii. It was an epic season, and we landed on Todos Santos on one of the biggest swells of the winter. You can find a story about this in my upcoming book.

Every break on the island was pumping. But the place now called Killers was enormous, about 30 feet. I was with some kids who were good surfers. But none dared paddle to the main break. After all, we had huge waves – 10-15 feet – all around the island. I found a smaller left-breaking wave on the east side. But it still was going off at 8 to 10 feet. I had it to myself. The wave shoaled along the reef, pitching over with beautiful shoulders. It doesn’t get better than that.

As an aside, I’d like to add that shortly after our trip word got out about our experience. Star surfers hit Todos Santos later that year and suddenly the surf press did a magazine spread. The place got discovered overnight. It is now one of a handful of big-wave breaks along the West Coast. The others are Mavericks, Ghost Tree and Cortes Banks.

I haven’t been so lucky in reporting. All the big stories have been major struggles with lots of self doubt and questioning and worry. The closest is a situation that I have used as a lesson for young journalists.

I did a story on Todd Marinovich a year after the troubled quarterback left the Raiders. No one could find him; no one had heard a word from him. Rumors had Todd surfing in Hawaii or following the Grateful Dead around the country. It was fun to track him down. We actually did one of our interviews while surfing together at Doheny. The L.A. Times played the story big and it got a nice reaction. I got a call from someone who said he was getting into the sports agent business and wanted to represent Todd if he chose to return to football. I promised I would pass his name along, and I followed up with fledgling agent to let him know I made good on that promise.

About six months later this guy called and wanted to meet for lunch. He said I had been so nice he just wanted to meet me. With L.A. traffic, it often was difficult to meet people because you would lose a whole day of work just driving to get there. Still I met the guy and we hit it off. Afterward, he said, “Come back to my office, I want to show you something.’’

That’s how I obtained the documents for something Bill Plaschke and I turned into a package that won first place in the APSE news category.

Talk about being lucky.

Q. All-time favorite surfer songs?

A. This is straight from the book – chapter 6 – five favorite surf songs:

  1. Breakdown, 2005, Jack Johnson
  2. California Saga, 1973, Beach Boys
  3. Crumple Car, 1968, Denny Aaberg and Phil Pritchard.
  4. Pipeline Sequence, 1972, Honk
  5. Walk Don’t Run, 1960, the Ventures

Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News, June 14, 2004:

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s chances of banning athletes from this summer’s Olympics for suspicion of drug use might have improved, based on two memorandums dated June 1 and obtained by the Mercury News on Sunday.

First reported by the Washington Post in Sunday’s editions, one memo states that the court standard known as “beyond a reasonable doubt” no longer applies in arbitration hearings for track-and-field cases initiated after March 1. A second memo refers to documents collected during the federal investigation of Balco Laboratories, a Burlingame nutrition company, and says that arbitrators can hear evidence that a court might consider to be hearsay.

The policy changes could lead to a protracted court dispute, pitting potential Olympians against the anti-doping agency they endorsed four years ago. Already, sprinter Marion Jones — the winner of five track and field medals at the 2000 Olympics, and likely the Americans’ brightest star in Greece this summer — has threatened to sue if she is suspended without proof of a positive test. U.S. track and field officials would like to have the cases resolved by July 9, when the Olympic trials begin in Sacramento.

Lowering the standard from beyond a reasonable doubt to what the memo calls “comfortable satisfaction” would put the organization in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency, which establishes policy that international sports federations are expected to follow. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees drug testing for American athletes, is a quasi-independent branch of the world organization.

The changes in the drug code could make it easier for officials to bring cases against Jones and other athletes. But a lawyer with knowledge of the situation said the rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s world governing body, do not allow the anti-doping agency to retroactively apply new standards on matters being examined before March.

“Why are they now changing the standards — does it have to do with the meager facts that they have?” asked the lawyer, who requested anonymity.

An anti-doping agency spokesman did not immediately provide answers to questions about the memos.

If officials rely on something less than the reasonable-doubt concept, it could prove damaging to a number of American athletes whose names appeared on a memorandum prepared by Jeff Novitzky, an Internal Revenue Service agent. According to a previous Mercury News report, the document claims that Balco founder Victor Conte Jr. confessed that he gave 27 athletes, including 12 American track and field competitors, THG and testosterone, both banned drugs. Conte’s attorneys deny that he confessed, and claim that some of the report was fabricated.

Conte is one of four Bay Area men charged with distributing banned drugs to elite athletes, including Giants left fielder Barry Bonds. All four have pleaded not guilty.

The second memo, regarding hearsay evidence, could become especially controversial with regard to Novitzky’s account of Conte’s confession. Arbitrators could choose to accept Novitzky’s version as fact, and athletes would have no way of compelling Conte to appear as a rebuttal witness.

The policy change also could impact another wrinkle in the case — the cooperation of Jones’ former coach, Trevor Graham. According to the New York Times, Graham met with Novitzky for three hours last week and accepted limited immunity in exchange for his cooperation.

While Graham is expected to answer questions about the Balco investigation, perhaps including what he knows about Jones, his cooperation could affect his Sprint Capitol group, which boasts some of America’s best sprinters.

Graham coaches the up-and-coming sprinters Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, as well as potential Olympic runners LaTasha Colander, Suziann Reid and hurdler Duane Ross.

Two other Olympians training with Graham, Alvin and Calvin Harrison, have cases pending before the anti-doping agency.

Losing those competitors could further impact a U.S. track and field team that already will be without world-champion sprinter Kelli White and three others because of the scandal.

“If USADA plays their cards right, they can catch his athletes before the Games begin,” said a person involved in the Balco case.

Graham did not return a call Sunday.

The Mercury News strives to avoid the use of unnamed sources. When unnamed sources are used because information cannot otherwise be obtained, the newspaper generally requires more than one source to confirm the information. `

(SMG thanks Elliott Almond for his cooperation)

Dave Anderson

 

An Interview with Dave Anderson

“In 1946 as a senior in high school I worked in the sports department on Saturdays for five dollars a day – it was eighteen dollars for five days when I started. Five dollars in 1947 made me the wealthiest kid on the street corner.”

“To me the game is the thing – today you have to write about issues – steroids or betting – but the fans want to know why somebody won the game. They want to know why this guy is a better player – why is Tom Brady better than everybody except Peyton Manning.”

“I worked with Tony Kornheiser and I love him, but when I see him I kid him, “Tony, please don’t yell at me today”. All they do is yell. Most of these guys think the louder they say something the more important it is.”

Dave Anderson: Interviewed on November 27, 2007

Position: columnist (semi-retired), New York Times

Born: 1929, Troy, New York

Education: Holy Cross, 1951

Career: NY Sun 1945-49 (copy boy), Brooklyn Eagle 51-55, NY Journal American 55-66, NY Times 66 –

Personal: married, four children, three grandchildren

Favorite restaurant (home): Tenafly Pizzeria, Tenafly NJ; Griffins Bar and Eatery, Cresskill, NJ

Favorite restaurant (road): Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach “stone crabs, if had one meal left it would be there”; Lobster Inn, Southampton, NY; any Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s

Favorite hotel: “hotels are overrated – you’re there to sleep and get out”

Favorite golf course (road): Shinnecock Hills, Southampton

Favorite golf course (home): Knickerbocker Country Club, Tenafly, NJ

Dave Anderson’s column, New York Times, November 22, 1980

NEAR the door of George Steinbrenner’s office in Yankee Stadium yesterday, there were two trays of bite-sized roast beef, turkey and ham sandwiches, each with a toothpick in it. As soon as 14 invited newsmen entered his office for the execution of Dick Howser as manager and the transfer of Gene Michael from general manager to dugout manager, Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner looked around. “Anybody want any sandwiches?” he asked. “We’ve got a lot of sandwiches here.” Gene Michael had piled four little roast beef sandwiches on a small plastic plate and he had a cup of coffee. But as he sat against he far wall, under a huge Yankee top-hat insignia and several enlarged photos of memorable Yankee Stadium moments, he was the only one eating when Dick Howser suddenly appeared and walked quickly to a chair in front of the table with the sandwiches.

“Nobody wants a sandwich?” George Steinbrenner asked. “Nobody wants a drink?” One of the newsmen ordered a glass of white wine from the bartender, but that was all. Then there was a momentary silence as George Steinbrenner, husky in a soft-blue shirt with a navy blue and green striped tie, sat at a big tan vinyl chair behind his shiny round desk. On the desk was a gold numeral one, maybe several inches high, and a small sign announcing, “Lead, Follow or Get the Hell Out of the Way,” and a miniature brass ship’s telegraph.

“During the season it’s always pointed to full speed ahead,” he would explain later. “But in the offseason it’s on standby.” To the owner’s right, about 10 feet away, Dick Howser sat stiffly. His legs crossed, he was wearing a beige shirt, a brown tie, brown pants and brown cowboy boots. He was staring out away from George Steinbrenner, staring blankly at the white draperies that had been drawn across the huge window that overlooks the grassy geometry of the ball field where Dick Howser no longer would work. Most of the time he had his left index finger up against his left cheek, as if to keep from having to look at the Yankee owner who now was discussing the managerial situation that had been simmering for several weeks.

“Dick has decided,” George Steinbrenner began, “that he will not be returning to the Yankees next year. I should say, not returning to the Yankees as manager.”

Dick has decided. That would be the premise of George Steinbrenner’s explanation. Dick has decided. Ostensibly he suddenly decided to go into real estate development in Tallahassee, Fla., and be the supervisor of Yankee scouts in the Southeast after having been the manager for the Yankee team that won 103 games last season, after having been in baseball virtually all his life as a major league infielder, major league coach, college coach and major league manager of baseball’s most famous franchise.

But baseball’s most famous franchise also has baseball’s most demanding owner. When the Yankees were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals in the American League championship series, George Steinbrenner steamed. And now Dick Howser is in real estate and is a Yankee scouting supervisor.

“At no time,” George Steinbrenner said yesterday, “did I lay down rules or commandments that Dick would have to live by if he returned as manager. The door was open for him to return, but he chose to accept this business opportunity. It took so long because he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing.”

All the while Dick Howser stared at the drawn draperies. “But could Dick,” somebody asked George Steinbrenner, “still be the manager if he wanted to be?” “Yes.” “Dick, why don’t you want to be?” “I have to be cautious here,” Dick Howser said staring straight ahead. “But the other thing popped up.” “Were you satisfied that you could have returned without conditions?” “I’d rather not comment on that,” Dick Howser said. “If you had won the World Series instead of being eliminated in the playoffs,” he was asked, “would you have taken this real estate opportunity?”

“That’s hard to say.” “Were you fired, Dick?” “I’m not going to comment on that,” the former manager said. “I didn’t fire the man,” the owner said.

Maybe not, but it is reasonable to believe that George Steinbrenner suggested that Dick Howser look for employment elsewhere. That way George Steinbrenner could put Gene Michael, whom he considers a more combative manager, in the dugout. Perhaps to soothe his conscience, he disclosed yesterday that Dick Howser would be paid his reported $100,000 salary for each of the remaining two years on this three-year contract.

“I feel morally and contractually obligated to Dick and his wife, Nancy,” the owner said. “I took him out of Florida State, where he was the baseball coach and where he could have stayed for life. If it hasn’t worked out, maybe it’s my fault.”

If it hasn’t worked out. Until then it had been, ‘”Dick had decided”. But perhaps on a slip of the tongue it was, “if it hasn’t worked out”. Anybody who knew George Steinbrenner knew that all along. And anybody who knew Dick Howser knew that, if given a choice, he would not decide to go into real estate development rather than be the Yankees’ manager.

But still George Steinbrenner persisted. “I think it’s safe to say,” he said at one point yesterday, “that Dick Howser wants to be a Florida resident year-round, right, Dick?”

Dick Howser didn’t even answer that one. Say this for Dick Howser – instead of going along with George Steinbrenner’s party line yesterday, he declined to comment. By not answering questions, he answered them. Anybody could see that. And anybody could see through George Steinbrenner’s scheme.

“What advice,” Dick Howser was being asked now, “would you give Gene Michael?” “To have a strong stomach,” Dick Howser replied, smiling thinly, “and a nice contract.” Minutes later, the execution was over. Dick Howser got up quickly and walked out of the room without a smile. Behind his round desk, George Steinbrenner looked around.

“Nobody ate any sandwiches,” the Yankee owner said.

Q. What is your status with the Times?

A. Semi-retired. I have a free-lance contract for the next year – I’ll do 18 columns. I’ve already done six – I’m way ahead of the pace. I call it semi-retirement.

Q. Are you attending games?

A. I’ve gone to two Giants games and one Jets game so far. Four of the six columns were baseball – one was about the Jets honoring the old Titans players. Another was my Thanksgiving column in which I remind people of the good people in sports despite the scoundrels. I’ve done it for 25 years. I got more questions about that – am I still going to do my Thanksgiving column – so I did it.

I started it in ’83. We had great scoundrels at the time – Steinbrenner, Al Davis, Don King – who were in the news a lot. I said, ‘There are good people in sports – let’s mention them.’ This was when Steinbrenner was at his noisiest, in the Billy Martin years. He changed later on. As George became older he calmed down or mellowed. Also, they won during the last 12 years. He was loudest when they didn’t win.

Q. Which topic would you choose to ensure maximum readership in New York?

It would depend on who was the hottest most viable subject at the time. Over the last 35 years I would say in New York it would Steinbrenner. Apart from a New York subject it probably would be Ali, or Joe Namath. Jack Nicklaus was a great subject but not necessarily for New York. Worldwide it was definitely Ali. When Ali fought in Malaysia in 1975 there were a few newspaper guys there. I was syndicated in the sense that the Times has a syndicate – newspapers can buy it and use whatever they want, mostly Washington and political coverage. Two guys in Kuala Lumpur were boxing writers. When I arrived they told me how excited they were that Dave Anderson was coming. They knew about me because I wrote about Ali. Anytime you wrote about Ali they used it.

Q. Have you written about Ali more than anybody else?

A. He would be among the leaders. I covered 32 of his fights, as a reporter and a columnist. Off the top of my head Ali would be the most, because of the worldwide interest. I wrote a lot about Steinbrenner and the Yankees and the football Giants. A pro football game is more important to me than a baseball game because there are only 16 of them. I was a Jets beat writer when they won the Super Bowl. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had good subject matter all my life.

When I was a kid reporter at the Brooklyn Eagle I was covering the Dodgers – this was ’53 and ’54 – before the paper folded in ’55. I went to the Journal American and did tennis and hockey. I’m the last guy alive to cover the Dodgers on a beat basis.

Q. Is it true you were the last writer to leave Ebbets Field?

A. Yes. There were two of us, Bill Roeder of the Telegraph, and myself. Danny McDevitt shut out the Pirates, 2-0. I was at the Journal but the regular Dodger writer was off covering the pennant race, and I filled in. We were the last ones to write and we came down the elevator together. There were other people at the ballpark, but we were the last writers. We got to the night watchman’s door, and I said, “You go first Bill.” I hadn’t planned this, but it occurred to me I was now the last writer to leave Ebbets after the last game. I stuck that in the back of my mind and never mentioned it for years. I was doing a piece about Brooklyn baseball a few years ago and threw it in the last paragraph, and everybody remembered it, which was flattering. Bill Roeder went on to Newsweek – he was a great writer. He died of a heart attack while swimming.

Q. Who were the writers you admired?

My family moved to Brooklyn from Troy when I was eight or nine. If you liked to read in those years newspapers were everything. There was no TV and hardly any radio. I read the columnists – Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Arthur Daley, Frank Graham, Bill Heinz, Milton Gross – those were my guys. I was never a frustrated athlete – though I played sandlot baseball and CYO basketball. I didn’t want to be Joe DiMaggio – I wanted to be Red Smith or Jimmy Cannon.

My father was an ad salesman for the New York Sun. In 1945 I was 16 and I was a messenger in the publications department – my job was to get the ad copy from Gimbels and Sachs and Macys. In the afternoon I would be working as a copy boy for sports. In 1946 as a senior in high school I worked in the sports department on Saturdays for five dollars a day – it was eighteen dollars for five days when I started. Five dollars in 1947 made me the wealthiest kid on the street corner. You could go to movies for a quarter and papers were two cents.

Q. Tell us the story about W.C. Heinz’ typewriter.

A. In those summers there was a little supply office run by a guy named Harry Brown – you went to see him if you needed ribbons or letterhead or anything. He went on vacation one summer, probably ’46, and for two hours a day I went to the supply room and filled the orders. One day Bill Heinz’ typewriter – the one he used as a war correspondent – came in. It was his son’s typewriter – he had used it all over Europe. It just came in the mail, and it said from Bill Heinz to the New York Sun. I went home that day and told my mother, “I was in charge of Bill Heinz’ typewriter today.”

He was a hero to everybody at that paper because of his war coverage. He did features, talked to the GIs, like Ernie Pyle. After the war he did mostly boxing features – boxing was huge then – we forget – it may have been America’s No. 2 sports right after the war. It was baseball, boxing, college football, and horse racing. Pro football hadn’t caught on, and college basketball was big in New York.

Q. How did you learn to write?

A. By writing. We all do. You sit down and you have in mind the writers you’ve read. You learn to write by reading – that’s what I tell kids in school. From whatever you read – it’s not always the sports pages – it’s books, Mark Twain, Hemingway. How did you learn to play baseball – by playing baseball.

I was a hockey writer for ten years. I covered the Rangers for the Journal-American from ‘55 to ’64. It was a great era – six teams – no helmets – you knew every player. Boston and the Garden were the two best pressboxes – you were practically hanging over the ice. I saw all those great Canadiens teams when they won five Cups in a row. The Rangers and Bruins usually didn’t make the playoffs in those years. Gordie Howe is still the best hockey player I ever saw, all-around. Gretzky and Orr were great, but for everything, I would start with Howe.

I also covered some good tennis players. I saw both of Laver’s Grand Slams, one as an amateur and one as a pro. When I went to the Times I was a general assignment guy. Suddenly, in ’68 I was the Jets beat writer the year they won the Super Bowl. Then I was the boxing writer with Ali. I had been around Ali while I was at the Journal – I was around him virtually his whole career, except very early. I covered the Lewiston fight.

Q. Did you see the knockout punch?

A. No. We had hired Floyd Patterson to do a piece about it. I was sitting with Floyd in the second row behind the corner and Ali was right above us. All we saw was his back. I saw his right shoulder move and the next thing I knew Liston was down.

Q. Some writers say they root for the story. Your thoughts?

A. I’ve always said that. I may have started that phrase 30 or 40 years ago. Fans always ask if you’re a Yankees fan or a Giants fan. I say ‘no, I root for the story’. We all do. It doesn’t make any difference who wins – you want a story. Especially in doing a column you want a story to jump out at you – if it’s golf you want that story to be on the leader board. You know it when you see it, but you don’t know what it’s going to be. You might have plans but those plans might be ignored if something better comes along.

Q. What makes a good column?

A. Basically I try to write what I think the reader wants to read about. Whatever happens in that game or that fight, the most interesting thing that captures the most readers. It’s something you just learn to do. It’s all you think about when you go to a game, and though you might have something in the back of your mind, it may not develop. Then you change three or four or five times as the game changes.

To me the game is the thing – today you have to write about issues – steroids or betting – but the fans want to know why somebody won the game. They want to know why this guy is a better player – why is Tom Brady better than everybody except Peyton Manning.

Q. Should a column provoke an emotional reaction?

A. Not necessarily. It depends on the subject. When I wrote about Ali – he was such a controversial guy – loved and loathed by so many people – I would get letters saying how could you criticize Ali like that, and for the same column I would get letters saying how could you fawn over a guy like that. People read into a column what they already feel and where their mind already is. Often, readers have their minds made up, especially about issues. Sometimes, it’s based on columns they’ve read in the past. You can’t expect everybody to agree.

Q. Can you characterize your approach to column writing?

A. I don’t know how to characterize it. I go and try to find the most controversial and interesting thing. Sometimes you let people make fools of themselves – I did that with Steinbrenner. He called a press conference and said Dick Howser has decided to go into real estate instead of remain the Yankees manager. I said, ‘Is he serious? Is he kidding?’ I just reported the scene. He invited one guy and one columnist from each paper – this was the Friday before Thanksgiving. It was in his office – that’s how cozy it was. He started off with little cocktail sandwiches, but we weren’t there for sandwiches. Howser couldn’t even look at him – he was staring out the window. Steinbrenner said he had a great real estate opportunity in Florida and has to take it. I just wrote the scene. Gene Michael, the new manager, was there. The way it developed nobody took any sandwiches – we got up and started to leave and still nobody took any sandwiches. George said, ‘Nobody wants a sandwich?’ I just wrote it that way and people liked it.

Q. How did your approach contrast with Dick Young’s?

A. Dick always found something wrong with everything. He would make it more personal, in his own opinion. I had opinions in there, but I seldom used the word ‘I’ – once in a while, if the column demands it. One I did recently – everybody thought the Bonds indictment was a bad day for baseball, but I said to me it was a good day, because baseball finally got this thing in the open. Every now and then I will use ‘I’ and ‘me’, but very seldom. I always felt people could tell my opinion by the way I wrote it, and I didn’t have to say ‘I think this’ and ‘I think that’.

Q. Some columnists reveal their personal lives. Your thoughts?

A. I seldom do. I don’t know if a reader wants that. One time I did was when Jack Nicklaus lost a grandson – a baby drowned – I think the child was not even 2. We lost a grandson at age 5 about ten years earlier. When I saw Jack at the Masters I talked about it briefly with him and I mentioned the two of us – that was one of the few times.

Q. Did you tailor your writing style to The Times?

A. No. That’s what I tell people when they come to the Times. The Times hired you because of the way you write. Don’t change that. You may tailor to some of the style things, but not your style. That’s what I figured when I went there – they hired me because of the way I wrote, so why should I change. Years ago the Times writers were the dullest in the world, as a group. They were terrible, awful, and didn’t work hard. That started to change in the early ‘60s when Jim Roach was brought in as sports editor. He brought in Gay Talese, Bob Lipsyte, Bill Wallace and Leonard Koppett. I was in the second wave of that group.

Q. Was Arthur Daley part of the old group?

A. Arthur Daley was fine. The Times dominated the writers and made them dull. Roscoe McGowen was a clever writer – as the Dodgers writer for Sporting News he was wonderful but he knew he couldn’t write the same way for the Times. Jim Roach recognized that and changed it. He hired guys who wrote the way they always did. Page One was different. Koppett used to say that if you have to write for Page One the only way to do it is dull. That has changed, too.

Q. Does The Times require a higher standard of reporting?

A. Yes. I always said this is a crazy business but if there’s one paper you want to work for it’s the Times. Not because I’m there, but because the foreign coverage and basic news coverage is incredible.

Q. Did you feel that way when your column on Tiger Woods was spiked?

Interesting you ask that. They had spiked Harvey Araton before that – the same week. I was reading Tuesday’s paper and realized there was no column – Harvey wasn’t in. He had written a piece about how Martha Burk had more important things to do than worry about Augusta National. The issue was a pet of (Executive Editor) Howell Raines. I can’t tell you the reasoning, but between Howell Raines and (Managing Editor) Gerald Boyd they spiked Harvey’s column. I wasn’t supposed to write until Thursday, but (SE) Neil Amdur called me and said the editorial page is saying Tiger should boycott the Masters. That’s when I knew I wanted to write about it. Tiger is a golfer – if he wants to boycott let him but if he wants to play golf let him play golf. Neil doubted it would fly, but I still filed it, and it didn’t.

My thinking was that editors are entitled to do that. It bothered me that they thought that way but they have the right to think that way. I kind of forgot about it. A week later a reporter from the Daily News called and asked about it. I said ‘yeah’ and told him what happened. The next day they had the story – that’s when it blew up. The day Neil told me about the column being spiked he never mentioned Raines – he only mentioned Gerald Boyd. I don’t know of Boyd did it by himself or if he talked to Raines. When it appeared in the Daily News everybody got up in arms, which was great because the guys in trouble were Raines and Boyd. They eventually published our columns the next Sunday. All I had mentioned was that Tiger’s critics included the New York Times editorial board, and that’s the only thing they took out when they published it. I said they could have taken that out two weeks ago.

Q. Did Tiger say anything to you?

A. He never did.

Q. Do you listen to sports talk radio?

A. Yes. Basically for news, or if I’m in the car – seldom at home. I listen for the 20-minute news thing, or if I know something is breaking and they might have a press conference on. I’m not a devotee. I’ll listen if they have a good interview on.

Q. How is the tenor of coverage shaped by the debate on radio?

A.  I worked with Tony Kornheiser and I love him, but when I see him I kid him, “Tony, please don’t yell at me today”. All they do is yell. Most of these guys think the louder they say something the more important it is. They also bring up issues not worth bringing up – building mountains out of mole hills – every day they’re firing somebody, everything is a crisis. There are ten crises a day on talk radio, but there aren’t that many real crises. They’re not patient with anything – not patient with managers or pitchers or quarterbacks – but they have to say something, and they say it for five hours. It’s hard to listen for five hours.

Q. Has it influenced print media?

A. Sure it has. A lot of this stems from Steinbrenner. He was impatient before Mike and Mad Dog were. Talk radio guys fell into it.

Q. What did you think of Steinbrenner’s depiction in ‘The Bronx is Burning’?

A. I seldom watch TV shows of something I’ve been around. Most of the time it’s not the same and they have to build up the dramatic effects. I don’t have to watch something to tell me what I saw or lived through. The only one I went out of my way to watch was the ‘Miracle on Ice’ movie. I was there and watched every game and wrote about it every other day. I thought the movie was good. They didn’t overdo it and the acting was good. When the Ali movie came out I didn’t go. I covered 32 of his fights – I didn’t have to see the movie.

Dave Anderson’s column, New York Times, November 22, 2007:

Despite a perjury indictment in baseball, dogfighting and criminal conduct in pro football, a referee scandal and a franchise’s intramural mess in pro basketball, and the forfeit of Olympic medals by a track queen who confessed to using steroids, sports’ little corner of the world still has many people to be thankful for today.

JESSICA LONG, born without most of the major bones in her legs, which later were amputated below the knees, earned the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete at 15 years old after swimming to nine gold medals at the Paralympic world championships in 2006.

TERRY FRANCONA, who calmly led the Red Sox to their second World Series victory in four seasons after all the decades of frustration and failure in Boston.

ROGER GOODELL, the commissioner who not only put new teeth in the N.F.L.’s personal-conduct code but chewed up those who defied it, notably Pacman Jones, the Tennessee Titans cornerback suspended for the season.

ARNOLD PALMER
, who finally agreed to hit the ceremonial opening tee shot at the Masters
. Now it’s time for Jack Nicklaus to join him.

THE RUTGERS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM, the runner-up in the national championship game, whose justifiably angry and classy reaction to the radio host Don Imus’s racial and gender slurs helped cost him his job.

JORGE POSADA
, whose best offensive season earned long-overdue appreciation as one of the best catchers in Yankees history.

TED NOLAN, the Islanders’ coach, who suggested that Al Arbour, the coach of the franchise’s four-time Stanley Cup champions in the early 1980s, be persuaded to come out of retirement to work the bench in his 1,500th regular-season game for the Islanders. And the Islanders won the game.

WILLIE RANDOLPH
, the Mets’ manager, who didn’t deserve to have to wonder about his job for even a day after the team’s late-season collapse.

GEORGE MARTIN, the former Giants defensive end who planned to spend Thanksgiving visiting a homeless shelter in Nashville during his “Walk Across America” to raise $10 million in medical benefits for the 9/11 responders. He started at the George Washington Bridge in September and hopes to get to the Golden Gate Bridge in March.

THE BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY BASEBALL TEAM, which kept competing to honor five teammates who died in an April bus crash on an Atlanta highway.

LORENA OCHOA, the Mexican golfer who gilded the first Women’s British Open over the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, with a victory en route to the first $4 million season on the L.P.G.A. Tour.

BRENDAN SHANAHAN, the hockey statesman who, with his three Stanley Cup rings, gives his Rangers
teammates somebody to look up to, on and off the ice.

ANGELO DUNDEE, who was Muhammad Ali’s trainer throughout the three-time heavyweight champion’s career and now has collaborated with Bert Randolph Sugar on “My View From the Corner” (McGraw Hill). Nobody in boxing has more or better stories.

BILLY DONOVAN, who spurned the allure of Kentucky basketball history and the Orlando Magic to remain as the coach of the University of Florida
’s national champions.

WHOEVER HAD THE IDEA for Jackie Robinson
Day last April, when so many players on so many major league teams wore his No. 42 on their uniforms on the 60th anniversary of his rookie year. Maybe it should be celebrated every season.

JUSTINE HENIN, the Belgian tennis player who survived several personal problems in her comeback before winning her second United States Open singles title.

CALVIN BOREL, the 40-year-old jockey who was invited to a White House dinner for Queen Elizabeth II after riding Street Sense to victory in the Kentucky Derby
.

THE DIVISION III TRINITY FOOTBALL TEAM from San Antonio, which completed 15 zig-zag laterals for a 61-yard touchdown on the final play of a 28-24 triumph over Millsaps of Jackson, Miss. From the snap to Riley Curry’s 34-yard dash into the end zone, the play took 46 seconds.

JUAN PABLO ÁNGEL, the Red Bulls striker from Colombia, who was Major League Soccer’s second-leading goal scorer with 19 in only 24 games.

JOE TORRE, who grew up on the Brooklyn sandlots as a New York Giants fan and now, after his unnecessary departure from the Yankees after 12 consecutive appearances in the postseason, is finally rooting for the Dodgers
as their new manager in Los Angeles. Wouldn’t a Yankees-Dodgers World Series complete that circle?

(SMG thanks Dave Anderson for his cooperation)