Whatever the reason, I will miss the wonderful misery of covering the World Series this year.
And believe me, it’s both wonderful and wretched. Every MLB writer comes home from the World Series and feels like Lawrence of Arabia stumbling out of the desert.
Last October I went from DC to Los Angeles to DC to LA to St. Louis to DC to Houston to DC to Houston to DC. I wrote 21 columns, an introductory chapter to The Post’s book on Washington, which won its first World Series in 95 years, and five Monday chats with readers. Over 50,000 words. Then I wrote a parade!
Another 15,000 words died on the way, never published. The Nationals’ late inning comeback made them obsolete. Tear up, restart – and gladly.
On many tough nights, you return to your hotel room between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., often after writing multiple versions of your story, including one for the most recently submitted print paper and a final version after you’ve had time to interview and rewrite.
If the game goes insane in the late innings, you may not remember how many variations you wrote.
In 2002 I finished a column entitled “Giants Win First World Series in 48 Years”. Then the angels gathered to win games 6 and 7. A friend, a Giants fan, who had never seen his team win a title called me. “I bet you wrote a ‘Giants Win’ column,” he said. “Can you send a copy so I can frame it?”
In 2017, after running a Dodgers-Astros marathon with an extra inning, I came across a baseball pen while walking on the same plane. Sleep? “An hour,” I said. “None,” he said, adding, “I’m too old for this s —.”
I defied my senior prerogative and said, “Wait and see how it feels 20 years from now.”
What is so much fun about the playoffs and the World Series that you don’t care anyway? Why would anyone go on like this for so long?
Because there is nothing like it.
You can’t plan World Series stories in advance. You can do homework to prepare, come up with ideas or topics for stories. But MLB usually blows them up. The reality of the World Series makes surrealism seem boring.
You have adrenaline (which you may need for five hours), the fear of failure, the power of the game itself, and the hope that – one more time, just one more time – your fingers will start flying. The ideas and insights will be faster than you can type, and you will suddenly be in a place that no other way has been reached.
You will be enthusiastic. You don’t know where the words you write come from or what is next. You give yourself completely to the moment and to blind trust – what is the alternative? – In yourself. They reach the last paragraph, the conclusion, the kicker, often without having a clue what it will be. And suddenly it jumps right on the page, something your mind composed behind the scenes.
Sometimes the writers next to you will tell you that you giggled out loud as you wrote. Sometimes you end up with tears on your face.
That might sound romantic. It’s romantic. You can say, “It’s just baseball,” and you’d be right. But I suspect that creativity, whether it’s a miniature or a masterpiece, feels a bit similar.
Of course, there are nights when there isn’t much adrenaline pumping or your ideas are mundane. Minutes before the deadline, you’ll see 3,000 words of unholy mess. “The hell with it,” you say, admitting defeat and commanding 1,200 words – some from here, some from there – hoping no one will notice how disgusted you are. On to the next day.
Fans ask sports journalists about their “favorite” world series. That’s kind, but misses the point. The athletes play their game. We play ours. The world cares about its bottom line. But like everyone in any job, we care about how we work.
By this (personal) standard, my favorite game on the 1982 series was Brewers vs. Cards. I can’t remember which game or who won. But I remember my computer eating my story in an additional press box with a few dozen writers just before the deadline. In this time irretrievable.
“Eaten story,” I gasped to my editor on the phone. “Can we still make the city (edition)?”
I doubt anyone held the press, but it felt like it. “Did we make it?” I asked 20 minutes later. Yes!
I leaned back in my chair, relieved. Then I heard applause. Who says: “No cheers in the press compartment.”
My # 2 was just bat flip showboating. At the 2001 World Series, the Yankees linked the fourth game with a Tino Martinez homer with two outs in ninth place and then won it in additional innings. The next evening one of the Post’s top editors was sitting next to me. That was unique. But the series had never been played in New York a month after September 11th.
Midnight approached. My column about a Diamondbacks win was ready and should be aired. Then came a premonition: “It happened again,” I wrote. “It couldn’t, but it did.” The editor, now a good friend, read along.
Nothing had happened when I wrote about “a city so full of pain that it cannot find words to speak it and so desperate to rediscover joy that it cannot stop shouting its cheers.”
My new premise: reader, let’s watch something happen together that has never happened before. Just as I was about to type the word “impossible,” Scott Brosius hit a homer with two runs and two outs in the ninth to tie the game. With Alfonso Soriano’s walk-off hit on the 12th, there should have been one last game on the plate, but the ball had a bad bounce. Perhaps, I wrote, it hit “a police sign or Babe Ruth’s watch tag”.
Game over, click “Submit”.
And you wonder how stories about games that end at 1am appear in the newspaper on your doorstep by 6am
In a way, the “best” series are the ones that have teams involved that you’ve covered all season. What an advantage and a chance to shine! My first time was in 1979; and Earl Weaver, manager of Baltimore Orioles, was so mad at me that he refused to speak to me or any group I belonged to throughout the postseason.
I wrote about an argument he had with Jim Palmer the day after the O’s won the AL East. Earl had been saying for days how much he would drink at the victory party; I just wrote that Earl had kept his word, which probably took into account the excitement.
“My mother read it and she cried,” said Weaver.
So I covered a seven-game series without a word from the most quotable manager in history.
In the next spring training session, Earl approached. “My wife says I’ll go to hell,” he said, “if I don’t talk to you.”
“Okay, Earl,” I said, “but I have no questions right now.”
Millions will remember the first series I covered in 1975 because Carlton Fisk waved his arms and was ready to hit the Fenway foul rod.
I will remember this series because it symbolized the incredible difference between American sport then and now. I told a college friend that I could smuggle him into the Fenway Park press box if he didn’t dress like the psychiatrist but wear like a guy and carry a notebook and a pen.
It worked. We pretended we were part of it, I casually tapped my ID, and we watched together in the back row of the main press box. Now we could end up in handcuffs and this kid reporter would be fired.
I was a gentleman in part because after six years at The Post, during which I never went beyond college sports, I still didn’t know whether I wanted a life as a sports journalist or even a journalist. A new sports editor took me off the pace and made me the only baseball writer in America in a city without a team.
The way our identity is formed, the choices we make can be so flexible. The 1975 World Series proved to be an immediate pick at the time as the largest World Series ever played. The sport was beginning to go from a disgrace to a lover again – and something worth writing about.
I had always loved the game and its literature, played it as best I could and seen it as one of many windows through which a writer could see the horizon. So I stuck with it to let it play – without imagining at 27 that I’d framed my whole life.
Stories take you in the process of writing that you never thought of. It just happened again. Where would I be today if Fisk’s Ball had gone bad?