#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Monday, January 28, 2013

Textbook Sportswriting? Someone thought so

I remember writing about a young Derek Jeter
Looking for a job as a writer these days is interesting. I'm old enough to remember keeping a "clip file" of what I thought were my best stories. It was a black binder with a lot of those clear plastic sleeves. From 1989-1995, when I'd write a story for Sports Illustrated or the Daily News that I thought was a "keeper" I'd diligently clip it and slip it into one of those sleeves.

When I applied for jobs, I'd remove what I thought were my two or three best stories, make copies at a copy story, and mail them along with a resume to the prospective employer.

These days, with internet archives, the process is quite different. A writer now can usually just cut and paste the links to his best work into an email. If you look over to the left side of this blog site, you'll see that I've chronicled a sampling of what I think are some of my best stories from 13 years at ESPN The Magazine. So, these days, I'm sending along two or three links, but also let folks know if they want to see more, they can access a bunch of stories on Jeff-Bradley.com.

Of course, there can be glitches. For example, one of the first stories I ever wrote for The Mag was a story on a young Derek Jeter. It was always one of my favorite pieces, but the Mag's on-line archives do not go back as far as 1998 and I never clipped and filed that one. It's like it doesn't exist.

I remember writing the story so well because the assignment came out of nowhere. I was in a pub in Manhattan watching some soccer -- cool lunch break -- with some colleagues, including Steve Rushin from Sports Illustrated, when my Flip Phone rang.

"We want you to write a feature on Derek Jeter," said my editor Steve Wulf. "For the next issue."

I don't expect any newspapermen to feel sorry for me, but in the Magazine world, this is considered writing on deadline. I had to book a flight to Detroit, where the Yankees were playing, immediately and have a feature on Jeter turned in about 48 hours later.

I remember pulling a college-style all-nighter in the Dearborn Inn to get the story done in time. I remember pacing around when it didn't seem the words were coming together. And, ultimately, remember waiting for word from the staff, and expecting the worst. And I remember Wulf (not only my editor, by my friend and mentor) telling me "I'm not changing a word." There's no higher praise a writer can get from an editor. And it doesn't happen very often.

But, dammit, how was I ever going to find the story? I rifled through a bunch of old copies of the Mag that I keep in bins in my basement. No luck. As a last resort, I figured I could get in touch with someone at the Mag and if they could hunt it down for me. But there was one last thing to try.

I remembered a few of the words to the lead. I remembered I led with a story about the scout who discovered and signed Jeter. So I started to type some words into google.

Someone liked my lead, I guess
I typed, "It's a life of mid-size cars..."

Bam! It came up in, of all places, a text book on sportswriting, called "Sportswriting: The Lively Game." In the chapter on writing a profile. The author of the text book, Conrad C. Fink, writes "Above all, the profile gives you the opportunity to write your way into the sports pages - and readers' hearts. Note this colorful, engaging writing:"

It's a life of mid-size cars, mid-level hotels and drive-thru dinners just off the interstate

Your best friends are talk radio and the USA Today box scores. Your worst enemies are a full bladder and a sign that reads "Next Service Area 56 Miles." You work a territory, usually three or four states, and you have to be prepared for all of nature's elements. You learn quickly never to leave home without long johns, a rain slicker and sunscreen.

The life of an area scout for a major league baseball baseball team is a lonely one. High school game one day. College game the next. Juco game. American Legion game. Babe Ruth game. Pull up your folding lawn chair, point your radar gun, click your stop watch. Hundreds of games. Thousands of players.

Then it happens. As quickly as a coach can spank a fungo across a choppy infield in Flint, Mich., you remember why you got into this business. The ball takes a high bounce, then a low one. It begins to roll then pops up again like bacon grease off a frying pan. A tall, reed-thin shortstop somehow calms the ball. He glides in, reaches forward to glove it, makes the transfer and then fires a smooth, firm throw to first. You are left breathless. The kid is a high school sophomore. 

"I see an electric body," Yankee scout Dick Groch recalls. "Thin, but with lithe, sinewy muscle. Classic infielder's body type.  Fluid and graceful." At this moment the scout gathers himself. Time to find out more about this boy, beginning with the basics.

Jeff Bradley, ESPN Magazine

 I still don't know how to get the whole clip, but I don't really care anymore.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Weirdness...me covering baseball for a living

Scott (Danny Tartabull and Spike Owen) distracted me.
The truth is, it's always been a weird profession for me. Writing about baseball, that is.

There was a conflict of sorts from the beginning, with my brother Scott, who was playing for the Mariners when I went to work for Sports Illustrated in 1989.

Now, understand, I was really nothing more than Peter Gammons' personal fact-checker during my years at SI, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't always have one eye on Scott and the M's. There was no internet back then, but there was the AP wire, which I could access from the immense computer in my tiny office on 50th and 6th.

I can confess now (sorry Jane "Bambi" Wulf, SI Chief of Reporters), that I took a few too many breaks to check out what was going on with the Mariners.

There was also an incredible library in the SI office, with newspapers from all over the country, including Seattle. If ever anyone wanted to sneak a peak at the Seattle Times or the Post-Intelligencer they knew where those papers could be found. I could check-in to see what the beat writers had to say about Dave Valle getting most of the playing time over my brother.

See what I mean about conflicted?

When I went to the Daily News in 1992 to cover the Yankees, Scott was still with Seattle and a lot of people asked me, "How are you going to handle covering your brother?" My response was (BS) that I'd just cover him like any other player. That I'd stick to the facts and remain unbiased (BS).

I never got to cover one of Scott's games. About a week into my first year on the Yankee beat, my brother was released, which made me even more conflicted. I went to Buck Showalter, the manager of the Yankees and a former minor league teammate of Scott's, and Gene Michael, the general manager who always said nice things about my brother and, basically, begged them to sign Scott.

Yeah, not the most professional behavior there.

He ended up playing briefly with the Reds in 1992, getting a handful of at bats off the bench for Lou Piniella, before getting shipped back to the minors, never to play another game in the bigs.

I do have this one memory of Scott's time with the Reds while I was on the Yankee beat. Again, this is way before the internet, and some of the ballparks would run an out-of-town scroll on their message boards during games. I glanced up from my word processor (yeah, Radio Shack) and saw something like: BRADLEY, PH RBI SINGLE... Scott's last Major League hit. Off Orel Hershiser.

The next spring, Scott was in camp with the Mets, under Jeff Torborg, and looked for a couple of weeks like he had a chance to make the club. But as it got closer to Opening Day, his ABs dwindled and we all knew release day was coming.

Not that it would have been a big story for the Mets writers if my brother ripped GM Joe McIlvaine (it would have sounded stupid), but I called him and told him, if asked by the writers how he feels about getting cut, the best thing he can do is be grateful for the career he's had.

"You can be one of those guys who's pissed off that the last couple of teams didn't like you, and that it may have cost you 3-5 more years in the bigs," I said. "Or you can remember Dick Williams, the one manager who believed in you, and thank him for helping you become a big leaguer."

Scripting a player's quotes is not exactly part of a writer's job. But I do remember getting a call from Port St. Lucie from some of the Mets writers, telling me what a class act my brother was...

I'm sure he'd have handled it the same way, even without my advice.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What kind of baseball geek am I?

I spent way too much time talking gloves with Gags
It was the worst tabloid baseball story ever.

My friend Joel Sherman, the brilliant baseball columnist at the New York Post, has reminded me of this more than a few times though the years. It was 1992, my first year at the Daily News, and I found myself spending a lot of time around the locker of Yankee infielder Mike Gallego. I was fascinated with the number of baseball gloves Gallego kept in his locker. Probably about 20 gloves.

Now, Gallego and I had some history. One of my best friends in college was Walt Weiss, who played with Gags in Oakland. Before I worked at the News, before I was really in the business, it was pretty normal for me to go and watch Walt play and hang out with members of the A's. I was also in Seattle on a few occasions when my brother Scott's Mariners were hosting the A's, and a large group of us would go out for something to eat after games. So, anyway, I liked chatting with Gallego.

Eventually,  I wrote a feature on Gallego's gloves. It probably had a headline like "Glove Affair" or "Glove Story," but I can't really remember.

Sherman -- and Jon Heyman from Newsday, Jack Curry from the Times, Moss Klein from the Ledger, Don Burke from the Record, Tom Pedulla from Gannett and Jack O'Connell from the Hartfourd Courant -- had been beating me, the rookie on the beat, like a drum on real news stories. So, a story on the scrappy, little infielders glove collection, was pretty laughable.

To this day, when I see Joel in the clubhouse, he's still likely to say, "Good time to revisit the Gallego Glove Story." It's all in good fun, and totally fair. It was 100 percent not a tabloid baseball story.

I didn't really care,  partly because I was a different kind of baseball geek than most of the baseball writers. I'd grown up in the same house as a big league player, shagging flies during his BP, working on my own swing with him in our basement, where we set up a tee and net. I'd had my own brief run at North Carolina, where I was a practice player, taking groundballs alongside Weiss. Not saying other writers could not play ball. Bob Klapisch was a pitcher at Columbia University and still throws in the wood bat leagues in North Jersey (not the over 40 leagues), and John Harper of the News and Curry have also clearly worn a cup.

Just saying, my passion for the game did not really come from digging into statistical minutiae. That was one thing.  Another was, having seen just how hard it was for Scott -- an All-American at North Carolina and a hitter good enough to win a Triple-A batting title -- to play regularly in the big leagues, I was simply not the type of writer who was going to trash players in print. It was probably my fatal flaw as a baseball writer from the beginning. I had way too much respect for how hard baseball is.

At Carolina, I'd faced guys like Scott Bankhead in intrasquad games. I knew what a 94 mile per hour fastball looked like (blurry) and what it was like to try and hit a tight slider (impossible).

Yet, at the same time, I was fascinated with the game. I was romantic about it. I loved watching guys in the cage, eavesdropping on what the hitting coach was telling them. I would get mesmerized watching middle infielders and their footwork on the doubleplay, sometimes even catching myself, notebook in hand, mimicking them. I admit, I was a wannabe player.

But, back to the gloves. We, the New York writers, were getting ready for our annual media game with Boston. Surely breaking some kind of BBWAA code, I asked Gallego if I could borrow a pair of his spikes. He said sure, and said, "Keep them for next year's game."

And then Gags asked if he could see my glove. I flipped it to him. It was a Rawlings custom glove my brother had passed on to me when it still looked like I might become a decent player.

"This is nice," Gallego said. "I want it."

I laughed. Yeah, right, the guy with 20 gloves in his locker wants my glove.

There it is, the glove I got in the trade with Gallego.
"No, really, I've got to have this glove," Gallego said. "Take any glove you want out of my locker and we'll trade. I won't take no for an answer. Pick one out."

For some reason, I remember thinking, "Maybe one day I'll have a son and he'll need a small-ish glove to start with." So, I found the smallest glove in his locker, a Mizuno, and made the trade.

During pregame, as I milled around the field, I noticed Gallego using my glove as he took fungoes. At that point, it mattered very little to me that Joel or anyone had teased me about the worst tabloid baseball story ever written. A member of the Yankees was using my glove. A glove he had to have.

I went to the press box that night on a bit of a high. But when the game started, I noticed Gallego was not using my glove. After the game, I said, "What? You didn't like it?"

"No, I love it," Gallego said. "But it's not like it's going to replace my gamer."

I asked if I could have it back.

"No way," Gallego said. "The trade is official."

So, yeah, it was the worst tabloid baseball story ever, but for me it remains memorable. I never did get the hang of being the hard-nosed, news-breaking baseball writer. I'm okay with that.

I'm more than comfortable being my own kind of baseball geek.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How about Thursday? I'm just not sure

Remember when Christopher took all the Ledgers out of the box?
In my final semester of college in 1986, I was offered a full-time job as a news clerk with the Associated Press in Raleigh.

I told the bureau chief I was going to accept the offer. And then I asked him when he would want me to start. I still had about two months left before graduation.

My thinking was that maybe I'd take a month off after college to travel, have some fun, blow off steam...

"How about Thursday?" was the answer. And so it began, my career in journalism. Working nights in the A.P. bureau in Raleigh, typing in the data for the North Carolina hog markets, taking dictation from Division III Sports Information Directors, changing ribbons on what we called "printers."

Other duties included making runs to Char-Grill for the staff, filing papers, making sure the coffee was fresh and hot.

Basically, I learned to take a punch.

Fast forward 27 years to last Wednesday morning around 9 a.m. My home phone rings and the caller ID says "Newark." On the other end of the line is my boss, Kevin Whitmer, the editor of the Star-Ledger. I don't want to misquote Kevin here, but he said something like, "This is not the type of phone call I enjoy making...you need to come to Human Resources tonight at 5:45 and there's a story on NJ.com that will shed some light..."

"I'm losing my job?" I asked.

 "Legally, I'm not allowed to tell you anything more," Kevin said. "Read NJ.com."

And then, I addressed my boss in a way I'd never address a boss. "See ya later, brother," I said.

I read the NJ.com story about 34 layoffs at the Star-Ledger, including 18 in the newsroom.

I texted my wife, a schoolteacher and typed, "I just got laid off."

Around 5:30 p.m. that night, after I was told "legally" that I wasn't supposed to be in the newsroom, I was ushered into the HR office where I got my packet. Three weeks severance plus the two of weeks vacation I'd never used.

And just like that, for the first time since I walked through the doors of the A.P. office in Raleigh, I was an unemployed American.


It's not the first time I've lost a job. I accepted the baseball columnist job at the Ledger because in 2011, ESPN The Magazine did not pick up my contract after I'd worked for them for 13 years, 10 months. They had offered me a new three-year deal after the 2010 World Cup, but pulled it off the table about 10 days later and changed it to a one-year contract with a bleak outlook for the future.

When I asked if I could discuss a reduced contract with more security in terms of years, I was told, "It's not really a money issue. It's a talent issue."

What do you say to that?

I said nothing, partly because I knew I was about to cry.

I loved writing at the Magazine so much because I was so invested in the product. John Papanek, the first Editor in Chief of The Mag, had hired me in December of 1997, three months before it was launched. I started as an editor and slowly moved into a position as a senior writer. It was the job I had always dreamed of having, dating back to college. And now it was gone.

"A talent issue," was the reason. So funny, because I'd never considered myself "talented." One of the things I loved about The Mag was that, for years, the people in charge seemed to like me even though I wasn't talented. I was a sports writer. I liked writing about sports. I didn't quote French authors or feel the need to use a thesaurus (or send my readers to dictionary.com).

That's why The Mag was heaven for me, a self-described hack.

Now what was I going to do?

Thankfully, the Ledger, the paper I grew up reading, was there for me. Even though it had been 16 years since I'd written for a daily, they hired me to be their baseball columnist.

The day of my first column, with my mug shot on Page One, I joked to people that, like Christopher Moltisanti on the Sopranos, I drove to a box on Bloomfield Ave., put four quarters in the slot and took every copy. It wasn't true, but that's how good it felt.

I cannot pretend that I was a good or even a mediocre columnist for the Ledger. I was thoroughly challenged by the deadlines.

I often questioned myself. I tried my best, but I'd be lying if I said the pressure of producing day after day didn't rattle me. It did.

And then came last August, when our skillful, hard-working Yankee beat writer Marc Carig was offered a great job at Newsday.  


The Ledger's financial issues were very public at that point, so I knew what was going to happen, and it did. I was told "another writer is not walking through the door" and so I was no longer a columnist, I was the Yankee beat writer.

I was not happy. I have two teenage sons who like having a dad to make them breakfast in the morning. I have a wife who works full-time.

When I was the columnist, I'd often walk through the door after 2 a.m. after covering a game in the Bronx or Flushing. But at least I'd be home. A baseball beat writer spends about 150-170 nights per year in a hotel room between the months of February and October.

Had the Ledger been looking for a Yankee beat writer when I was on my way out at ESPN The Magazine, I would not have even filled out an application. I wouldn't have done that to my family.

But now, I knew I had no choice but to accept the job-switch because the alternative was to be unemployed. So I went on the beat and, really, the rest is a blur.

 I don't remember much of what I wrote in August, September and October. I just know I wrote a lot. I didn't miss any deadlines. That's the good thing.

But when it comes to remembering anything I typed, I can come up with only one lede that stayed with me.

Here it is. From the Yankees-A's game on September 22.  

NEW YORK — In the five hours and 43 minutes it took to play the game, it seemed day turned into night, summer turned into fall, and 36 Yankees turned into one.

What's funny is I didn't realize that summer officially did turn into fall that day.

It was pure luck.

Fittingly, it wasn't talent that came up with those words. It was luck.

And I've been lucky. Lucky to go nearly three decades without ever having to beg for work. Lucky to have done exactly what I set out to do when I enrolled in Journalism School as a college junior back in the Fall of 1984. Lucky to have worked at Sports Illustrated, The New York Daily News, ESPN The Magazine and the Star-Ledger.

And lucky to have learned how to take a punch at the A.P.

 As I walked into the streets of Newark, packet in hand, I did not feel any anger or sadness. I'm not sure what I felt, probably because I'd never felt unemployment before.

 I realize I'm not alone. So many friends from my past have reached out and told me how they handled unemployment. By taking on projects around the house. By committing to a crazy workout routine. By cooking dinner for the family every night.

 I've also heard from some talented (and I don't just throw that word around) writers who are also looking for work. It's so humbling. These are hard times in the only business I've ever known.

It's too early to say what I'm going to do. It's only been a week.

Today, if someone were to say, "How about Thursday?" I don't know what I'd do.