From Jonah Keri’s excellent column today after Tim Raines’ induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
More than the Expos or even Raines himself, being a fan was about sitting beside my Papas, watching those first games when I wasn't yet old enough to fully understand what I was seeing.
That's why, when Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson called Raines' name today, I, a 42-year-old man of relatively sane mind, jumped around and yelled like a damn lunatic. It's why I thumbed through so many old albums, and cried like a damn baby whenever I thought about those very first baseball games.
Keri’s piece got me thinking about sports writing and fandom.
Typically, there is a separation between sports writing and sports fans. This is the Church and State of sports media. It is a line in the sand, and across that line you do not.
I get that. I used to live by that. But I wonder if it’s too strict in a way. In this area, I think it’s possible to think of sports journalists and sports writers differently. Is that a distinction without a difference? I don’t think so.
If you are a sports journalist — a beat reporter, someone who covers sports as a reporter for a news organization — I understand the separation. It’s not so much a question of objectivity as it is one of fairness, balance and most importantly, distance. It’s good if you’re a beat reporter who has a little bit of emotional distance from the team and players you cover. Since your job is to provide an honest assessment of the team’s successes and failures, that distance helps.
If you are a sports journalist, you have at least tacitly agreed to abide by the profession’s norms and values.
But if you are a sports writer, I think that’s different. I think there are many varieties of sports writers, some of whom write as fans. That doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean they are good. It’s just a different lens through which sports can be presented to readers. It’s one of the successes of digital media in sports — the connection that writers like Bill Simmons, Jonah Keri, Will Leitch and others make with fans. The passion of fan can be contagious, and at least be acknowledged. What makes Keri’s piece so wonderful is the absolute joy it radiates. That’s why sports matter so much to people — they’re fun.
One approach isn’t better than the other. I’d argue we need it all — the passionate fan sports writer, and the dispassionate sports journalist. The analytics and the poetry. The beat writers, bloggers and columnists.
It’s a messy open marketplace of ideas. And that’s what makes today such a golden age for sports media.