A LOOK BACK WITH ...
MAG BASEBALL EDITOR JON SCHER
Were we right or wrong on our stories of the season?
In a long season, you get some things right and you get some things wrong.
Jon Scher is a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine. While he edits a variety of content (Stephen A. Smith's column, for example!), his focus is baseball, which he presides over with fellow senior editor Ed McGregor. We decided to run an entire season of features, profiles and concepts by him and McGregor—now that it's in the rear-view mirror—and get a first-person account of the hits, the utter misses and the late nights in this office. Hey, hindsight's always 20/20, right?
Rays on the cover in early March—brilliant! Who knew they were going to win the AL East? We did! (Not really, but we did say that BJ and Justin Upton are the future of fantasy baseball and they'll make you look like a genius. Eventually. We promise.) On the other hand, the Talented Mr. Roto listed Joe Borowski No. 1 on his cheap saves list. Next!
Secondary feature: Meet the New Boss, Not the Same as the Old Boss. We asked a pretty fair question: If the Yankees falter, will Hank Steinbrenner be able to go to the whip? Answer: Not yet, but he did show a talent for talk-radio bluster.
Oh, and we also had a column by Dominican novelist Junot Diaz, about Pedro Martinez attending cockfights in the Dominican Republic. The first Pulitzer Prize winner in the pages of The Mag. We got your culture, right here!
The good: Sabathia on the cover, and we picked the Cubs to go to the World Series. The bad: Mariners to win their division, Indians to win the World Series. What the hell were we thinking?
Our Milkov Report explained the scandal of American League dominance. The AL crushed the NL in interleague play again this summer, 149-103, even worse than the year before. George Milkov is now investigating the link between Madonna and A-Rod's inability to hit in the clutch.
In appreciation of the keen baseball insight shown by congressmen at the steroids witch-hunts of the past few years, we interviewed congressmen from each team's home district. Money quote from Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland: "Naming rights are one of the biggest frauds on the fans because for the most part the public is paying for these stadiums. Progressive Field ought to be called Taxpayer Stadium." The guy in the Rays' home district, Gus Bilirakis, said, "I think we'll be .500 this year and that would be a success. I know some people are saying playoffs, but you have to be realistic." Sounded about right at the time.
"Sabathia on the preview issue cover was a good call."
This was pretty much the definitive Greg Maddux story, in which you learn that he's so consistent a catcher can catch him with his eyes closed. (You also learn to stay upwind of Maddux at all times.)
Ah, yes—the story that began as a buddy movie and ended with a feud. How often do you have two major league players calling each other liars in print?
The headline said "Tick…tick…tick…", but for most of the year it was just a countdown to when he'd come off the DL. The good news: He's only been threatening to opposing pitchers so far.
In the department, Steve Phillips proposed a Junior Griffey to the White Sox deal. Hey, that guy should be a GM! (On second thought…)
It seemed like a good idea before the season began, when we had to lock in the feature idea to fit the conceit of our "athletes issue" and we decided to have current and former teammates "interview" enigmatic pitcher Erik Bedard, who styles himself a reluctant ace. He's not even that anymore. In the end, the Mariners were one of the worst teams ever, and Bedard is now about to undergo labrum surgery that could sideline him for another year. Guest editor Chad Johnson hated this story so much, he changed his name afterwards.
The worst team in baseball for a decade suddenly rises to the top of the AL East, lording it over the Red Sox and Yankees? What is this, Major League? The Rays' improbable success landed them their second cover appearance of the season. The story, in which Steve Wulf channels mascot Raymond the Ray in an open letter to a skeptical Bud Selig, hit just the right notes. (Little-known fact: Wulf has a soft spot for mascots, having once done a stint as Hugh Manatee, the mascot for the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League.)
Buster Olney wanted to spend a week with the D-backs ace, to see what he does between starts. Turns out Webb spends a lot of time flying model planes and goofing off. Here's what he doesn't do: Worry. His catcher, Chris Snyder, takes care of that for him.
"Brandon Webb doesn't worry. His catcher takes care of that for him."
It took us two years to get this story into the magazine. Eric Adelson was convinced that the same quality that made Joel Zumaya so overpowering—his fearless recklessness—would eventually be his undoing. The guy literally throws the ball so hard he hurts himself while doing it, and he was incapable of dialing it back—and that seemed to hold true in his personal life as well. Fascinating stuff. But every time we scheduled the piece, Zumaya would get hurt and we'd have to pull it. We finally found a window this summer, not a moment too soon—Zumaya suffered a stress fracture in his right shoulder a few weeks after the piece ran.
If you like cocky little bastards who can back it up, you'll love this story. Be sure to tune in for the laser show this October.
When a bunch of big names changed teams at midseason, we hopped on it with a package of short features headed up by Buster's re-visit with CC Sabathia, and everything you could possibly want to know about the logistics of moving Manny coast to coast. (We also did a sidebar calling Adam Dunn an immovable object, which he was until the Thursday after we went to press. Oops.)
Everybody was fixated on "57" this summer, not just because it was Francisco Rodriguez's uniform number but also because it was the all-time record for saves and K-Rod was destined to break it. We figured it was a good time to try a behind-the-numbers approach to explain his success, and we learned, among other things, that his herky-jerky motion is mechanically sound (at least until after the Mets give him $60M for three years).
"His herky-jerky motion is mechanically sound."
Buster Olney ranked the bullpens among the 14 remaining contenders. Right now it's possible that 7 of his top 8 will make it to October. And if the Brewers (No. 11) and Mets (No. 12) have a one-game playoff next Monday, it may never end.
103rd thing: We will never, ever, ever try to do this again. It was too much work. (It was cool, though. It shoulda been on the cover. coughcough jeremyshockeyisoutforamonthcoughcough!)
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