Dear Rick Reilly, What The Hell Is That?

I’m not usually one for ripping on people. When I was about twelve, I had a year-long sports radio phase, in which I listened to all sorts of clowns and callers berate athletes. Sports radio gave way to sports reading – ESPN the Mag and Sports Illustrated became my beacons for sports knowledge and the source of my opinions. Of all the guys in those magazines, Rick Reilly daunted my young mind the most. His stories were sometimes grouchy and sometimes moving and sometimes cerebral. Probably for no other reason than their location on the back page, Reilly’s columns seemed an elevated form of sports writing.

Obviously that was foolhardy and naïve. Much the same way I learned that most of the guys with names like Vic “The Brick” Jacobs were worthless blowhards, I learned that placement on the vaunted back page of SI does not a good column make. Rick Reilly is an imperfect columnist at best. He can be sappy and clichéd and repetitive and over-reliant on dental metaphors. But overall I find him a compelling stylist, with a great sense of empathy and although we often disagree, a tendency to provoke worthwhile lines of thought.

But his latest piece is so bad I want to cry. I want to sit in the dark on the floor in my room and weep for the people who have been subjected to these words, for the spineless editor who allowed them to reach those masses, and for the writer himself who is surely incapable of staring proudly at his reflection in any mirror. The concept is hackneyed. The jokes are flat. The content itself, well, there were more good ideas in the House Republicans’ 18-Page 2009 Alternate Budget.

I won’t go full Fire Joe Morgan on it, but here are some highlights:

The title:

Here’s My Solution For Fixing Baseball: Put Me In Charge.

First problem is the assumption that baseball is broken. Second problem is that, in the first sentence of the article, Rick says he hates baseball:

I personally find baseball so crushingly boring I would happily plunge knitting needles into my eyes to avoid another snap zoom of Joe Torre’s nostril hairs.

Clearly, he’s now set himself up as a credible and very funny potential commissioner. I bet he has some great, original ideas. I’ve taken the liberty of listing them here in order to save you from his commentary.

1. A pitch clock.
2. Mandatory autographs.
3. Olympic style steroid testing.
4. Bad at-bat music joke.
5. DH in the NL
6. More fines. Just because. (Joke).
7. Umpires determine when a game is rained out.
8. Balls that hit foul pole are foul. (Joke, I think?)
9. Age Minimum for draft. No mention of international players.
10. Joke not worth repeating.

Anyway, there’s nothing new here. There isn’t even anything old said in a new way. It’s just lazy, boring, and complacent. It’s the kind of column that makes me wonder why, when so many people are writing about sports with so much energy and curiosity, I would ever bother with Rick Reilly again. It’s the kind of column that makes “mainstream journalism” for all of its resources, look hopelessly stale and out of touch.

Have you guys had already given up on Reilly, given up on all the Paiges and Plaschkes of the world? Maybe that comfy perch at the top of an institution – even a crumbling one – can destroy a writer. It isn’t news that there’s better, hungrier stuff on the blogs. But man, I’d  like to see the old guard put up a fight.

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2 Responses to Dear Rick Reilly, What The Hell Is That?

  1. Ted says:

    Part of the problem is the “humorist” angle that guys like Reilly often try to work. Reilly could respond to criticism by claiming that it’s a satirical look at what people consider the shortcomings of baseball. Problem is, satire is at its core based on truths, rather than this Jim Murray knock-off junk. I mean, did Reilly just stumble upon the fact that baseball games are long, after decades of covering sports? Was this the topic that the modern condition just forced him to write?

    Generally speaking, I think it’s fair to give a frequent columnist the occasional phone-in like this one. Reilly has done a lot of reportage in the past, and even if his columns can be sappy, they are at least exploratory. That said, it doesn’t say much about his creative drive that this column is even in his brain anywhere.

  2. Jason says:

    Reilly is an amazing stylist. I think that’s why I enjoy his columns so much. As you said, he can be quite cerebral. His voice comes through, which is more than you can say for other sports columnists, or writers in general. The piece he wrote where he followed Kobe around for an entire day was brilliant. And I don’t say that often.

    Great blog, by the way.