All posts by Scott Cummings

Interview With Free Agent Sports Writer Tyler Mason

Tyler Mason is a free agent sports writer who previously covered the Minnesota Twins Beat for Fox Sports North.  Unfortunately, Mason’s narrative is far too common in  sports journalism.  Mason uses the  hashtag  #hiretyler to help him network for his next opportunity. He was nice enough to take some time to answer questions about his experiences working at FSN, his take on current trends in the media, and his next steps.

1. Could you talk a little bit about your background and how you became a sportswriter? Was there a certain moment or mentor who helped?

It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that I got into sportswriting. I went to college thinking I might want to be a psychology major, but I took the intro psychology class and didn’t do so well in it. After taking the intro journalism class during the second semester of my freshman year, I went to one of our school newspapers in Madison and wrote a story (a men’s track preview) near the end of the year. I stuck with the paper after that and was there through my senior year, and fell in love with sports writing at that point.

2. I know that you already wrote a nice blog post about why working the All-Star Game was a career highlight for you. Is there something that you would like to add about it?

I’m not sure there’s much to add. Covering the All-Star Game was such a unique experience. There were so many great players in town, and so many media. I didn’t realize how much else went into that whole weekend – the Fan Fest, press conferences, concerts, etc. Just to be around all of that was something I’ll never forget.

3. I recently interviewed Steve Rushin for Twins Daily and he said “There is more good baseball writing than there has ever been, and I won’t list all the current people I read for space considerations and fear of leaving someone out.” Do you have favorite writers today that you admire locally, as well as nationally?

I agree with Steve that there is a ton of good writing nowadays. I don’t necessarily have a favorite writer, and I’ll admit that I don’t read as many baseball writers as I should. That’s something I would definitely like to do more of. I will say, speaking of Steve Rushin, that I’ve always enjoyed his work – perhaps because he’s a Minnesota native. I recently read a book by Dirk Hayhurst, the former big league pitcher. It was interesting to read a player’s perspective for once compared to a journalist’s. I’d say in general, it’s wise to try to read a wide range of stuff when it comes to sports writing, and baseball writing in particular.

4. Besides the obvious rule, “There is no cheering in the press box”, what is it like working the baseball press box? How is it different from other sports?

I enjoy the baseball press box. There’s usually plenty of discussion regarding the game, and decisions made within it. As far as how it relates to other sports, I’d say there’s more interaction between, the writers in a baseball press box compared to basketball, football or hockey. Perhaps that’s because of how much down time there is in a baseball game. The rest of the Twins media are generally pretty easy to get along with, and we all enjoy each other’s company. It’s not as cutthroat as other media markets like New York, Boston, or Los Angeles.

5. My roommate is a sophomore journalism major at the University of Minnesota Duluth. What advice do you have for him and other recent graduates wanting to follow your career path?

Try to find an internship or two that will include some valuable experience. I interned with MLB.com in 2009 and am so glad I did, as I learned a lot about the business during that time. I’d also advise to be active on social media, perhaps even starting a personal blog. Also, network as much as possible. Send e-mails to other writers or try to get to know people in the industry if at all possible. Sometimes, it’s not what you know, but who you know.

6. There is a tweet that caught my attention. Why do you think there are so many free agent sports writers? Does it happen more in baseball? Or is common in sports overall?

I don’t think it’s specific to any sport. Unfortunately, the nature of the journalism business is that turnover/layoffs are bound to happen. You see it in newspapers far too often, but it doesn’t necessarily happen in just one sport.

7. How have companies like Inside Edge, The SportsXchange, Sportradar and the Associated Press impacted the baseball media industry?

I think it’s great that there are more outlets covering baseball today that in the past. The SportsXchange and the Associated Press are pretty similar in their coverage (more game stories and news, not as much analysis), while other sites offer different perspectives. With analytics and sabermetrics becoming such a big part of baseball, it’s great to see other sites embracing that aspect of the game. Baseball fans have more options than ever for gathering their information, and that can only help grow the game.

8. If you cannot get another baseball media job, where do you think your skills would translate well into another non-sports or media field? I see you wrote about becoming a travel writer for example?

I did indeed blog about travel writing, although that was more of a pipe dream than anything. I’d love to find something in the writing field, but those options are limited. I also have a strong social media background, so I feel those skills could translate as well – not just within the sports realm. I am open to branching out beyond the sports scene.

9. Do you have anything new in the works? Perhaps a book?

Nothing new in the works right now, unfortunately. I did write a few books for Red Line Editorial, but they are both geared towards elementary aged children. One is on the history of the Rose Bowl, while the other is a football trivia book. I hope to continue writing/blogging in some respect, although I’m not sure how often at this point.

Book Review: “The Best Team Money Can Buy”

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Former ESPN reporter Molly Knight’s new book, The Best Team Money Can Buy, covers baseball’s most polarizing and entertaining franchise of recent years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a retrospective piece made easier without the pressure of newspaper reporting deadlines.

“How does the “The Best Team Money Can Buy” compare to Moneyball?” I was asked by a librarian at the Duluth Public Library after I had checked out the book.

I explained my excitement. “Basically, this book is about baseball, but you do not have to be a fan to understand it. From what I have read in some of the reviews, it’s an extremely behind-the-scenes look at the Los Angeles Dodgers as they transition from a bankrupt owner embroiled in the midst of a divorce, to a team with a $200 million payroll and $2 billion cable TV contract.”

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While at ESPN, Knight covered then-Dodger owner Frank McCourt’s divorce, and in the first chapter uncovers the nooks and crannies of the Dodger auction including, for example, McCourt’s chess moves of filing for bankruptcy, and the machinations of selling the team. The Guggenheim Group owns the team today. Los Angeles Laker legend Magic Johnson serves as the face of the franchise, but operations are headed up by experienced Major League Baseball executive Stan Kasten.  Knight uses as her sources on the transition such insiders as former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and current Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.

In the Best Team Money Can Buy, Knight was not present for any closed door meetings, but she deftly utilized her sources to attend them virtually. She was also allowed extensive one-on-one  interviews with Dodgers players. By contrast, Moneyball author Michael Lewis was present at and recorded every meeting in and outside of the Oakland A’s front office.

This book reminds me of Moneyball in several ways.

  • Both writers had experience in other industries that translated well to their work on their current books. Knight’s main career objective was not to write this book. She had been on the pre-med track at Stanford University before she realized it was not the career for her. She moved to New York, where she bartended at night while writing during the day. Lewis earned his degree in Art History from Princeton and worked with a New York art dealer before completing his MA at the London School of Economics.
  • Reading Lewis’s book, I was able to visualize Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane pumping his fist in the air as some other team drafted an overvalued high school pitcher. In Knight’s book, I can see Zack Greinke standing up in a players’ only meeting and declaring, “all players are not flushing after taking a ‘number two’ in the men’s locker room”.
  • Both Lewis and Knight explain how and why each person arrived in each organization and how they fit strategically into the marathon regular season and crapshoot postseason. Due to the smaller sample size of games, the failure in the playoffs by both the Dodgers and the A’s stands in stark contrast to their regular season triumphs.
  • Lewis profiles Scott Hatteberg as he transitions from washed up backup catcher with the Boston Red Sox to starting first basemen for the Oakland, where he batted .280/.374/.433.
  • Knight shows how a struggling player, the aforementioned Greinke, overcomes his social anxiety, finds his personality, and overcomes the whispers of the naysayers to win the American League Cy Young Award.
  • While reading this book, readers will feel the excitement as the Dodgers or Athletics win.

I would put The Best Team Money Can Buy up with other baseball literature classics Moneyball, Jonathan Eig’s Luckiest Man: the Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm, and Robert Creamer’s Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.  Many, if not all, of these classics are probably available at your own public library. But what some taxpayers may be unaware of is that the library may also be able to order new books upon patron request. This helps with updating the collection and, of course, with circulation. The Duluth Library ordered this book for me, and I will look forward to returning it so it can be available for the next patron.

Interview With S.I. Writer, Bloomington Native, Steve Rushin

Ever wondered how the jockstrap was invented? Or how about the evolution from catching balls with bare hands to the gloves of today? It was said that shaking hands with a catcher without any protection was like “shaking hands with walnuts.
Sports Illustrated writer and Bloomington, Minnesota native Steve Rushin wrote about the jock strap, how Americans were more skilled throwing grenades compared to their European allies because of baseball and more historical oddities.

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The book is called 34-Ton Bat, The Story of Baseball as told through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Strange and Unusual Objects. Here are 10 questions about his life growing up in Bloomington, The Met, how he landed his Sports Illustrated writing gig and about his recent visits to Target Field with his young children.

 

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Q: In 1979 on your 13th birthday you became an employee of the Minnesota Twins and as you say in your book “it unlocked a hidden world”. Tell me about your memories of the Met in your hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota. What was the highlight?

A: Before I worked at the Met, I went as a fan. I’m one of five kids and my Dad would stop at Cal’s Market on Old Shakopee Road after Mass on a Sunday and buy a one-pound bag of peanuts to last the day. Late in the game, we might get a Frosty Malt, but we weren’t allowed to sail the lids onto the warning track, like so many of our lucky peers were doing.

When I started working at the Met, in the commissary, making the food that the vendors sold, it was a revelation. I was backstage, in the ballpark before it opened to the public, and saw people like Reggie Jackson from ten feet away. When you’re 13, and have only ever seen someone like Reggie on TV, it’s a shock to see him up close, unfiltered by a screen, as if you never realized he existed in the flesh.

The highlight of working those games—and there were so many—was getting to pull the tarp when it rained. To be 13 and running across a big-league field, in front of about 8,000 fans with garbage bags on their heads? I knew even then that life was unlikely to get better.

Q: Did you know Twins Daily Writer and Founder John Bonnes, @TwinsGeek on twitter, growing up in Bloomington?

A: I didn’t. If I had, I’d know much more about the Twins now. And then. But growing up in Bloomington you were never more than one degree of separation from the Twins. My brother was a lefthanded pitcher at Bloomington Lincoln and claims to have owned Hrbek whenever he pitched against Kennedy. I mentioned this to Hrbek once and he just laughed. I think he’s heard that from a lot of guys he faced in high school.

Q: Was there a certain moment that inspired to you be a writer? Did you have a mentor?

A: I learned to read watching Sesame Street and cereal boxes were my earliest literary influence. Another early influence was Oscar Madison, the sportswriter on “The Odd Couple.” He was a slob, ate hot dogs at ballgames and spent a lot of time loafing around his gigantic apartment in New York. That seemed like a good life. I once spent an evening with Jack Klugman for a Sports Illustrated column and thanked him for the inspiration. He said I wasn’t the first sportswriter to tell him that.

My Mom, more than any one person, made me a writer. She got me a library card and encouraged me to read and would leave me at the B. Dalton bookstore for an hour when she shopped at Southdale. I would completely lose track of time, or even my surroundings, and get absorbed in a book. I didn’t know it then, but reading is the best preparation for writing.

Q: Is there an unusual story about landing your job at Sports Illustrated?

A: A junior college basketball coach had a three-on-three basketball tournament in his backyard in Bloomington. A buddy and I played in it. It was called the Saunders Hoop Invitational Tournament, or S.H.I.T. We were in high school. Sports Illustrated ran a long story on a huge 3-on-3 tournament in Michigan, and I wrote a letter to the editor of SI about our 3-on-3 tournament in Bloomington.

The trophy was a Cool-Whip tub covered in aluminum foil. The author of the article in SI, Alexander Wolff, wrote to me to ask me more about our tournament, because he was writing a book on pickup basketball in America. So I wrote back to him, we became pen pals, and when I started writing stories in college, I’d send them to Alex, who passed one along to an editor SI, and eventually—just before I graduated from Marquette—the magazine ran my story. That got me a three-month internship as a fact-checker there and I never left. The junior college basketball coach who hosted the S.H.I.T., incidentally, was Flip Saunders.

Q:What baseball writers do you most admire? Past and present?

A: Where to begin? I grew up reading Pat Reusse and Doug Grow in Minneapolis. My Dad traveled a lot, and in the age before the internet he’d bring home three-day-old newspapers from L.A. or New York, so I’d get to read columns by Jim Murray and Red Smith. I read all of Roger Angell’s books. They were some of the books I’d lose myself in at B. Dalton. When I arrived at SI, we had Peter Gammons and Steve Wulf and later Tom Verducci and Tim Kurkjian, all of whom were so good that the main thing I learned from them was not to try to be like them. There is more good baseball writing than there has ever been, and I won’t list all the current people I read for space considerations and fear of leaving someone out.

Q: I see that you recently visited Minnesota and took in a game at Target Field with your children. What did that mean to you and was there a certain part of baseball that you felt you needed to teach them? For example, did you explain the meaning of Minnie and Paul to you daughter who thought one of them was Babe Ruth?

A: The kids, thank goodness, like baseball. We were in Minneapolis when the Twins were out of town and took a tour of Target Field. The kids have this fantasy of being locked into a stadium overnight, like in “Night at the Museum,” and getting to eat all the popcorn and nachos and batting helmet sundaes they can, while running the bases and attempting to go yard. Sadly, we were not locked in at tour’s end, but we did come back on our last night in town for the Twins’ homestand-opener against the Orioles. They saw Hicks make a catch with his back to the plate and Dozier win it with a walk-off home run, and my 6-year-old son did ask—while pointing at the Twins logo in centerfield—“Who’s Babe Ruth shaking hands with?” We live in New England, and mostly go to Red Sox games, so it was nice to give them the experience I had as a kid: watching the Twins outdoors while learning how to crack open peanut shells.

Q: What got you interested in writing your current book, the 34-Ton Bat, The Story of Baseball as told through Boobleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Strange and Unusual Objects?

A: That book evolved from wanting to know my grandfather. My Mom’s Dad was a member of the 1926 New York Giants but only played in one game, at catcher. I wanted to know what it was like to be at the Polo Grounds that Sunday afternoon in June of 1926, in hot flannel uniforms, without batting helmets, during Prohibition, and so forth. My uncle happened to still have the catcher’s mitt my grandfather wore that day, he mailed it to me, and I put it on and it was like shaking hands with the grandfather I never knew. My grandfather, Jimmy Boyle, died before I was born. I did what anyone would do with a baseball mitt, and placed it over my nose and mouth like an airplane oxygen mask. I could smell this ballpark in Harlem from 85 years ago. That led to me writing about the most compelling objects of the game—hats and mitts, of course, but also bobbleheads and ballpark organs and beer cups—all those things that beguiled me while working at the Met as a teenager.

Q: Could you discus the process you went through at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in researching the book?

A: The Hall of Fame Library is a wonderful place. You have to put on white gloves to handle the files, so everyone in there looks like Mickey Mouse. I pored over files on ballpark concessions and novelties and souvenirs. I found an old foil hot dog wrapper in one file folder full of old newspaper clippings on hot dogs. Tom Shieber, the curator, was walking past me when it happened and took the wrapper to file elsewhere. I loved that this guy has a job in which he files foil hot dog wrappers from, I don’t know, Shea Stadium in 1978. I’d take those photocopied files home, and if I had any other questions, when I couldn’t be in Cooperstown, a brilliant researcher there named Bill Francis would try to help me answer them. I knew I was on to something when Bill had not been previously aware of some minor fact. He hadn’t realized that Milwaukee had a bring-your-own-beer policy in the ‘50s and ‘60s, or that the urinals at Ebbets Field were a disaster. These discoveries were a small triumph for me, because Bill knows everything.

Q: Is there a story that stands out to you in the book that you enjoyed researching and writing about? Anything that surprised you?

A: There is an interesting, otherwise-lost-to-history story in the book about an eccentric guy named Foulproof Taylor, who invented a protective cup for boxers and later a batting helmet, neither of which boxing or baseball was yet ready for in the 1920s and ‘30s. Foulproof was once famous in New York boxing circles for wearing his cup to gyms and asking fighters—world-famous fighters like Primo Carnera—to punch him in the groin as hard as they could. Most of them happily obliged. Foulproof was once the world champion of sack racing, but he began a slow fade into obscurity in the 1960s. A relative of his—a writer named Diane Taylor–proved a great source in keeping Foulproof’s story alive, and I was happy to tell that story in the book.

Q: What new project is in the works? Any new books?

A: I’m writing a memoir of my ‘70s childhood, specifically my growing up in the ‘70s in—of all places—Bloomington, Minnesota.