How sportswriting ruined sports for me

Having been a Dodgers fan all my life, you’d think this moment — when the team is the best in baseball and can seemingly do no wrong — would be one of the best of my life.

You’d be wrong.

Despite the fact that I trace my Dodgers roots clear back to the womb — when my mother no doubt jumped up and down when Brooklyn won its only world championship as she was pregnant with me — I can’t completely abandon myself to the sheer joy of this 2017 baseball season.

Why? Because I’ve been a sportswriter. That’s why.

There are many sports fans who think that the ideal job for them would be to become a sports reporter or broadcaster. What better way could there be to be around the team you love?

Actually, nearly any.

Jim at Dodger Stadium press box
Covering Opening Day at Dodger Stadium in 2015. Do I look like I’m having fun?

Objectivity is instilled so deeply into a journalist — yes, even a sports journalist — that the urge to push for any team to win is something that is constantly being crushed to a pulp inside him. The rule is “No Cheering in the Press Box.”

It became such a second-nature thing with me that even when one of my sons played sports in high school, I felt very reluctant to cheer for him lest someone in the stands catch me and wonder about my impartiality. And this at a time when I was only occasionally covering high school sports.

Being a sports reporter, like other kinds of reporting, tends to make you cynical. It happens mostly because you start seeing the unsightly underbelly of sports. On any level, from the big leagues to Little League, purity is a scarce commodity. People who appear nice on the field are bullies in the locker room. Hall of famers can be bums.

You stop taking things at face value. You question things. You become sarcastic.

Hey, and I’m a nice guy. Imagine what happens to guys who aren’t so nice.

So here’s where I am with the Dodgers. I had the opportunity to cover a few Dodgers games over the course of my 33-year career at a relatively small newspaper. If you took all the games I covered in that time, it wouldn’t even make up half a season’s home schedule.

Despite my upbringing as a Dodgers fan, my main thought every time was not to mess up. Since I covered so few games, virtually no one knew me, cared about me or talked to me. There was no one who went out of their way to show me how to get somewhere or to give me tips. Everyone knew more than I did.

No one had to worry about me cheering in the press box. I was just trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything or do something stupid.

When the Dodgers won the games I was covering, I was happy inside, but stone-faced outside. As I got older, I started dreaming about retirement, about the day I could watch a game, in person or on TV, and feel free to completely lose myself in the emotion. I started wishing I could care only about the sports and the teams that I wanted to care about and ignore everything else.

Three months ago this week, I didn’t retire but was laid off. I’m fairly free at this moment to watch any Dodgers game I want to and to get as geeked out about them as my wife can tolerate.

But total abandon hasn’t come. For some reason, I’m still holding back. Even though it seems the Dodgers couldn’t lose if they tried, I can’t completely give myself over to them. It’s not their fault, it’s mine.

I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because this isn’t retirement; I didn’t leave on my own terms. Maybe it’s because the next job I get might also be in sports and I don’t want to forget how to be objective. Maybe I remain cynical because, after listening to the incomparable Vin Scully for so many years, I can’t stand how Orel Hershiser refuses on TV to find any fault in any Dodger.

It may also be because the Dodgers haven’t been to the World Series since they won it in 1988. Sure, the team has been successful, winning, in fact, four consecutive division titles, but the door to the Fall Classic has been locked to them. That can’t help but make a guy cynical.

The Dodgers are on a pace to win 114 games this season. All I can think about is how the two teams holding the all-time record of 116 wins did not win the World Series. The 1906 Chicago Cubs lost the Series to the Chicago White Sox. The 2001 Seattle Mariners didn’t even make it to the World Series, losing in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees.

When you’re a cynical sportswriter, you embrace the worst-case scenario.

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