By In Joe Vault

A Sportswriting Christmas Story

The boy sat on a city bus at the end of another semester, Christmas approached, and he stared out the window and watched people talking and smoking in a business park. There were no illusions left. He wasn’t going to become an accountant like his mother had hoped. His accounting professors had made that clear with failing grades. Then, the boy had known the truth for a long time. Even the most basic accounting concepts eluded him. Credits. Debits. He just couldn’t get those clear in his mind. Weren’t debits good and credits bad? But then, why is it good when your account gets credited? And why was debit so close in spelling to debt? Mysteries.

The boy was 18 years old, and he knew only two things about himself. The first thing he knew was that he had no discernible talents. He couldn’t sing, write or draw. He wasn’t strong enough to impress anyone when he worked at the factory, wasn’t glib enough to sell anything to anybody, wasn’t ambitious enough to excel despite his shortcomings. He called himself average and strongly suspected that this was probably optimistic. He wasn’t quite average height, couldn’t see past his nose without glasses and already he was balding.

The second thing the boy knew about himself was that he loved sports.

It wasn’t much to go on.

* * *

The boy owned an electric typewriter. His mother had purchased it for him from a store that was having a one-day going-out-of-business sale. That one day was October 19, 1980 — he would always remember the exact date because it was the day the Cleveland Browns played the Green Bay Packers, and the boy NEVER missed a Cleveland Browns game on television. On this day, the game was not on the television — the game was not sold out — and his mother proclaimed that this would be his one and only chance to ever get a typewriter … The family didn’t have much money, and this was a one-day offer only. After much agonizing, he decided to go to the store with his mother.

The store was packed — apparently other mothers had made similar ultimatums — but they found an electric typewriter in their price range. As they walked to the register, the boy heard whooping in the back. Brian Sipe had completed a last second touchdown pass to Dave Logan to give the Browns a miraculous victory. The boy saw it as a good sign.

Five years later, he walked off the city bus, got a ride to the apartment where the family lived until they could afford their own home. His father worked at the factory. His mother was at community college studying computer programming. He went to his room and crashed on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was 18 years old, and he had run out of ideas. He thought about what he might do, and the only thought that made any sense at all to him was to do something involved in sports. But what? Sportswriter? Sportscaster? Were these even real jobs? He didn’t know anything about these things. He didn’t know anyone who knew anything about these things.

He looked over at his desk — there was his typewriter. He got off his bed, sat at his typewriter, and almost involuntarily began to write letters.

* * *

Letters. The boy didn’t know anyone to send letters to … he only knew OF people. There was a local radio personality he liked listening to in the evenings, a man named Gary Sparber. He seemed a nice man. The boy called the local radio station, WBT, and asked for an address. And then, he wrote Gary Sparber a letter asking if it was possible for a kid with no discernible talents to become a sportswriter or sportscaster.

To the boy’s amazement, Gary Sparber wrote back immediately.

“If you are good at sportscasting or sportswriting but not great at it, in my opinion, there is no point in going into it,” Sparber wrote. “The pay is small. The hours are long. Frankly you will do better as an accountant, much better I would guess. And even if you have the talent to be great, you will likely have to spend a good deal of time living far worse than you would as an accountant paying dues and never be sure if it would pay off.

“Ask yourself two questions: 1. Do you have the talent to make it big? 2. Do you have an intense enough desire to do it that you are willing to sacrifice, maybe for a long period of time, to get what you want?”

These were new questions, ones the boy turned over in his head again and again. He felt quite sure that he lacked the talent. And the desire? Well, that was a harder question. How badly did he want this? How badly did he want anything? On Sparber’s recommendation, he made a tape of himself announcing a game off the television and sent it off. Sparber politely pointed him toward sportswriting.

* * *

The boy’s favorite reading in the world was Bill Mazeroski’s Baseball magazine — it came out every year to preview the upcoming baseball season. The boy would go to the local newsstand (the perhaps grandiosely named “Newsstand International) just about every day of winter to see if Bill Mazeroski Baseball had arrived. In the front of the magazine was an address (way out in Washington State) and the name of an editor — Doug Weese. The boy sat at his typewriter and wrote Mr. Weese a letter asking how he might become a sportswriter.

Once again, the boy was amazed. Mr. Weese wrote back.

“If I were doing it over again,” Mr. Weese wrote the boy, “I think I’d choose a college major that would help broaden my knowledge of WHAT to write about. For example, take the journalism and English classes to develop your writing ability but “major” in business (if I wanted to be a business writer) or education, political science or psychology (depending on what field you were headed). A solid background in history, for example, would come in very handy for any sort of writing, including sports. When it’s evident a sportswriter is literate in more areas than tackles, home runs and three-point plays, he/she offers much more to readers.

“When I’m looking to hire a writer, my first concern is that he/she can write. Where or how they learned is not important. At the same time, college is a great environment to develop those writing skills while still having the opportunity to gain experience by working on a newspaper part-time.”

The boy read this letter again and again, as if trying to commit it all to memory. Did he know enough about history and stuff to offer much as a sportswriter? Well, he HAD memorized the Gettysburg Address. He had done that for a school musical where a particularly ambitious teacher had set the whole thing to music. Four score and seven years ago. Cha cha cha. The boy tried to remember other stuff he had learned.

Could he write? Nobody had told him that he could. Then again, as he thought about it, nobody had ever told him that he couldn’t write. He began to read with a little bit different eye. How did J.D. Salinger do that thing where he had Holden Caufield talking too loudly and then too quietly without actually mentioning how loudly he was talking? How did the local sports columnist, Tom Sorensen, get so many jokes into a column? How did Frank Deford make his sentences read fast and then slow and then fast again, like he was a conductor?

These were things he had never thought about before. He had never paid attention in his English classes. Could he write? He began sitting at his typewriter and trying … silly things, baseball previews about his Cleveland Indians, movie reviews, short stories with obvious twists at the end. Could he write? He didn’t know, but he began to enjoy trying.

* * *

The boy didn’t get many magazines, but he began looking in the front of them to see if there were addresses where he could send a letter. He subscribed to Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News and Cleveland Browns News/Illustrated. He wrote to Ray Yannucci, editor of Browns News/Illustrated.

“It is my suggestion that you enroll yourself in the school of journalism,” Ray wrote back. “To make it big in this business you almost must have a college degree. I would also encourage you to find part-time work at your local papers, or find some free-lance writing assignments. If you go to college, work on the school paper. In summary, get as much practical experience as you can.”

This advice made sense to the boy. He had not thought about writing to the local paper, the Charlotte Observer. He called the paper to get the address and the name of the sports editor. Then he wrote to a man named Frank Barrows. The boy did not realize that Frank Barrows would change his life.

* * *

Before he wrote to Frank Barrows, though, he wrote to Jim Beckett, who was the editor and publisher and guru of Beckett Monthly, a baseball card magazine. Jim Beckett had been on the cutting edge of a growing phenomenon in America — the rising value of baseball cards. For many years, baseball cards had been for children, they had been pieces of cardboard you flipped and traded and put in your bicycle wheel spokes. But those children grew older, and baseball cards were tinged with nostalgia for better days, and people began paying real money to get them again. Jim Beckett began publishing an annual price guide which became the bible for card dealers and collectors. And then, the prices would fluctuate enough that he began updating them every month in his magazine.

The boy somewhat obsessively collected cards — he had particular interest in his Cory Snyder rookie cards — and so he had a couple of Beckett Monthly magazines in his room. He found the address in the front and sent off a letter. Incredibly, Jim Beckett himself wrote back to say that the boy was welcome to submit a baseball article and, if accepted, the magazine would pay three cents a word.

The boy raced to his typewriter — this was his big moment. But what to write? He didn’t know. What kind of baseball story would interest a baseball card magazine? And then, it hit him. Baseball cards go up in value when the player is elected to the Hall of Fame. The boy decided to write an article about which players would go to the Hall of Fame. He decided to start with the American League because he knew it better.

He had no idea how to write such a story. He went through his baseball cards and looked at the numbers on the back. And then, he began to write:

“It is the ultimate dream of every ballplayer,” he wrote. “It’s baseball’s highest compliment. To be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame means a spot in baseball history, next to Ruth, Cobb, Williams and Aaron.”

The rest of the story was, if anything, more cliched. The boy sent off 1,231 words. A few weeks later, he received a check for $36.93. He also received a request for him to write the same kind of story for National League players. Not long after that, he received the magazine with Dwight Gooden on the cover. He opened the cover and saw his name among the staff writers. There was a note written below from Jim Beckett: “Thanks for your article.”

The boy’s astonishment could not be reduced to words.

* * *

Frank Barrows had been one of the best sportswriters in the country particularly when it came to college basketball. He wrote a famous story about Dean Smith in the late 1970s, one that concluded Smith was brilliant at building a program but perhaps was not suited to making the most of his great talent at tournament time. Dean Smith’s teams had been to numerous Final Fours, but they did not win the big one. The story struck a nerve with Dean Smith, so much so that when North Carolina finally won the championship in 1982 (with the freshman Michael Jordan), Smith called out Frank’s story in his postgame press conference.

“A bright writer in Charlotte once said the reason I hadn’t won a national championship was because of my system,” Smith said. “Now I can finally say that’s ridiculous.”

Writing, though, was hard for Frank Barrows. Each article he wrote felt like a war. He later would tell the boy — in one of their many thought-provoking lunches — that he literally had to tie himself to a chair, using real rope, just so that he would stay seated and keep writing. Barrows felt like he was losing his war with writing and in the early 1980s he became an editor and then the Charlotte Observer’s sports editor.

He wrote back to the boy: “I can tell you there are lots of opportunities in sports journalism — newspaper circulation is growing — and what it takes to succeed in this field is a willingness to work with great intensity. … By that I mean 12-hour days some of the time and 50-hour weeks pretty regularly. It is not a 9-to-5 job, and it is not a Monday-through-Friday job. It involves night and weekend work on a fairly consistent basis.

“The only way to tell if you have the ability is to try your hand at the work. Because we are frequently in need of stringers — people who occasionally cover a sports event for us for, say, $35 — we can give you an opportunity to see how you might do. If you will contact assistant sports editor David Scott, he will talk with you about taking on a game assignment.”

At the time, the boy worked in the photo department at a department store. He was getting $4 an hour. He sat in a tiny room and called people through the evening to ask when they would like to schedule a photo shoot so that they could get their free 5 x 7 portrait. This was a miserable job, but it was better than the factory job. He’d also worked for a mortgage company; the job was to call delinquent customers and try to set up payment. The photo studio job was better than that one too.

Thirty-five dollars to write a sports story sounded like the greatest deal in the world.

* * *

David Scott sent the boy to West Mecklenburg to write about a girls basketball game between West Meck and West Charlotte. Scott asked the boy for six to eight grafs. The boy had no idea that “grafs” meant “paragraphs,” — he thought the newspaper expected actual graphs about the game, and this panicked him for much too long. When that “Three’s Company” misunderstanding was finally quelled, the boy went to the game and scribbled his first live sports story on a yellow legal pad. He called in his dictation:

“It took a few quick steals, some timely free throws and two overtimes to give West Charlotte a 57-44 victory over West Mecklenburg in girls Tri-County action Friday.

“The game was close throughout. The Indians jumped to an 8-2 lead and were up 12-8 at the end of the first quarter. But they were then bothered by the West Charlotte press.

“We are a better team when we are pressing and running,” said West Charlotte coach Gayle Fox. “We slowed it up a little to stay away from turnovers, but we really like to run with the ball and the press helped us.”

The next morning, the boy woke up at 5 a.m. and waited outside for the newspaper. He danced around when he saw his story. He was an actual sportswriter. He called Frank Barrows to thank him, and Barrows said that he had done well for a first-timer and that if interested, the paper could send him to another game. The boy was so absurdly thrilled that he spluttered yes, and began calling poor David Scott every single day to ask for an assignment. Before that, he called the photo studio and quit.

* * *

The boy’s college did not offer a journalism major, but it did have a newspaper, a weekly tabloid called ‘The 49er Times.” He had never been the type of person to try out for things, but something about the letters he kept receiving animated him. He went to the office and met the new student media advisor, a brilliant man named Wayne Maikranz, who had just received his master’s degree from Ball State. Wayne explained that there just might just be an opening for sports editor. He did not explain that nobody else at the entire school wanted the job.

The two would sit in Maikranz’s office for hours and just talk about writing. The boy made plenty of dreadful mistakes. He misspelled some names. He pasted his copy in crooked and cropped his photos way too tight. And he took cheap shots, silly and mean college things. One of those cheap shots was at the pep band, which led to him receiving his first critical letter (“I hope you get hit by a bus”). Wayne Maikranz said there were two lessons. One was that every person you write about is a real person with real feelings, and it’s the writer who must decide how to handle that information. “You can take cheap shots if you want — a lot of writers do,” he said. “But you have to ask yourself: Is that who you are? Is that the kind of writer you want to become?”

The second lesson, he said, was that sportswriters will always have readers who hope they get hit by busses.

* * *

All the while, the boy kept writing letters to strangers and kept getting letters back.

“The key to this business,” the Washington Post sports editor George Solomon wrote, “is getting the opportunity to write and edit and making the most of one’s opportunities.”

“There is no great secret to impart,” the Boston Globe’s sports editor Vince Doria wrote. “Write as much as you can. Seek out summer internships. Meet as many people in the business as you can.”

“I think the best advice I could offer is that you stand fast by your aspiration to be a writer,” wrote Thom Greer, sports editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Read as much about as many things by as many good writers as you can consume.”

“Keep up the hard work,” wrote NBC’s Bob Costas. “We share some of the same perspectives on baseball. Just keep writing from the heart.”

Jane Bachman Wulf, Chief of Reporters at Sports Illustrated — the mountaintop of sportswriting — sent the boy a long letter filled with practical advice. “Get some experience writing,” she wrote. “Look into summer internships. Develop your reportorial skills. Gain a facility with the language and an understanding of what writing is all about.”

The boy began to learn about different writers styles. He was particularly fond of the Boston Globe’s Leigh Montville and wrote a letter admitting that he tried to copy Montville’s style. Montville wrote back: “Everybody copies the style of writers they admire,” he wrote. “You keep doing that, copying the people you like, until one day, like a rose emerging from the snow, you find that you have your own voice.”

The assignments at the Charlotte Observer grew bigger. He covered his first tennis tournament. He covered his first swimming meet. He covered his first ACC football game. The paper hired him to work in a bureau in Rock Hill, S.C. Frank Barrows sent him letters with small pieces of advice. The new sports editor, Gary Schwab, sent him a note encouraging him to trust what he saw. Foster Davis, a genius of a writing coach, sent him a typewritten note that simply said: “Make people see.”

When the boy was 24 years old, a wonderful old Chicago newspaperman named Dennis Sodomka hired him to write a sports column for The Augusta Chronicle. “Write from your heart,” Sodomka wrote him.

* * *

On Christmas Eve this year, the man walked into the attic in search of something. The man did not go into the attic much, not since he stepped in the wrong spot and pushed his foot through his bedroom ceiling. This attic, unlike most attics, was immaculately organized because the man’s wife is that sort of person. While looking for something else, the man came across three boxes, each roughly the size of Victorian bathtubs. Each box was labeled: Letters. The man came from the last generation of sportswriters who received real letters.

He opened up the first and, without realizing it at first, began reading through the last 30 years of his life. There were words on cards and gorgeous stationary and half-ripped scraps of paper. There were letters written in pencil, in pen, in pink in, in crayon — letters typed, some immaculately typed by secretaries, some by people whose typewriters clearly had a broken caps lock. There was a 12-page handwritten letter — back and front — from a man in jail who wanted a sportswriter to know that he was turning his life around.

There were some treasures — a five-page handwritten note from AFL Founder Lamar Hunt, a marvelously tidy letter from Vin Scully, several beautiful notes from NFL Films’ Steve Sabol, a gorgeous and heartbreaking letter from Dallas Green, a card from a future pro bowler Terence Newman signed “From your biggest fan.” He found a Dale Murphy autograph from when he was a boy, and he found a letter from NFL defensive coaching legend Gunther Cunningham after the birth of his first daughter.

“Enjoy the game,” Cunningham had written, “and remember the scoreboard is for the fans.”

And there were some angry letters, some “Hope you get hit by a bus letters” — but not as many as you might expect. Mostly they were just kind letters from kind people, letters of encouragement, letters of curiosity, letters of helpful advice. English teachers. Truck drivers. Retirees. Kids.

And then, the man came upon a folder labeled: “Advice.” He opened it up … and there were all these letters from all these people, Doug Weese and George Solomon and Frank Barrows and Jane Bachman Wulf, Leigh Montville and Dave Kindred and Vince Doria and Gary Sparber, people who didn’t know him, people who had more important things to do. They saved him, those people did.

The man was crying a little when he came to the last letter. It was written much later than the others — 15 years later, after the boy had grown up to become a real live sportswriter. It was written not by a writer or editor but by a groundskeeper, George Toma, who at age 85 still prepares the field for the Super Bowl every year. The man was not sure why his wife had filed this under “advice,” but then he read this part:

“At age 72,” Toma wrote, “I’m still an underdog. That’s what I love about you. You’ve always been for the underdog. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you think you’re an underdog too.”

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44 Responses to A Sportswriting Christmas Story

  1. Brian says:

    Joe, you’re the best. Always a joy and a pleasure to read anything and everything you write.

  2. James says:

    Thanks so much, Joe, you bring joy into our lives. Blessings.

  3. Karyn says:

    Merry Christmas, Joe.

  4. Daniel says:

    Those towering folks you wrote to as a kid? That’s who you are to so many of us now. I’ve never written you, that feels like an oversight on my part.

  5. That’s it! After reading your words for going on 20 years, the wonderful George Toma helped me realize what it is that has always endeared you to me……we both love an underdog. Winning is so much sweeter when it’s a surprise… this OKCtober reminded us. Merry Christmas, Joe!

  6. Scott Knop says:

    Joe, I Look forward to every article you write, used to be the first thing I went to every day in the Kansas City Star. Thanks for working hard.

  7. Paul Hamann says:

    As a 17-year-old in Denver, I wrote to legendary Broncos play-by-play man Bob Martin asking for his advice about the business. He wrote back quickly, and his heartfelt, thoughtful letter (laying out pros and cons and decisions I hadn’t known I had to make) was a key factor in convincing me to try a different path. I’m not in the sportscasting game–I’m an English teacher, and I find that life rewarding and beautiful. When Martin died a few years later, I felt sad I never thanked him for taking the time to write me. But I know the feeling of wonder and gratefulness that someone who seemed so big would take the time to write a high school nobody.

    Merry Christmas, Joe. Thanks for a great read tonight.

  8. BobDD says:

    . . . a discernible talent strikes again 🙂

  9. Jeremy Healey says:

    The legendary T-Bone Burnett tells it this way:

    “Listen, the story of the United States is this: One kid, without anything, walks out of his house, down the road, with nothing but a guitar and conquers the world.”

    Sometimes, that guitar is a typewriter.

  10. Dan says:

    Thank you. This was amazing to read.

  11. Rick grayson says:

    Hope you take the time and read the comments about your work. You write from the heart, you give us emotions that we haven’t felt in a while, you make us feel our youth again. Because of you I will send a letter to the people that ” encouraged” me.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Thank you, Joe. You have done well

  13. Dr. Baseball says:


    You simply are… THE BEST.

    Merry Christmas.

  14. R. James -- James & Son Farms says:

    Thanks Joe.
    The greatest gifts are not measured financially. a wonderful example.

  15. Greg Long says:

    Thank you for writing this, Mr Posnanski. I love how you take ordinary things and distill them into an emotionally powerful package*. This is obviously because you ‘write from the heart’ but it takes a sentimental man to go there. Being of similar age and of a sentimental bent your words resonate with me.

    *It is probably unflattering but that allusion seems very appropriate to me. Just as a moonshiner takes normal substances and with abnormal effort takes them and stretches them and breaks them down and lets them rot a little and through perfect timing and pressure pours out something with a ‘kick’ that burns a little and makes the eyes water… you took an ordinary letter from an old man and filtered through your own experiences gave me something to drink that caused a considerable amount of reflection (and the very weird response of writing in a comments thread…) and a little extra eye water to start the day.

    As a man called to something beyond his capabilities, I appreciate this article immensely. Thank you for being great at what you do and I wish you a wonderful holiday season!


  16. Daniel Thomas says:

    Joe, I always enjoy your stories, whatever the subject matter. Thanks for caring so much about your craft. Merry Christmas.

  17. Mikey says:

    So, who was the kid? I wonder what ever became of him.

    Great reminder to be generous with your time when it comes to young people who have a dream. You never know…..

  18. Mike S. says:

    A marvelous, inspirational story. Perfect for the holiday season.

    The author Alex Haley is reputed to have a photograph in his office of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. “It did’t jump there, it was lifted”

    It’s a reminder that we can’t possibly achieve great heights without the assistance of others.

    You do indeed write from the heart, and your stories always touch me.

    Thank you, and happy holidays!

  19. Robert says:

    This young man grew up, and recently wrote the best article on hockey that ever was, or ever will be. In doing so, he also wrote the best article on the sporting character of my country, Canada, that I have ever read. So, in the names of Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau and the nameless millions he so obviously understands (how I don’t know), I thank him for his perseverance. Without him, the world of sports would be so much porter.

  20. Jim says:

    I guess you are getting closer to writing an autobiography. Nice abstract! You have always left hints and breadcrumbs to let your readers know/understand your life. This story connects everything but your family. May the rest of your life be as wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Frank B. says:

    Another customarily fabulous piece, Joe.

    You reminded me that I owe not just my career, but actually my life, to a stranger to whom I wrote, over 30 years ago, to apply for a job. He had no openings, and no intention of hiring me, but he invited me to meet with him anyway. When we met, he took the time to give me simple, sage information. The most important thing he told me todo was to knock on doors.

    As a result of his advice, one of the doors I knocked on was at the one firm who made me an offer. I met my future (and current wife of 26 years) at the firm, and received the opportunity to move to California with wife and children with that firm (we’ve been here since 1997). Moving to California gave our son the opportunity to participate in an autism program (he was diagnosed right before we moved to California). There’s a lot more, but this is enough to say here.

    The gentleman couldn’t have known that his simple advice would have made such a difference in my life, but it did.

    I never wrote to thank him, and regret that omission to this day. The best I could do was to write to his firm on his passing, and attest to his character and his helpfulness. Now, I try not to miss an opportunity to “pay it forward”.

    It was touching to read about all the people who took the time and care to write back to you. They have the good fortune to see where you are, and know that they had some role in your development, but that really isn’t the point. We may never know what effect we can have on others. But if we take a little time, the way all those sports folks did with you, it can only help. All of your faithful readers surely can attest to that.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  22. Michael Green says:

    When I was eight and wanted to be a baseball broadcaster, I wrote to Vin Scully. He wrote back. It may have been a form letter, but I heard back. The next year, my parents wrote to the Dodgers when we were going to my first game and I met him–still, next to my wedding, the best moment of my life. I gave up on becoming a professional baseball broadcaster (I still do the sames as I watch them, and I know that I’m better than a lot of them, which isn’t saying much). When I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in history, I wrote to 14 scholars of the area I wanted to study, the Civil War. All but one of them wrote back, and I ended up studying with the first one to respond; between us, he and I have won one Pulitzer Prize (and Joe should know I stole that line from Mo Siegel about himself and the great Walter Wellesley Smith). Recently, for the first time, I met with a potential grad student who had written to me.

    The world is indeed a circle. Joe, you are living the life you dreamed of, and you remember where you came from. There really can be no happier outcome or higher compliment.

  23. akw4572 says:

    Incredible read, I love your writings Joe. You took me back to my childhood, we are about the same age, and I used to run to the “convenient” store every day until the Mazeroski preview came out. I loved how he assigned number ratings to different parts of teams, and came up with a total rating. I miss those days, when numbers were simpler, and salaries were smaller. I too had an inspiration for my career, a high school teacher. He retired last year, but I had the pleasure of teaching with him for 18 years by the time he decided his craft was complete. Isn’t it amazing how people taking just a few minutes of their time influences those that just need a few minutes of nudging. Thank goodness for people like those writers who took the time for you, and the teacher who took the time for me. The world is a better place with you as a writer.

  24. Scooter says:

    Thanks for sharing this touching personal story. Beautiful.

  25. Anon says:

    Wow. . . .Posnanski does it again. I don’t know that anything will ever top Katie the Prefect, but that was a great column.

    If I’m reading right, then your 1st published piece was in Beckett’s annual guide sometime in the early 80’s?

  26. A lot of,the advice you got is applicable to most anything. Learn your craft. Pick the brains of those who do it. Don’t be above taking a low position at low pay, work hard and work your way up. Take an internship. When I think of the limited understanding I had when I started, it’s amazing I’ve done as well as I have. I was mainly hired, I’m sure, because I was young and commanded a low salary…. And because I pestered the hiring manager until she hired me. It’s much wiser to really prepare properly for your career in practical and tangible ways. Starting at the bottom affords one the opportunity to make under the radar mistakes, when expectations are low. By the time a higher position is earned, the business is much better understood. Once you have 10-15 years of experience, presuming one uses that time to build a skillset, then you become difficult to replace…. Though thinking of oneself as difficult to replace is unwise. Conceit and complacency are often the downfall of a career.

  27. Kelly says:

    Holy cow, Joe. The number of times I’ve thought I should take the (small amount of) time to comment to one of your wonderful writings, just to tell you it’s the best thing you’ve ever written…well, now I’m finally doing it to tell you this is the best thing you’ve ever written. This is going straight to my son.

  28. Terry Nau says:

    My mom bought me an electric typewriter in 1965 and I spent 40 years as a sports writer. Must be something about electric typewriters and mothers that molds future scribes.

  29. Marshall says:

    Merry Christmas, Joe! Many thanks for all the wonderful blog posts this past year. Having followed the blog for several years, I was familiar with most of what was contained in this post–but this was one of my favorites from you just the same. I’m an accounting professor (although, like you I failed accounting as a freshman–I just did not have enough sense or pluck to try something else), and I get a big kick out of hearing your perspective on accounting, because it is so representative of my students’ struggles with the early concepts.

    I intend to share this blog post with my class this upcoming semester (after the 1st midterm).

    Thanks again for this fantastic piece.

  30. Steve says:

    The willingness of total strangers to help you reminds me of Bill James’ comment on Freddie Patek in the 2nd Historical Abstract; you will quickly forget the small inconvenience you suffered while providing a favor to someone, but they may never forget it.

  31. Danny says:

    I hope you get hit by a bus. Thanks for a great story.

  32. shagster. says:

    It seems that the toughest writing assignments are to write about oneself. Unless you’re Sam Clemens, writing in the first person can be difficult on the reader. Add to the challenge ihe old adage it is hard to be a prophet in your own town. Rooney is one of the few that have pulled it off; he did it by writing what he saw.

    Add yourself to the short list of those that can do it. Nice work. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy holiday to you and family.

    P.S. am pretty sure most who follow this site will pay up annual subscriptions. Pretty sure it’ll tally to more than 3 cents a word.

  33. thoughtclaw says:

    I actually worked with Doug Weese in the mid-’90s, on a chain of twice-weeklies in Kitsap County, Washington. It’s funny to see his name pop up in one of your pieces. I had no idea he had been with a baseball magazine. (I assume that’s the same guy, but of course I don’t know for sure.)

  34. Merry Christmas, Joe. It was a gift I had not been expecting.

  35. Gravilla says:

    Wonderful article Joe, as always.

    You writing on sports is great but your writing about life experiences is at another level. This might be the one I enjoyed the most after “Katie the prefect”

    Thank you !!!

  36. wogggs says:

    Nice job, as always. Happy New Year, Joe.

  37. Darkness On The Edge Of Clown says:

    This story is like finding out that Pedro Martinez wondered if he could actually become a pitcher. How could he not know? How could YOU not know? Imagine if he never tried and people never Martinez utterly dominate opposing batters…imagine if YOU never did this. We would never get Katie The Prefect, The Promise and now this piece. Thank goodness for the typewriter and the advice and for another virtuoso finding their calling…

  38. wordyduke says:

    When I was younger, I read Sydney Harris and Murray Kempton (among many others) and learned to love the well-crafted essay.

    My kid spends way too much time manipulating his computer, but Joe Posnanski is the writer I pick first when I give him links and books, hoping he’ll develop that same love and respect.

  39. Mark Colone says:

    Thank you for that walk down Memory Lane.

  40. Lisa says:

    I thank you for this beautiful piece, and every other beautiful piece you’ve written. It is fortunate for millions of us that you discovered what you could do well, something you enjoy, and get paid for doing it.

    You are the Barry Lamar Bonds of writing. In a league of your own.

  41. Tim says:

    Joe – thanks for all the insightful articles about sports and life over the years, from a fellow “step through the ceiling while in the attic” guy …

  42. Monica Comas says:

    Joe, I’m reading this column late, but I wanted to add my comment to say thank you for this. You are always such a pleasure to read– my husband and I enjoy your work so much. I too hail from Cleveland, grew up watching Brian Sipe, and became a writer. Every day with words is a gift. Thanks for all of yours. Cheers, Monica

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