Editor Jesse Spector welcomes you to Willets Pen's grand opening; Bill Hanstock puts a bow on L'affaire Football Fantastique; Ryan Kelly chimes in with a Mets connection to an old phone accessory ad
Some Personal News
By Jesse Spector
Pressure makes diamonds.
Sports is full of clichés, and it surprises me this isn’t one we see more. It’s short, it’s reductive, and it’s incomplete. It gives you an immediate image of Derek Jeter, photoshopped as Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, saying, “this is how I win.”
Jeter is baseball’s best example of what Bomani Jones calls the Winner Guy, a top athlete who’s been anointed as having that little extra something. Jones applies this label more to quarterbacks, simultaneously respecting their skill while noting that Winner Guys are seen as having, to use another notably and acknowledged phony term, the clutch gene.
There are no Winner Guys, and there’s no clutch gene, of course. Some athletes do respond better to pressure than others, because that’s human nature, but there’s so much that goes into all of it - Jeter’s field awareness that led to the Flip Play, for instance - that it’s ludicrous to boil someone down to “they’re clutch.” Jeter lost two World Series. Tom Brady has lost three Super Bowls.
It’s generally assumed that this is the goal in sports, to be one of these guys, to reach GOAT level. That does make logical sense, wanting to be the best.
Except, going back to fourth grade, I wanted to be a relief pitcher, and not even necessarily a closer. I wanted to come in to a song and get out of a jam with runners on. When I figured out even that modest dream was well out of reach (also fourth grade), I set my sights on sports media.
And I did it. I spent the last 20 years of my life doing it professionally, from the Daily News, to Sporting News, to Deadspin. I had the privilege of covering five Stanley Cup Finals, four World Series, and even a Super Bowl, plus countless more games and loads of other sports. I broke Brad Richards’ free agent signing with the Rangers in 2011, and as I often note when writers get all in a tizzy about crediting who’s first on transaction news, I guarantee that I’m the only person who remembers that, because it ceased to be important 15 seconds later.
That’s the endpoint, or one of them, for the pressure-forged diamond, Winner Guy sports media track. Bob McKenzie, hockey’s GOAT scoop machine, is the worst possible example of this because he’s also Bobby Margarita, booze baron and longtime cottage season enthusiast.
The standard form of Scoops Guy is the Darren Dreger model, which depending on your favorite sport, you may recognize as Jon Heyman, Adam Schefter, or Adrian Wojnarowski.
There’s also the kind of Top Guy that Garry Howard thought that I could track toward after he brought me on at Sporting News: Stephen A. Smith.
As intriguing as I find some of the similarities between myself and Stephen A., it’s not what I wanted to be. In 2015, after baseball’s winter meetings, I sat through a delay at the Nashville airport and openly pondered this in a Twitter thread that I thought was about my impostor syndrome.
It was, but it was also about other things, like my feeling of being different. On the beat, I stayed in Hiltons, not Marriotts. On that Nashville trip, I did a side quest to Huntsville, Alabama, and did our offseason planning call from the outdoor gallery of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. I relish being different, and am actively seeking out fellow weirdos here to celebrate that there’s really a bit of Mets in everything we love… but being different, even when you love it, can take an emotional toll. (side note, happy pride month, everyone.)
The Nashville thread was also about what I really wanted, because what I couldn’t put into words after 13 years, but I can after 20, is that sportswriting has a lot of Winner Guy archetypes, a lot of possible results for “pressure makes diamonds.” I’m just not interested in being the Hot Take Guy, or the Scoops Guy, or the Beat Guy, or the Website Guy, or any type of Guy.
It’s not just the boredom of doing what feels like the same thing over and over again, season after season, with the main thing changing being the names. It’s the pressure. I said “pressure makes diamonds” is incomplete, and I mean it. What happens once the diamond is already made but the pressure is still there? I’m not sure exactly where the best version of myself as a sportswriter was. I think I had some really good years at a lot of different places. I’d have an interesting back of the bubble gum card, if they made bubble gum cards of journeyman sportswriters.
I left Deadspin at the end of May, partly encouraged by what we’re doing here at Willets Pen, partly because after Kyrie Irving came back to the Nets – for no reason other than that they were desperate for players, and that was enough to break their moral stance on the vaccine and his participation with the team – my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
I always said that if I wasn’t having fun, I’d leave sports media because if you’re not enjoying the job, you might as well find something that pays better to not enjoy. So I did. At least, I left sports media when I walked into the new G/O Media office for the very first time on May 31 and turned in my laptop.
Now, I’m here. I’m also going to be somewhere else, but that’s going to be a real world job where I don’t get angry emails from PatriotChad1488@hotmail.com when I say that the racist thing that some racist did was racist. Maybe I’ll talk about my new job when I start. Maybe not. For the first time, that’s my choice.
And now, on the side, I get to work with a couple of Emmy winners, as today, Bill Hanstock puts a bow on the Joc Pederson/Tommy Pham imbroglio, and WP debutant Ryan Kelly finds a Mets game in a weird 1990s commercial. That makes me the only person writing in today’s newsletter who isn’t an Emmy winner, so the impostor syndrome continues to go just great, thank you.
That’s behind the paywall, but the Willets Pod episode coming later today is free, and we’re having a 69% off sale for our 6/9 grand opening. Have a nice day!
Your subscription won’t just get you full newsletter access, but also bonus podcast episodes – our Pod At The Park series that we teased last week with my trip to Mets-Nationals with Thornton McEnery. Episode two, featuring a seven-run inning by the Yankees against Detroit, comes out tomorrow with comedian Tony Deyo. Your subscriptions also help pay for our upper deck seats and ice cream in a helmet. Upcoming guests include Maggie Wiggin from Amazin’ Avenue, So True host Sophie Ross, and voiceover actor Sarah Sweeney, and we’re going to have a ton of fun at the ballpark.
I had my dream job. I’d rather just have a job, and let this place be the dream. Only, now, it’s real… and getting to do what we’ve already done before erecting this paywall, it’s real, and it’s spectacular.
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