Dodgers' gain is JABO's (and my) loss
I wish Gabe Kapler the very best of luck in his new career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and I hope that someday he’ll forgive me. Let me explain...
Objectivity’s a tricky thing, and most especially in the eye of the beholder. As just about sports announcer who’s ever worked a national game will tell you, he’s likely to receive multitudinous complaints of bias from partisans of ... both teams. Which is just about all you need to know about partisans.
When I first began doing this sort of work, I didn’t worry about objectivity, for the simple reason that I considered myself almost completely objective. Yes, yes ... I know that no human can be completely objective. But I had almost no reason to be anything but objective. While I did still have a rooting interest in my hometown team, anyone who remembers my writings from that time will probably report that I was more critical of that franchise than any other (for the simple reason that I paid more attention to that franchise, which routinely and habitually operated foolishly, as its record during those years suggests).
I had another thing working for my objectivity, back then: I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t really know any other writers, except for my colleagues (whom I wasn’t allowed to question in print, at least not with any vinegar). I didn’t really know anybody in the front offices, either. Yesterday I found some old microcassettes from a spring-training trip in which I actually talked to a bunch of general managers, including Allard Baird, Brian Sabean, Dan O’Dowd, and Billy Beane. Paul Depodesta, then working for the A’s, also talked to me for a good long while. Since then, there have been others, some of whom wouldn’t remember and some of whom would, especially those I’ve tried to keep in touch with.
And I won’t suggest I’ve never rooted for teams because of their employees; as I’ve written before, I have pulled for the Red Sox because of Bill James, and for the A’s because of Beane and Depodesta, and for the Indians because of Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, and probably for a few others here and there. I take some small pleasure when the Mariners are successful because I am personally fond of their people who deal with the media (and also because I have so many friends who are fans).
All that said – and you will believe this or not, based on your predilections and any evidence you might care to gather – I still don’t believe that an occasional rooting interest materially effects what I wrote about teams. Not to mention the fact that all these rooting interests often wind up canceling each other out. When the A’s and the M’s and the Royals and the Indians were fighting for playoff spots two months ago, did I really have a favorite? Not really so much.
Which is all a long way of saying that aside from rooting (usually) for underdogs and teams that wear classy liveries and are run by enlightened souls, I don’t really care much who wins; and that even when I do care, you couldn’t tell from my analysis.
People are different. And this is where I struggle. Frankly, I think it’s where a lot of us struggle, although it’s quite possible that I’m actually in a small minority. I struggle with being objective, both internally and externally, about baseball executives and baseball writers who have acted friendly toward me.
Some years ago, a general manager called me on the phone. I’d written a number of columns about moves he’d made, the great majority of which I considered foolish. I wish I’d been taking notes, because all I remember is the beginning of the conversation. He asked me, “Have I done something to offend you personally?” To which I responded, “Not at all. I just think you’ve made a bunch of lousy moves.”
Where it went from there, I remember very little. Except I think he might have mentioned that his family had read my columns, or might read my columns, and what I’d written seemed like personal attacks.
Which they couldn’t have been, because I didn’t know this guy at all. Had never met him, or seen him, wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a three-man police lineup.
And that’s the way I liked it. I believed that my job, as Lester Bangs tells William Miller in that old movie, was to be honest and merciless.
But I also didn’t want to write exactly the same stories for 30 or 40 years. I could have tried to become a sort of baseball poet, except I probably would have failed miserably. So instead I decided to actually talk to people, at least occasionally. Which I really enjoyed. Except it’s difficult to remain merciless after you’ve sat with someone for an hour and enjoyed his company. Which means, for better or worse, I’ve often shifted from merciless to something more like fairness. Which might be less entertaining, which might mean I’m not doing my job as well as I used to do it. And I suspect I've occasionally fallen short in the fairness department, too, when someone I liked made a movie I really didn't like.
Which brings me back to Gabe Kapler.
Gabe’s intense. Since taking this position last winter, I spent maybe a dozen hours with Gabe, and I don’t think I ever felt completely relaxed. Sure, that’s partly because I’ve been watching him on TV for 15 years or whatever. But it’s also because he fairly crackles with energy, and I’ve never been around anyone else like him. It’s also because Gabe is very up-front about something: When you’re on Gabe’s team, he expects you to work at being a good teammate.
This is probably not uncommon in the sports world. In my experience, it’s exceptionally uncommon in the sports-writing world, if only because at the end of the day, we have to withdraw into our shells and do something that nobody can really help us with. And it’s probably also true that many of us got into this game because we like being alone with our keyboards and our thoughts and can’t you people just leave me alone while I spin my little tales?
Granted, I had to make some adjustments in my last job. But really, everyone there just wanted to be left alone, too; “teamwork” was to be grudgingly accepted, but rarely welcomed. It’s been different here at Just a Bit Outside, and this is largely because Gabe Kapler, from Day 1, made it very clear just how important teamwork would be. And Gabe’s personality is so compelling that you just sort of get swept along with him and it’s suddenly obvious that yes, of course this will be easier if we’re all pulling on the same end of the rope.
Oh, and Gabe’s also a damn good writer. Not for a guy who used to play baseball. Just, period. So we’re all going to miss that, too.
I’ve been blessed with five tremendous jobs in my writing career. It was difficult to leave the four before this one, but each presented new challenges and new opportunities, all of which have been rewarding even while I’ve fallen short of taking full advantage of those opportunities.
The single best thing about this job has been having Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski as teammates.
Now Gabe’s signed with a new team, which presents me with a couple of new challenges: somehow replacing Gabe’s energy on the JABO team -- which I'm pretty sure is impossible -- and somehow remaining objective while writing about whatever Gabe does in baseball. He might manage someday. He might run an entire organization someday. Really, the only thing I can guess about Gabe is that his accomplishments will be limited only by his ambitions. He’s just one of those guys. I’m lucky to have called him a teammate for nine months.