Driven to distraction by press box racket

This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

The baseball press box has become more like Harry Nilsson’s 1969 hit “Everybody’s Talkin.” Through the eyes of this very observant Only One, let’s take a look inside the Twins’ press box.

My normal routine when covering a game is to arrive at the ballpark at least two hours before game time. This allows me time to settle into my assigned second-row seat and hopefully get some work done before the noisy crowd — I mean the working media — arrives.

Peter Schelling, Jr. (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Then, more often than not, the press box turns into a coffee shop: “Chatty Cathy” reporters talk endlessly about everything but baseball. Others chuckle at their own unfunny remarks they think are witty comments. Occasionally sportswriters younger than Sid Hartman take naps — no joking during the game like Uncle Joe in Petticoat Junction.

Reporters watch movies or surf the net on laptops. I once sat behind a reporter who was emailing prospective singles on a dating website. One reporter earlier this season set up a “master control center” like Scotty’s on Star Trek — one computer on his left, a smaller one on his right, and a tablet and his phone in the middle.

Some reporters feel compelled to give voice to loud commentary like they are auditioning for the Bob Uecker role in Major League. Still others are constantly up and down getting food and stuffing their faces like they’ve been on a 40-day fast.

The Twins press box isn’t alone — the same things often happen in the smaller St. Paul Saints press box as well. And even though press boxes are majority White, we have also seen some Blacks act in similar fashion.

I thought it was only the Only One who noticed and was disturbed by this. However, last week at a baseball book signing at a South Minneapolis book store we found a kindred soul in Peter Schelling, Jr., who also observed this when he covered the Twins for City Pages.

“One guy was on eBay,” recalled Schelling of a local columnist shopping on his computer. He later told me, “The columnists for the major newspapers in town were getting up getting something to eat and talking away. They were acting like a causal fan would act.”

The freelance writer said these writers act more like “mercenaries” only at games to get paid. “These guys are paid to watch baseball. [They] should pay attention to the game,” said Schelling. He and I share the same conviction that many local writers lack imagination and passion for baseball, and their work often shows this as a result.

Although it is unrealistic that the baseball press box be like a monastery, which would be nice, it shouldn’t be a Laugh-In party either. Perhaps the Twins should erect a “talking” section like those airport smoking rooms for chatty media folks. This would allow those of us who are there to watch games to do so without the unnecessary distractions.

However, I’m daydreaming. These days, being in the baseball press box is a Marvin Gaye experience. It makes you want to holler and put up both hands.

John Donaldson

It’s about time

John Donaldson, who won over 400 games and amassed over 5,000 strikeouts during a 25-year career, mostly in the Negro Leagues, will be inducted Thursday into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

“I have been working on this project daily for the past 17 years,” said Peter Gorton, who is spearheading the induction effort, to the MSR. Donaldson’s importance in the history of Negro Leagues baseball has been long overlooked.”






Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to

4 Comments on “Driven to distraction by press box racket”

  1. Dear Mr. Hallman,

    In this column, you complain about other writers talking a lot during games that you cover, though I am having a hard time understanding where you get the right to criticize those who are on assignment when you rarely turn in articles about those teams that you cover.

    Over the last year, you have done maybe 4-5 articles on the Saints, and maybe 10 on the Twins, while others have done far more articles on both teams. The Lynx are the exception, as you have done quite a few articles about them, and I enjoy reading those.

    My question to you is simple. What gives you the right to complain about others when you almost never write about those teams?

    And a quick rebuttal point, I’m pretty sure that nobody else covering Saints games gets paid to be there. They do it because they love to write, not for the money.

    John Smoltz

    1. Dear Mr. Smoltz: Thank you for your respectful comments and readership. I do want to point out a couple of things to you. By its very nature, baseball is very hard to cover as freshly as one would like as a weekly, which perhaps explains why you don’t see as many columns, stories, etc. on the Twins as we would like. Secondly, I don’t write game stories as a result — if you read my work closely you will find that I regularly cover other issues relating to the team or sport. And lastly, my general point is that the press box is a working one not one that people do other things unrelated to the game itself. I watch for storylines that I can further cultivate into stories to be published, whether it’s the home team or the visitors. The same for the Saints.
      Again thanks for the feedback but I beg to differ with you — as a professional journalist I do have the right to call out conditions not conducive to doing my job, which I do take a great deal of pride in. Please keep reading. Thanks.

      1. Dear Mr. Hallman,

        Thank you for your response.

        You are absolutely right, you do have the right to call out conditions that you find prevent you from doing your job. But I do have one more point that I did not make in my original post.

        Writing about the problem does indeed bring attention to it, bit wouldn’t it be more beneficial to talk to the offenders in person, instead of ranting against them in a column?

        Thank you again for your response, I appreciate when I am able to have a respectful discussion when I disagree with someone on an issue.

        John Smoltz

        1. Dear Mr. Smoltz:  To your point — two things:  1) I have made it known to the unnamed offenders on numerous occasions to no avail, and 2) a columnist’s prerogative is to speak his or her mind, or “ranting” as you called it.  I am no different than any other columnist who uses their platform or print space, whatever to do so, even when it’s “inside baseball” or inside the press box if you may.  Again thank you for your readership even if we probably won’t agree on this subject.  Perhaps I will write a topic that we will find common ground to agree.

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