ESPN has grown from a cable sports news channel to a media conglomerate over the past few decades. They have been able to accomplish this by providing comprehensive analysis in the world of sport through all forms of media- print, online, television, radio, and anything else I may be forgetting. As one of the major sports, baseball is one of the most in demand with ESPN consumers, making expert coverage a must. One of the best baseball analysts/writers ESPN has is Jerry Crasnick, a man who cut his journalist teeth on Pete Rose and Marge Schott, and now brings his years of experience in the game to every piece he works on.
Prior to coming to ESPN Crasnick earned a degree in communications from Boston University, and also worked as a sportswriter for papers such as the Biddeford Journal Tribune and Portland Herald Press in Maine. His profile was raised when he became a beat writer for the Cincinnati Post, covering the news-item-a-day Reds in the late 1980’s. Other writing gigs included the Sporting News, Bloomberg News, and the Denver Post. His run started with ESPN on a part-time basis when he was writing his book, License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent, which was published in 2005. His work received such a positive response that he transitioned to a permanent role with ESPN. He now writes articles for ESPN Insider and participates in regular chats, a popular interactive feature of ESPN.com. He is also a regular presence on Twitter, providing baseball fans with consistently insightful baseball coverage year-round. Despite being in the midst of his busy season, I was recently able to ask Crasnick some questions about his career and time in baseball. To say I am jealous of his ability and career would be an understatement.
Jerry Crasnick Interview:
How did you first become interested in writing?: I’m fortunate because I’ve always felt comfortable with the whole process of writing. English was my favorite subject as a kid, and I always did well in school. I aspired to work for a newspaper upon graduating from college in 1980, and I gravitated to sports writing by accident. I was home in Maine that summer, and I saw an ad that a small local paper — the Biddeford Journal Tribune — was looking for a sportswriter. Steve Buckley, who is now a columnist for the Boston Herald, was the editor. I covered an American Legion baseball game as an informal tryout, and the next thing you know, I was hired. It was definitely a thrill to see my first personal byline. For a brief period, that thrill outweighed my $160 weekly salary.
How did you develop an interest in baseball?: I started following baseball as a third grader in Portland, Maine, in 1966. The Red Sox were terrible that year, and had been bad for quite some time. But then came the 1967 “Impossible Dream” season, and all of New England was captivated. Tony Conigliaro was my favorite player, but one of my neighborhood buddies laid claim to him, so I opted for Plan B and adopted George “Boomer” Scott as my personal favorite. I’ll never forget taking a trip from Portland to Boston with my dad, emerging from the concourse and seeing that enormous green wall in left field at Fenway. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Joe Foy had a big day at my first Red Sox game.
I come from a family of Cleveland Indians fans, oddly enough, so I’ve always been a little conflicted. But I’ve always loved the rhythms of the game, the strategy and the artistry of it. I went to Boston University, and I was fortunate to be at Fenway for Carl Yastrzemski‘s 3,000th hit and the Bucky Dent home run game. Baseball creates lasting memories like no other sport.
How did you come to write for ESPN?: After working for newspapers in Cincinnati and Denver, I took a job in the late 1990s with Bloomberg News. I ultimately found that covering sports business wasn’t for me, so I decided to indulge my creative impulses and try to write a book. I found a literary agent, landed a publisher and wrote “License to Deal,” a book about a young, upstart agent trying to compete in a cutthroat profession. I had a couple of contacts at ESPN, and they hired me on a part-time basis during the 18 months or so that I was working on my book. They gave me another contract after that, and my role at the Web site has gradually evolved in the six or seven years since.
With the decreasing attention span of people, how do you think writing is evolving to keep up?: You see a lot more quick-hitting, topical pieces today than you used to see. At ESPN.com, we also include a video with almost every story now. I’m conscious of trying to keep stories at a reasonable length. But I also do a lot of background research and try to talk to five or six sources for every story I do, so I’m sure I tend to run on longer than I should. My feeling is, if a story is good, readers can make it from start to finish. You just have to give them a compelling reason to keep going.
What was it like covering Pete Rose and Marge Schott in Cincinnati when you were with the Cincinnati Post?: It was very chaotic and exciting. Pete Rose was a blast to cover. Never a dull moment. My first year at the Cincinnati Post, he was suspended 30 games for shoving an umpire. The next year came the whole gambling investigation. During the summer of 1989, Cincinnati was basically the center of the baseball universe.
Marge Schott was a character, for sure, although not the most pleasant person in the world. She used to pound on the elevator door at Riverfront Stadium when it arrived too slowly for her tastes. I once got booted from the media dining room for quoting pitcher Tim Belcher, who had some rather uncomplimentary comments about her St. Bernard. Belcher responded by having pizzas and sandwiches delivered to the press box and tipping his cap. It remains one of my career highlights.
In hindsight, it’s easy for me to muster up sympathy for both Pete and Marge. She wasn’t a happy person, and didn’t appear to have many friends. He made some egregious errors in judgment and has been a baseball pariah for more than 20 years. I wish baseball could find a way to resolve this dispute and welcome Pete back into the fold, but I don’t see that happening as long as Bud Selig is commissioner.
What is one topic you would still like to write about?: I can’t say there’s one particular story that drives me. I’m always on the lookout for good, off-the-track-type ideas. I will say that I’m anxious to see games at Target Field in Minnesota and the new ballpark in Miami, just so I can say I’ve been to every major league park.