San Diego Padres vs. the Union and the Tribune

Foul territory

Graig Nettles (center): “They want to know what makes me tick, but I don’t want people to know that.”
  • Graig Nettles (center): “They want to know what makes me tick, but I don’t want people to know that.”
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

"Sports writers have tremendous penis envy" says San Diego Padres catcher Terry Kennedy. “They're envious of our position, and they’re envious of our salaries. Every time they write about us, they rip us.” Kennedy, though he is perhaps the most outspoken critic of sports writers on the Padres ball club, is by no means the only one. Eric Show speaks of writers’ “Hollywood tabloid mentality” and their “Rona Barrett-type approach” to baseball reporting.

Steve Garvey with Barry Lorge of the Union. Lorge: "Writers think players hiding out is a cowardly thing.”

Steve Garvey with Barry Lorge of the Union. Lorge: "Writers think players hiding out is a cowardly thing.”

Graig Nettles says, “They want to know what makes me tick, but I don’t want people to know that.” Kevin McReynolds explains the relationship between players and sports reporters very simply: “Dealing with writers is one of those things you gotta live with in this job, even if you don’t like it. Players would just as soon not have writers around.”

Press box. The Padres have just lost to the Houston Astros, 5-3. Up in the press box, the local sports writers pack up their notes and score books and scramble for the elevator, which will take them to the clubhouse.

Press box. The Padres have just lost to the Houston Astros, 5-3. Up in the press box, the local sports writers pack up their notes and score books and scramble for the elevator, which will take them to the clubhouse.

With notable exceptions such as Steve Garvey (“I feel it’s better to communicate to the press than not to, because they are the dominant vehicle for the public”), most Padres players say they do not like talking to reporters.

 The Union's Mark Kreidler with Padres manager Steve Boros. Boros: “We seem to talk about the same things every night.”

The Union's Mark Kreidler with Padres manager Steve Boros. Boros: “We seem to talk about the same things every night.”

They say reporters misquote them, that they print hearsay and innuendo in their endless search for “dirt” (a word several players use), that they criticize unfairly, and that they don’t understand baseball. “Baseball players think sports writers are out to get them,” says Mike Granberry, a Los Angeles Times reporter who used to cover the Padres. “The players think reporters want to get into their private lives and that they want to attack their performance on the field. Reporters are the enemy.”

Rick Gossage (right) accused Joan Kroc of “poisoning the world with her cheeseburgers.”

Rick Gossage (right) accused Joan Kroc of “poisoning the world with her cheeseburgers.”

For eight months and nearly 200 games (including preseason), the baseball writers for the major daily newspapers are almost constantly in contact with the twenty-four members of the Padres team, without whom they couldn’t write their stories. They travel with players, sometimes on the same plane, often together on buses. They stay in the same luxury hotels, eat at the same restaurants, drink in the same bars.

The Tribune's Barry Bloom is probably disliked most for searching out “dirt” on players.

The Tribune's Barry Bloom is probably disliked most for searching out “dirt” on players.

Unlike football writers, who have no time before games and as little as half an hour after games to interview players, baseball writers are accorded nearly unlimited access to the players’ sanctuary, the clubhouse, where they hang out for hours before the game and sometimes hours afterward.

Eric Show says he has been burned by writers who “go to unusual means to demean people.”

Eric Show says he has been burned by writers who “go to unusual means to demean people.”

“That’s the problem between writers and baseball players,” says San Diego Tribune sports writer Barry Bloom. “Writers become part of the fabric of the team, like part of the family. The players see you as part of the team, but you’re not. And then when you write something bad about players, they feel alienated.”

Steve Garvey freely distributes his often insightful, if somewhat sanitized quotations.

Steve Garvey freely distributes his often insightful, if somewhat sanitized quotations.

It’s June 9 at 9:50 p.m., and the Padres have just lost to the Houston Astros, 5-3. Up in the press box, the local sports writers pack up their notes and score books and scramble for the elevator, which will take them to the clubhouse. The game has been over only five minutes, but the local writers are already gathered around manager Steve Boros’s desk — Dennis Wynne of the Daily Californian, Tom Friend of the Times, Bob Slocum of the Tribune, Mark Kreidler of the San Diego Union, Gary Hyvonen of the Blade-Tribune, and John Shea of the Escondido Times-Advocate. The clubhouse is a veritable morgue already, heavy with the odor of defeat. A couple of players are at their lockers, but most are either in the showers or the training room. None of them wants to talk to reporters. What is there to say? The team has lost eight of its last eleven games. They’re five and a half games behind league-leading Houston, and the club now seems spiritless enough to play itself permanently out of contention. Some players, notably tonight’s losing pitcher Eric Show, who gave up three solo home runs, showered early and slipped out immediately after the last pitch was thrown.

Steve Boros hangs his head at his desk. “We seem to talk about the same things every night,” says Boros. “It’s a puzzle.” Boros tries to ease the pain of losing by burying himself in detail, telling the reporters the exact position of the pitches Show threw when he gave up the homers. The interview with Boros is short tonight, and the writers step into the adjacent locker room. They need a few quotations to help write this funeral dirge. Kreidler scans the locker room, hoping to gather some material for his 11:00 p.m. deadline at the Union. “It’s nights like this when you wish you didn’t have to come down here and start asking questions,” he says. “It’s so much easier when they win.” Terry Kennedy is the only player around who was actually in the game, so one reporter approaches him and asks a question. Within seconds Kennedy is surrounded by writers, all scribbling eagerly in their notebooks, hungry for a few quotations. Kennedy delivers: “It’s depressing,” he says. “We just have to keep plugging away. You can’t point the finger at any one person.” Not great stuff, but usable. After a few minutes, Kennedy’s had enough of the reporters and says, “What’s going on? Am I the only one who’ll talk to you guys tonight?”

The next evening, standing down on the field about two hours before the game, I meet Barry Bloom, the Tribune writer who has been a splinter in the Padres’ fanny ever since he started covering the team in 1983. Bloom’s primary foe over the years had been former manager Dick Williams, who once banned him from his postgame press conferences and thus severely impaired Bloom’s ability to cover the team. Bloom offers an excellent example of how a writer’s personality and writing style can cause tremendous problems. Mention his name to Padres players and you get a variety of reactions, mostly hostile. “If I’m talking to some writers and Bloom comes up to listen — end of conversation,’’ says pitcher Rich Gossage. “His name rhymes with gloom,’’ says third baseman Graig Nettles. “His whole life is spent looking for negative things. That must be a depressing life. He kicks people when they’re down. He’s always sniping at people. He’s not a well-liked person around here.”

Last season, when Terry Kennedy was struggling to recover from his poor performance during the 1984 pennant year. Bloom wrote that the twenty-nine-year-old Kennedy was “in the twilight of his career as a catcher.” Bloom took a similar shot at Nettles just last month. In his weekly “NL Baseball” column on June 10, Bloom included a subhead that read, “Nettles Finished?” In it he wrote, “Nettles should not be disgruntled by the Padres’ plans (not to hire him back next year]. He had a nice three-year ride in San Diego after George Steinbrenner finally decided Nettles no longer fit in with the Yankees. And where else can you make that kind of money and still play a kid’s game?”

Though Bloom has angered many Padres for expressing his unwelcome opinions about their playing abilities, he is probably disliked most for searching out “dirt” on players. During spring training in 1985, former Padres pinch hitter and utility man Kurt Bevacqua blew a tire and spun his Corvette off the road while driving between Phoenix and Yuma. Though the police report said Bevacqua was driving about sixty-five miles per hour. Bloom had information from two sources that he may have been going as fast as 110. He printed that the car was going ninety. Bevacqua was furious. Later in the season, when Eric Show broke his toe. Bloom snooped around the clubhouse and found a source who told him Show had injured himself when he angrily kicked a bat rack. Show, who refused to answer any questions about the incident, was upset with Bloom for writing the story, which he says, “wasn’t totally wrong, but wasn’t totally right either. It was written based on hearsay.” I told Bloom that Show thought it was inappropriate to print that story, given that it was a personal matter. “Why did you write about it?” I asked Bloom. He thought a moment: “That’s simple. I wrote it because it [the broken toe] kept him from pitching.”

Like most newspaper reporters, sports writers generally know far more about their subjects than they actually print. Bloom thinks of his subject matter as “an iceberg. You can go just below the surface, but you don’t go too deep.” For example, the writers know that some players cheat on their wives during road trips, that some of them stay up too late drinking in bars, and that some have personal prejudices and unusual off-the-field activities that would make for controversial headlines. But they don't write these things. “I believe the players are entitled to a certain amount of privacy,” says Bloom’s editor, Tom Cushman. “In general, if a player’s activities don’t affect his performance on the field, I won’t report them.”

During the 1984 season. Bloom came to his editor with a story about a confrontation between Padres outfielder Carmelo Martinez and manager Dick Williams in a Houston bar. From eyewitness accounts, Williams, who had been drinking, became abusive with Martinez and provoked him. Cushman saw no reason not to print that story. It reminded him of an incident that occurred during the late 1970s in which a Philadelphia player got drunk in a bar and took a swing at a bartender. That story ran the following day in the Philadelphia Daily News. It reminded him of the time two Philadelphia players destroyed a room in Houston’s Marriott Hotel during the late 1960s. Cushman says there was a Philadelphia reporter who knew about the incident when it happened, but he declined to run the story. “I would have reported something like that,” says Cushman.

As sports editor of an afternoon newspaper, Cushman’s job is significantly different from that of his competitors at the Union and the Los Angeles Tunes. If Barry Bloom’s articles seem to neglect the mere factual reporting of the game and scrape the muck beneath the surface of San Diego baseball, it is at least in part because the demands of his job differ from those of Mark Kreidler and Tom Friend. Both of these writers have deadlines within an hour after the game ends, and they write most of their stories as the game is being played. Understandably, their articles tend to cover the details of the game with a minimum of analysis, which is what the players prefer. At the Tribune, Bloom has a deadline of 8:30 the following morning. Though he usually files his story before 1:00 a.m. anyway, he has a few hours to reflect upon the game and provide more in-depth commentary. According to Cushman, a more critical approach is not only more feasible for an afternoon paper, but necessary. “By the time a p.m. paper comes out, the game is already eighteen hours old,” he says. “The a.m. papers have already told the story of the game. A p.m. paper has to have something more if it’s going to sell.”

Barry Bloom, at age thirty-four, is a rather portly fellow, quite obviously not much of a jock. Players often comment sarcastically about his physique. When I asked Graig Nettles about Bloom’s writing, he said, ‘‘It’s criticism from someone who doesn’t know anything about the sport. You take one look at him and you can see he’s never played in his life.” Actually, Bloom played third base as a boy back in his native Bronx, and Nettles was his hero. “I know perfectly well that the worst player on the field is a thousand times better than I am,” says Bloom. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t write about baseball. Some of the best managers weren’t good players. And neither were some of the best announcers.”

When I asked Kevin McReynolds if he thought reporters wrote things that have nothing to do with the play-by-play, his eyes widened and he said, “All the time! Writers are looking for a hot story, and it’s usually not at the writer’s expense. Athletes have egos like everyone else. You say or do something wrong, and you don’t want to see it in print.” There’s no question that writers are waiting in the wings for ballplayers to make a gaffe, be it on the field or off. Carmelo Martinez was once asked by a reporter about his problems in the outfield, and he replied, “Well, I only have trouble with flies.” That comment went out over the wire services and eventually ended up in Sports Illustrated. A few years ago Tim Flannery told reporters during a road trip on the East Coast that he and his wife had packed a picnic and gone to a beach on the Atlantic shore to “watch the sunset.” No writer could resist that one.

Earlier this year, Barry Bloom picked up a sparkler of a gem when the Padres were in Chicago. Padres coach Jack Krol told Bloom that while riding down Lakeshore Drive in the team bus, rookie John Kruk asked somebody, “What ocean is that?” Bloom asked Kruk about it during batting practice when the team arrived in Montreal, but the young outfielder denied having said it. Bloom spotted Krol and said, “Come here, John, let’s go ask Krol.” Kruk reluctantly followed Bloom. “Jack, you heard him say it, right?” Krol admitted that he had, and Kruk walked away.

“Barry, you’re not going to print that, are you?” said Krol.

“Yeah, sure I am, it’s great,” Bloom replied.

“You’re not going to print that he’s Polish, are you?”

“Jack,” replied Bloom, “I don’t have to.”

The area around the batting cage before the game is the hub of the baseball writer’s life. This is where players and coaches are most relaxed, where conversation flows freely, and where baseball’s rich anecdotal tradition is preserved. Barry Bloom and I are standing behind the cage, and all around us are sports writers, both local and visiting, chatting casually with players, coaches, and managers. Photographers are snapping pictures endlessly. I ask Bloom if he believes that players really don’t want to deal with writers. “That’s bull,” he says. “They want publicity just like everyone else. Kennedy is the first one to say he has no use for reporters, but if you go down to the clubhouse after the game, he’s standing there at his locker when he’s done something good, and he wants coverage for it. Baseball players are hams. They like the attention. They like to get their names in the paper.” Bloom offers another reason why players need reporters. “The Baseball Writers Association of America picks Hall of Famers, the MVP, and the Cy Young Award winner,” he says. “The written press has a lot of power. The more stories they write about players, not necessarily all glowing, the better. Stories get the player’s name on the All-Star ballot and get the player votes.”

Several local reporters pointed out how surprising it is that so few players know how to use the press for their own benefit, though Steve Garvey is usually mentioned as an example of a player who has mastered media relations. Relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage is good, though his style is antithetical to Garvey’s. Whereas the ever-genteel Garvey freely distributes his often insightful, if somewhat sanitized quotations, the Goose is as rough as a junkyard dog, and his quotes are often too raunchy to print. But the reporters love him for his histrionics. Take, for example, what happened last April 28, when, during a post-game press conference with Steve Boros, the new Padres manager explained that perhaps Gossage had pitched poorly because his arm was tired. Dennis Wynne of the Daily Californian left Boros’s office and told Gossage what the manager had said. The Goose was in a bad enough mood when that question was asked. He’d been the losing pitcher in the game, and just a moment before he’d chewed out Barry Bloom for trying to eavesdrop on an interview. Gossage had told Bloom, “I don’t know why you're here. I’m not talking to you.” And now this punk reporter tells him Boros is going around spreading slander about his million-dollar hurler. “Boros said that?” he asked with a growl. He looked over the half-dozen reporters standing around him, all speechless in the face of the Goose’s incipient wrath. “Come on,” he said, leading a train of goslings through Boros’s office and into his private bathroom, where the manager was taking a shower. Gossage then delivered an eminently quotable philippic full of harsh invectives — all on the record, of course — hounding his boss for being so presumptuous as to make excuses for him. “I’ll tell people when I'm tired, and that includes you!”

Gossage had a point to make just a month ago, when club president Ballard Smith announced that beer would be banned from the locker room after games. Instead of going straight to the front office with his disapproval, Gossage chose to take his shots in the press. Granted, management couldn’t have picked a worse time to break news of the ban. The team had returned to San Diego at 3:30 a.m. on June 4, after a frustrating road trip during which they lost six of nine games. When the players arrived at the stadium later the same day between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., there it was — the memo stating they could no longer drink beer in the locker room. Most of the local writers agree that Gossage’s tirade against Padres owner Joan Kroc and club president Ballard Smith was coolly calculated. With the exception of Steve Garvey, whose personality is somewhat less explosive than his bat, Gossage is probably the Padre who has the least to lose by shooting his mouth off. He has, after all, a multimillion-dollar guaranteed contract. Gossage has been in the majors a long time, and he's spent several years in New York, a den where carnivorous reporters, all competing fiercely for the hottest copy, eat ballplayers for breakfast. The Goose knows what he’s doing with the press, and his tirade was a work of art, complete with splendidly carved verbal morsels that seemed to slip off his tongue right onto the sports page. He called Ballard Smith and Joan Kroc “spineless” and “worthless” people.

“It’s a shame,” he said, “their lives are so boring they have to go around running other people’s lives.” And then there was the real gem. He accused Joan Kroc of “poisoning the world with her cheeseburgers.” The writers were taking notes so fast their hands hurt. They couldn’t believe it. Ballplayers, when you can get them to say anything at all, usually spit out a couple of pages of sentence fragments from which you can only hope to glean a coherent bromide or two. But here was the Goose giving away Cadillac quotations that you could drive right off the lot. “He was saying all this stuff on the record!” says Gary Hyvonen of the Oceanside Blade-Tribune. “We were all wondering, ‘What’s he on, anyway?’ ” Just when Hyvonen thought he had enough copy and turned to leave the locker room, the Goose came after him. “He followed me out the door,” Hyvonen says. “He wouldn’t let me leave. He wanted to give me more

Most sports writers will tell you that of all the sports beats, baseball is the toughest. The grind of the long season. The exceptionally close contact with players. The tight deadlines, particularly for West Coast night games. The fact that baseball players are generally more difficult to deal with than football players, basketball players, boxers, and other athletes. “I find them to be the most arrogant as a group,” says Tom Cushman, of the Tribune. “I’ve been around long enough to watch the relationship between writers and players deteriorate. I’ve found that the egos and difficulty in dealing with people went up in direct proportion to [players’] salaries.” Los Angeles Times sports editor Dave Distel concurs: “The adversarial relationship between players and writers didn’t exist when I covered the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960s,” he says. “Players had a better feel for what writers were doing. They’d go at each other occasionally, of course, but it wasn’t a day-to-day thing like it is now.”

There are varying theories why baseball players are harder to talk to than other athletes. A number of local writers suggested that because basketball and football players have all been to college, they have more cultural breadth and are intellectually closer to writers. Though many of today’s baseball players have played college baseball, most still go directly from high school into a professional team's farm system. Another explanation is the length of the season. “It goes on for 162 games, and it seems like every time the players look up, it’s ‘Here come the writers,’ ” says Distel. Cushman suggests that of the major sports, baseball is the one in which individual responsibility is most clearly defined. “Baseball is a very individual game,” he says. “A lot of mistakes in a football game can be hidden. If a corner-back gets beaten, it could be because someone else in the zone missed his assignment. But if the right fielder drops a fly ball, he dropped a fly ball. The heroes and goats seem to be much easier to identify in baseball.”

It doesn’t take a professional ballplayer long to figure out that he’s got something the writers need desperately — quotations. After a player flubs a ground ball, hits a homer, gets bombs on the mound, or pitches a shutout, the writers want commentary, something to fill that white space in tomorrow's paper. According to Distel, this wasn’t always so. “Back in the old days, in the Twenties and Thirties, writers wrote their stories without talking to players,” he says. “Television changed that. Now that people could see what happened, the writer had to explain why it happened.”

Certain Padres players understand the reporters’ jobs and are always willing to help out when nobody’s talking. Tony Gwynn always has a quote at the ready. So does Tim Flannery. Steve Garvey is almost too good to be true. “He knows exactly what you’re looking for,” says Gary Hyvonen of the Blade-Tribune. “Once in a while, he comes up with a really good one and he’ll say, ‘That was a good quote, wasn’t it?’ ” Other players, such as rookie Bip Roberts, who came to the majors straight from the middle minor leagues and had never dealt with reporters, have trouble handling the pressure. “I don’t like it,” says Roberts. “I’m just trying to get my feet wet. There’s not much a rookie can say.” During spring training, the local media portrayed the young second baseman as the next Alan Wiggins, which, according to Flannery, “nearly killed him.” Roberts nonetheless talks to reporters, though more cautiously than before.

Occasionally, Padres players will pull the old “hide out in the trainer’s room” trick. Gossage resorted to it one night and kept several reporters waiting in the clubhouse until midnight, when they finally gave up and left. Mark Thurmond shacked up in the trainer’s room after pitching a shutout last month. It was his best performance of the season, and reporters had a zillion questions for him, but he wouldn’t come out. “If something about their performance begs some comment, writers think [hiding out] is a cowardly thing,” says Barry Lorge, sports editor at the Union. “If players do that, the writers have to write what they saw, and if there are extenuating circumstances that the player felt he could have explained, then he’s going to have to live with the consequences.”

Gossage heard the sounds of his own silence this year in spring training when Bloom was researching an article about the Padres’ bullpen. When Bloom and reporter Tom Friend of the Times approached the Goose, who was talking to an out-of-town reporter, they received a tongue-lashing. “Get out of here!” Gossage ordered. Bloom was angry, especially since Eric Show had been refusing interviews with reporters. Bloom went to the press box, where several other reporters heard him say something like, “They can’t do this to us.” In his next story. Bloom wrote an article critical of Gossage, suggesting that he had “lost a yard” on his fast ball. A few days later, he criticized the players for refusing to speak to the press. “I thought it was a good time to nip that one in the bud,” Bloom said in a recent interview. “We’re the mouthpiece of the players. If the players aren’t talking to us, they’re not talking to the fans. The players make big salaries because of fans who pay inflated ticket prices and who buy the products that advertisers sell. I think players owe it to the fans to talk to us.”

To some, however. Bloom’s articles looked like retaliation. Even his own editor “upbraided” him. “I didn’t approve of that,” says Tom Cushman. “I said I didn’t want a story built around a reporter’s difficulty in doing his job.” Bloom denies he wrote the “lost a yard” story to get back at Gossage. He says he intended to write the same thing anyway and that he wanted Gossage’s views on the matter. “I just wanted to know if he would rely more on other pitches as he got older and lost speed on the fast ball,” Bloom says.

Gossage didn’t forget Bloom’s articles. The night in May when the ace reliever stormed into Boros’s shower, Bloom had obediently heeded his request not to eavesdrop on an interview with him. But Bloom had stayed in the locker room, and when Gossage led his troupe of reporters into Boros’s shower, Bloom followed. On the way out, Gossage saw him and screamed, “Get the fuck out or I’ll throw you out!” Bloom recalls that “Gossage pointed to my chest and said something like, ‘I’d love to see your head squashed against the wall.’ I just stood there and said, ‘Fine, go ahead. I’ll take your house in Tierrasanta. Go ahead.’ ” Gossage wisely let the incident pass. Bloom didn’t take the threats seriously. “Most of what Gossage does is show,” he says.

“He’s not as angry a guy as he makes himself out to be. It’s all part of his persona. I don't dislike Gossage. I like him, actually.’’

Editor Cushman reacted differently when he heard the story. “I wasn’t amused by it at all,” he says. “If Goose wants to tell a guy he doesn’t like him, okay. But talking about squashing a guy’s head, that’s going too far. I wanted to report it to the front office, but Barry just brushed it off. He said it was no big deal.”

Eric Show offers an example of a player who has suffered his ups and downs with sports writers. Most reporters like him because he’s articulate, but on numerous occasions, Show says he has been burned by writers who “go to unusual means to demean people.”

When he talked openly two years ago about his membership in the John Birch Society, it brought him personal grief and caused dissension on the team. He says reporters got it all wrong last September in Cincinnati when Carmelo Martinez became angry at Show for an alleged gesture the pitcher made, supposedly implying Martinez should have caught a ball to left field. Show insists there was no such gesture and the whole thing was media fabrication. “I attempted not to talk to the press for a while, but I always reneged on my promise,” says Show. “They’d say, ‘Come on, Eric, just one quote, just one quote.’ They knew they had a soft [touch], and I always ended up talking to them.” Show doesn’t hide the fact that he has little respect for the intelligence of the average sports writer. He pointed out that a few of the good ones have told him privately, “I want to get out of this business. I want to really write!"

Show, back in his early days with the Padres at the beginning of the 1980s, once pulled a stunt that did little to ingratiate him with reporters. “I had the writers all around me one night,” recalls Show, “and I told them, You know, my father sort of pushed me into baseball. I wanted to be a doctor. But if I ever have a son, I’ll tell him he can be anything he wants to be...except a sports writer.’ And I just walked away. When you do stuff like that, you’re sort of asking for it, aren’t you?”

It’s June 19 and Show has just picked up a win over the Giants, pitching seven innings and giving up two runs on five hits. Show told me earlier that he’s now bringing “a new energy” to his relationship with writers, and that energy is evident tonight. Show decides to have some fun with the reporters. He’s in a good mood when several writers come to interview him at his locker, and you can sense his cavalier attitude. “What happened in the sixth?” asks one reporter. Now, Eric Show knows damn well what had happened in the sixth: he got the first two men out, then walked three straight batters before striking out pinch hitter Harry Spilman. It was a masterful piece of gutsy pitching, and the reporters want a tight, crisp quotation about it. “The sixth?” Show says, looking confused. “Oh. I walked three batters.” The reporters are all thinking, “Wise guy, huh? Of course you walked three batters. What we want to know is what happened!” Show hems and haws for a while, all in a good-natured way, then finally delivers the nugget: “I just bore down and told myself I was going to get that guy [Spilman] out, and I did.” Thank you, Eric.

Another writer asks Show if he felt pain in his elbow. “Yes, I did; it’s my hemo-blah-blah-blah-itis,” says Show, very pleased with himself for having used a multisyllabic word that none of the writers had heard before and that probably took him two days of practice to pronounce. The writers, who have been scribbling madly, stop as abruptly as a race car hitting a brick wall. “Hemo what?” asks one writer, looking at his neighbor’s notes. Isn’t that just like Eric? Always playing games with you. Okay, Mr. Show, one writer says to himself, so you want to play hard ball with us, do you? “Eric,” he says, “could you please spell that for us?” Touche.

Over a beer at Bennigans after a Padres game, I’m talking to Barry Bloom about my interview that day with Terry Kennedy. I pull out my notes and read one of Kennedy’s comments: “I don't read the papers anymore. I only read the Wall Street Journal. No pictures, no innuendo, just the news.”

“That’s such baloney,” says Bloom, laughing. “The players all say they don’t read the papers, but they all do. If they don’t read the papers, how come they always know exactly what we write about them? When we’re on the road, their wives even call them up and read the articles to them over the phone.” If Bloom ever doubted that the baseball players read what he writes, those doubts were dispelled during his first year regularly covering the team. In July of 1983, Bloom’s account of an incident in Pittsburgh sparked what would become a three-year ink war between Bloom and manager Dick Williams, a war that would eventually spill into the Padres locker room. During the second game of a doubleheader. Padres pitcher Ed Whitson got bombed by the Pirates for nine runs in four innings before Williams took him out. Bloom was incensed; he thought Williams had abused Whitson by leaving him on the mound so long. “After the game, I went to Williams and said, ‘Whitson is out there in the locker room with his head down. He’s totally deflated. Do you get off on doing things like that or what?’ Williams went crazy. He screamed at me, ‘I don’t care what they think! Now get out of here!’ ”

Bloom walked over to Whitson’s locker and asked the pitcher what happened. “Everything was fine until Williams came out in the first inning,” Whitson told Bloom. “Please don’t print that, though.” Bloom announced that he had every intention of printing it. “Williams would continually blast his players in the press,” says Bloom, “but no one would go to the players and get their side of the story. Reporters were afraid of Williams.” Bloom decided it was time to give the players a forum. A few days later, he wrote an article in which he let numerous Padres speak their minds. To protect them, Bloom printed all the quotations without attribution. For example, one quotation read, “Of the twenty-five guys on this team, you won’t find one guy who gives a damn about the manager.” The most inflammatory of the comments, however, didn’t appear at all. “Whitson said to me, ‘I hope he dies before we get home,’ but I didn’t use it,” recalls Bloom. “It was the best quote I’ve ever had as a sports writer, and I didn’t use it. The New York Post would have bannered that quote.” Though Bloom censored Whitson’s comment, the article, which probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in cities back East, was ill-received not only by Williams but by the Padres front office. No writer had ever offered the newspaper as a forum for an anonymous shouting match between players and the manager. Padres who have played in other cities will tell you that sports writing in San Diego is extremely mild. Rich Gossage, for example, has had a few problems with writers in San Diego, but he admits that San Diego is bush league compared to New York. “The players don’t know how good they have it here,” he says. Writers who have worked elsewhere agree. “I was in Washington, D.C., before, and it was much different,” says Barry Lorge, who became sports editor at the Union in 1981, the same year his counterpart, Tom Cushman, arrived at the Tribune. “The East Coast media is much more critical, much more weaned on and sustained by the gratuitous insult. When I first came here, I was known as the mad ripper of San Diego,” says Lorge.

“I was astounded by the attitude of the players here because it’s such a friendly media, as opposed to the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Chicago, or New York,” says Barry Bloom, who worked as a free-lance sports writer in San Francisco and Oakland (where he covered Billy Martin’s A's) for years before coming to the Tribune in 1981. “San Diego is in its growing-up stage. It’s a parochial town, and the newspapers reflect the attitude of the community pretty well. The team has only been here eighteen years, and a critical style doesn't just develop out of nowhere.”

In 1983, when Bloom challenged Williams by allowing players to criticize him, he was doing exactly what his editor, Tom Cushman, wanted him to do. Cushman came to San Diego in 1981 from the Philadelphia Daily News, where he’d worked with one of the most acidic sports columnists in the country. Bill Conlin. and where he’d covered the Phillies, whose volatile manager, Dallas Green, caused problems similar to those the Padres’ Dick Williams was known for. “Williams was an intimidator,” says Cushman. “That’s his style with players and writers alike. That’s why I put Bloom on the beat permanently. I knew he wasn't going to back down.”

In August of 1984, the great beanball war in Atlanta resulted in one of the biggest baseball brawls in recent history. Most people blamed Atlanta for starting the whole thing. Braves pitcher Pascual Perez opened the game by promptly hitting leadoff hitter Alan Wiggins with a pitch. In the second inning, Padres pitcher Ed Whitson tried several times to retaliate by hitting Perez. Numerous brush-back pitches by each side later in the game led to two bench-emptying brawls that resulted in several minor injuries and numerous ejections. Bloom's articles in the next few days enraged everyone in the Padres organization. Whereas other sports writers talked of the beanballs as merely part of the game. Bloom expressed his repugnance for what was potentially a violent, even catastrophic, incident, and he blamed the Padres manager. “Williams helped orchestrate the entire debacle. Somebody ... must take the responsibility. And right now, the finger points squarely at Williams.”

Given that Bloom and Williams had been feuding for two seasons, the shot Bloom took at the manager was not so surprising. But Bloom incurred the wrath of the players as well by quoting them in the heat of passion just after the game. Bloom now admits he printed things that should never have been heard outside the locker room. After what most everyone considered a black day for professional baseball, Kurt Bevacqua told Bloom, “I had a great time; that’s the longest I’ve been on the field in a while.” Tim Flannery, Padre nice guy and normally the reporters’ best buddy, came into the locker room after the brawl with his shirt torn and blood flowing from his lip. Bloom was right there with notebook in hand, ready to quote a man whose heart was still on the battlefield. “I had the time of my life out there,” Flannery said. “This is a great team, a great bunch of guys... these guys will stand behind you through anything. They talk about chemistry. This is what I call chemistry.” Bloom added in his article, “No, that’s what you call craziness. And certainly not professionalism. No, it wasn’t baseball. It was a shame.” Flannery appeared on FM B-100 radio a few days later and lambasted Bloom for using the quotations, which made him sound like Atilla the Hun.

But Bloom wasn’t finished. He wrote another article, in which he charged that Williams ordered four of his pitchers to throw at Atlanta players. Bloom stands by that assertion today, insisting it came from a source on the Padres (he won’t say who). Bloom also scolded Padres executives Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon for not punishing Williams’s behavior.

Bloom had attacked both the manager and the front office, as well as betraying the Padres players, whom he referred to as “talented robots, too dumb to disobey an order [to throw at the heads of opposing players] that might cause a riot.” When the team returned to San Diego after the Atlanta series, they held a meeting in which twenty-five players voted twenty-four to one to pitch Barry Bloom a journalistic beanball — the entire team would refuse to talk to him. During the two-week home stand. Bloom stayed back east to cover a golf tournament, but he joined the team in Montreal late in August. The article he wrote about the Padres’ victory in the opening game of the Montreal series struck few readers as strange. Insiders, however, noticed that only two Padres were quoted in the story — Garvey, the one player who voted against the Bloom boycott, and outfielder Bobby Brown, Bloom’s best friend on the team. Bloom approached several players in the locker room that day, but they turned their backs and refused to respond. As luck would have it, Garvey had batted in the winning run, so he was the obvious person to interview anyway. Brown had scored the winning run, and he spoke to Bloom after the game as well. Besides these two players, the entire Padres squad was giving Bloom the silent treatment.

Garvey took Bloom out to dinner in Montreal. He recently recalled telling him, “ ‘You’ve got so many players against you that you’d better temper your reports, let things relax a little.’ I told him he was alienating himself from all the people who allow him to make his living." A couple of days later, Eric Show won a game and talked to Bloom afterward. Bloom tried on several occasions to enter Williams's office, but the manager would shut the door on him. Williams even told the other local writers that his wife was keeping a scrapbook of articles and that he would refuse to talk to any reporter who gave Bloom quotations or other material for his articles. Williams was freezing Bloom out, trying to make his job impossible to perform. "Every time I walked into the clubhouse, I had a knot in my stomach," says Bloom. "It was the worst summer I’ve ever had covering baseball. Every day I’d be wondering, ‘Who’d talk? Who wouldn't?’ Some players like Kennedy, Nettles, and Gossage were pissed about people talking to me. The guys who talked to me took a lot of crap from the other players.”

After the Montreal series, the team traveled to Houston, where the confrontation between Williams and Carmelo Martinez took place. Ironically, Terry Kennedy, who only weeks before had ostracized Bloom, told him to write the story. “He saw me in the locker room and he called me over and said, ‘If you write this story, every player on the team will talk to you.’ ” Kennedy confirms the encounter. “It was a perfect Barry Bloom story,” he says with a mischievous grin. “A barroom scuffle with no blows thrown. I knew he’d write the story. I knew he'd rip the best.” Bloom wrote the article, and the silence was lifted.

Only twenty years ago, a typical baseball player made about the same money as a sports writer. During the mid-1970s, the starting salary for a big-league player was $18,500. Today the average major leaguer makes about $340,000. Goose Gossage earns fifty times more than the writers who come to him for quotations, Terry Kennedy about twenty-five times. “Does it make it any easier because we're making a lot of money?” asks Kennedy. “Writers say we need to get into the real world. Well, this is the real world. We’re out there being critiqued every day and every night. You wonder why players get hardened.” “It amazes me that players don't realize that the more they alienate the media, the less good publicity they’ll get,” says Barry Bloom. “As scurrilous as my reputation is. I'm human, and it's really easy to win me over. Just give me respect for the job I do. If someone is a gentleman, you go out of your way to be nice to them. That’s human nature.” I told Bloom that during a discussion with Kevin McReynolds, the young centerfielder told me Bloom has been “better” this year, that his articles have been less controversial. “Really?” exclaimed Bloom, obviously perplexed. “Hmmm. It must be because Williams isn't around. It’s hard to be critical of (manager] Boros after only two and a half months. You’ve got to give a guy some time. In a lot of ways, it was more fun when Williams was here. He gave you reams and reams of material to work with.”

As the All-Star break approaches, the optimism and good will of spring training are pretty much behind the Padres players and the writers. It's usually toward the end of a long season — when the two “enemy camps,” as one writer put it, are tired of seeing one another — that the writers sharpen their knives and the players respond by becoming increasingly dull, particularly if they’re losing. Goose Gossage recently made a remark that may have been a veiled suggestion how baseball writers could best help the Padres win the pennant this year. “In 1978 when the Yankees won the championship in New York, the papers went on strike,” says the Goose. “While they were striking, we won fourteen games in a row! The clubhouse was very pleasant during that time. I can't help but think that had something to do with it.”

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader