Follow Ken Davidoff on twitter and you’ll know that he is an even-handed and fair analyst of the game that is friendly to advanced statistics. If you’re lucky enough to be an Optimum Online cable subscriber, you also get his Baseball Insider column for free on Newsday.com. If not, his work (and Alan Hahn’s on the basketball side) are worth the cost of subscription.
Eno Sarris: What’s your background? Where did you grow up and go to school, and what did you study?
Ken Davidoff: I grew up in Edison, NJ, a huge baseball fan and a devout reader of the Newark Star-Ledger. I would read Moss Klein’s coverage of the Yankees, and I wanted to be Moss Klein (their Yankees beat writer, for young ‘uns who don’t know) when I grew up. I knew by age eight that playing Major League Baseball wasn’t going to work out for me.
I attended the University of Michigan, even though that was the one school to which I was accepted (the others were Syracuse, Boston University and George Washington) that didn’t have a strong journalism program. I figured I’d choose the best school and let the chips fall where they may. I joined The Michigan Daily my sophomore year, spent second semester of my junior year at American University and then returned to Michigan for my senior year.
Between real-world experience in Washington (I interned for CBS News and “The McLaughlin Group”) and school experience of covering the Michigan basketball team (Chris Webber’s championship game timeout marked the end of the season I covered – my senior year), I was quite certain that I wanted to pursue journalism, be it sports or otherwise.
Oh, and what did I “study”? LOL. I double-majored in English and Communication. Academics stopped being a priority for me by roughly the start of my junior year. I focused far more on the journalism stuff.
Eno Sarris: So you knew you were ready to report in college, and even before. Were there any other ideas you had about your future that you discarded along the way?
Ken Davidoff: Not seriously, no. When I struggled at the beginning of my career, I started substitute teaching to make a few extra bucks, but three such gigs dissuaded me from seriously contemplating a teaching career.
Eno Sarris: What was it about Moss Klein, and his coverage, that spoke to you? Just that he wrote about your favorite team growing up, or did you find something particularly compelling about the way he wrote?
Ken Davidoff: I guess I enjoyed his intelligence most of all. His mastery of the Yankees, which were indeed my favorite team. And the idea of doing what he did really appealed to me.
Eno Sarris: Have you retained an element of teaching in your writing despite leaving the profession behind?
Ken Davidoff: I enjoy working with younger writers, but I’ve never really thought of that as “teaching.” More a matter of paying it forward.
Eno Sarris: Have you noticed any similarities in covering sports and politics? Is there anything you learned in Washington helping you cover sports today?
Ken Davidoff: I’d say the similarity between the two lies in the roles and rivalries – the loyal oppositions. Democrats vs. Republicans, and players vs. owners. There’s an obvious tension there, and some times people on opposing sides play “roles” – criticizing the other viewpoint – because it’s what they’re supposed to do. And then the two sides go out and have a beer together.
It reminds me of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the sheep dog and fox. They bash each other’s heads in as the fox tries to steal the sheep, except when they take their lunch break together.
Eno Sarris: And, after identifying that you wanted to do what Klein did, has it been as glorious a profession as you once thought? There must be moments where you think – this, this is what I wanted?
Ken Davidoff: Sure, there are moments of frustration and exasperation, and I never would’ve anticipated the industry changes back when I graduated college in 1993. But yeah, I think that overall, it’s pretty darn glorious. Lots of fun.
Eno Sarris: What’s been one of your more memorable moments as a sportswriter?
Ken Davidoff: I think I would go with choosing a series of “moments,” categorizing it as, “Covering George Steinbrenner.” Nothing matched that. The challenge of keeping up with his behind-the-scenes craziness, of trying to get exclusive interviews with him. And then feeling physically ill when one of my competitors had an interview with him that I didn’t. And I write this knowing that I got George Lite, from 1998 until about 2003 when his health started fading. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the ’70s and ’80s.
Eno Sarris: What kind of advice would you have for a young writer looking to cover the next George Steinbrenner or be the next Moss Klein?
Ken Davidoff: My standard advice to people who ask about a career in sports media is, “Don’t do it. Consider the growing field of bankruptcy law.” But since you probably want something more optimistic, I’d say the formula hasn’t changed since I was a young man with plenty of hair and a size 32 waist: Work your ass off, produce plenty of samples (be they clips, podcasts, blog posts, TV hits, radio spots or whatever else) and network like crazy. Get to know everyone, because you never know who can help you.
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