Sports Matter: Rick Chandler

Rick Chandler talks to us about Deadspin, selling back range balls, and finding an elephant in your parking spot. 

Rick Chandler is the editor at NBC’s Off the Bench blog. He writes about, well, everything strange, dumb, funny, interesting, or other that happens in the sports world. He’s formerly an MLB beat writer and an editor over at Deadspin. And he gave the world this Chris Berman tidbit, which is required reading for anyone who knows what ESPN is.

Follow him Rick on Twitter. Here’s what we talked about.

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Is there a moment from you childhood that stands out as a “Holy crap! Sports are awesome” moment, a moment that hooked you?

Hitting golf balls with a baseball bat. This is totally true. We lived behind a driving range when I was a kid, and golf balls would land in our yard—each morning there would be six or seven of them. I would hit them back over the netting of the driving range, pretending I was the MLB HR leader. I kept track of my homers (balls hit back over the net). Used a wooden bat—the feeling when I sent one 400 or 500 feet over the net was amazing. Then later I learned you could sell the balls back to the range, so I stopped hitting them over for free. That’s when I learned that sports is above all a business, and money always trumps love of the game. Sad, but true.

At the end of the day, sports are just sports. We say they’re supposed to be a diversion, but for a lot of us, they’re more than that—even if you’re not covering sports for a living. Do you agree?

I think I’ve become a bit jaded … I used to be a baseball beat writer (Giants, A’s), and got quite bored with it. I realized this one day when, arriving at the Oakland Coliseum for a day game, I found my parking space occupied by an elephant. This is also true. Ringling Bros. had arrived, and had circus dates at the (adjoining) Coliseum Arena. They needed somewhere to park their elephants, and my spot was expendable. As I sat in my car, looking at the huge, sad beast chained to a truck bumper, I thought of another three-hour game. That’s the day I stopped sitting in the press box. Also I ate a LOT of peanuts.

But I’m still a Giants fan. I got quite excited when they won the WS last year. I got a little misty when they gave Willie Mays a WS ring. However I feel sorry for the people who make sports their entire life. To me, an adult waiting in line one hour for a Pete Rose autograph is no different than an adult in a Boba Fett costume being dropped off by his mom at a Star Wars convention.

With the Internet cutting down barriers, sportswriting has become so much more than just game recaps, trade roundups, rumors, and quotes. There’s just so much more creative, insightful, entertaining, and important stuff being produced each day. Do you agree?

Yes, but you have to find it. So far Google has not invented a search engine that will filter crappy writing. There are some great sites out there, and some not-so-great ones. Many, I’ve found, seem to be Virtual Starbucks—in other words, places where a lot of people gather to chat in the comments section, with no real regard for the content on the site. I could list some examples but I won’t. No, you can’t make me. A cupcake might make me talk.

You’ve been at the head of this, first with Deadspin and now with Off the Bench? Can you talk a little bit about that? Where do you think sportswriting is headed?

If Deadspin is any indication, to Tijuana. Have you been there? You can watch a woman do unspeakable things with a burro for a small cover charge. Also people sleep on the streets drunk. Deadspin has become the thing it once mocked, which is sad. Where once Will Leitch wore green tights, lived in the forest with his merry band and robbed from the rich sites and gave to the poor, now D-spin is just hanging around the castle paying for penis photos. Must I extend this metaphor? Fine. Nick Denton makes Jezebel wear a chastity belt. The good stuff is now spread out … Every Day Should Be Saturday, Sports by Brooks, some of the Yahoo blogs are good (Prep Rally in particular). I really like my neighbor, Hardball Talk. Sportswriting is heading in every conceivable direction. The big difference is that it’s online now instead of on the printed page. The one thing I would say is sellouts like Rick Reilly—people who once mattered who now crank out pablum for the masses—are on the decline. There’s stuff out there for every taste. In short, Vive le iPad.

As a man, what have sports meant to you?

Napoleon: “Do you love me, as a man?” Sonja: “Yes, I think that’s your best bet.”

Sorry. All things to me come down to dialogue from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death.”

Sports was, and is, a way to bond with my male friends as nothing else is. It’s a way to relate to my father. To my son. As a former youth coach, some of the most enriching moments of my life have involved coaching kids. And they’ve given me much more than I’ve given them. See Leitch’s book Are We Winning” for details.

Why do you think sports are such an important part of life for so many men?

Once we taught our sons how to hunt, to farm, to build things and feed the family. Now we shop at Whole Foods and teach our sons how to hit the curve and throw a spiral. It takes us to our roots. No matter how much we think we’ve evolved, in reality we’re still just cavemen with a basic urge to dominate other males and protect the tribe. In an episode of Seinfeld, a zookeeper tried to get Kramer to apologize to a chimp for hitting him with fruit. Kramer claimed that the chimp started it. “But he’s just an innocent primate,” said the zookeeper. Kramer: “So am I!” We’re all just innocent primates, living life vicariously through our athletic heroes. Some do that better than others. I love sports, but I will never be ruled by that. Someday soon it may be time to depart blogging and try something else. I have lived my professional life by one rule: Don’t be the circus elephant.

—Photo angela n/Flickr

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About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

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