John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Friday, May 22, 2009

That thing I say about baseball

A very kind note arrived today from Andy Knobel, a veteran sports copy editor who wound up under my purported authority for the past two years. Andy is very generous about me as an editor and a manager, and he leaves me feeling guilty.

The thing is, I loathe sports. (This has not been my best-kept secret.) I was a nearsighted, bookish child, bullied by non-bookish types who were, invariably, enthusiastic about sports and dim in the classroom. I have remained determinedly ignorant into my sixth decade about the basic rules of baseball, basketball, and football, to say nothing of the multitude of teams and players. I skipped my graduation exercises at Michigan State, in part to keep my record clean of never having set foot inside Spartan Stadium, and in six years in Syracuse I steered clear of Archbold Stadium as well. Were I there now, I would be keeping my distance from the repulsive Carrier Dome, which squats above the city.

That thing I say about baseball (it’s a verb), I also say about basketball, football, hockey, soccer, tennis, yachting, and all other forms of sport, known and potential. I would sooner be waterboarded than watch the Olympics. (I tolerate croquet a little, because my son’s alma mater humiliates the Naval Academy in a match every spring.) I am immune to Orioles madness and Ravens fever. The main consolation of my having been sacked by The Baltimore Sun is that I no longer have to dutifully go through the sports pages each morning.

This, if course, is nothing against Andy Knobel, for whom I have the deepest respect. I respect him for his detailed knowledge of the subject, as I would respect a scholar of Sumerian or any other arcane subject of which I am ignorant. And I admire his passion for accuracy and his unflagging determination to make things right. If I had any gift as a manager, it was the sense to let Andy do what needed to be done without my uninformed meddling.

I’m proud that one of my former students, Peter Blair, is a sports copy editor at The New York Times. He, too, knows his onions.

I wish them well. I wish all sports copy editors well in their struggle to provide fresh and accurate information to readers who crave it. I just don’t have that craving — never had it, never wanted it, and am delighted to be free of it.


  1. Oh, good -- you say "set foot." Where do you suppose "stepped foot" came from?

  2. I don't know, John ... skipping graduation to not have to walk into a sports stadium seems a bit much.

  3. Well, it would also been a graduation in which I would have been one in a mass of hundreds herded about like cattle in the hot sun.

  4. I'm almost there with you about sports, except that I enjoy watching children's sports, especially when one of my children is playing.

    I love to watch tiny ones play soccer, all of them running around the ball like a rugby scrum. Little girls' lacrosse is my all time favorite, followed by little kids playing basketball.

    Once they reach high school, I can tolerate it. College not so much except at non-sports schools like the Little Three in Massachusetts near Smith.

    I try to never watch professional sports. I've never been to a professional football game and only attend baseball games for the socializing with friends.

  5. I did make an exception to my principles when the American Copy Editors Society met in Baltimore in 2000 and many of the members went down to Camden Yards. I was chatting with friends when Paul Clark, a colleague from Cincinnati, walked up and said, "I came to watch a ballgame, and I saw a miracle."

  6. I was a huge sports fan until I was about 23, and then I just...stopped. For lots of reasons, mainly all the wasted time. But these days, I find the whole enterprise obnoxious, from stadiums named after cellphone companies to rapacious owners and players to hooting, drunken, nylon-clad fans. I want nothing to do with any of it.

  7. I feel the same way, John. Drives the sporties nuts when I ask them who's playing on the day of the World Series. (not kidding).

  8. There may actually be a more pompous and pretentious priss around than John McIntyre, but he's probably not working in the news business. It's a place for blue-collar folks, those that enjoy a game and work hard to keep their jobs. I've met and listened to John McIntyre. I was singularly underwhelmed.

  9. You had me until you lumped tennis in with these horrible activities. Honest to god!

  10. Is Peter Blair related to Paul Blair?

    And I don't think you can really attach "Orioles" to "madness" anymore.

  11. Very much enjoyed reading your entry, as usual, Mr. Mack.
    I'm also an editor with no particular fondness for sports, baseball least of all.
    I'd like nothing better than to throw something (a curve ball, maybe?) at my neighboring Sports Dept. colleagues when they begin a-hoopin' and a-hollerin' at some play on TV.
    BUT, having said all that, I find it a very strange affectation for an editor to go out of his way to avoid gaining the snippets of knowledge about even distasteful subjects that we often need to call upon at deadline editing a - heaven forbid! - sports article.

  12. Feel sorry for you, John. Was sports copy desk chief at the Philly Inquirer (1980-81) and Chicago Tribune (1986-88) -- and did other cool things before and after -- and found nothing but joy in the games and game stories we monitored and (when necessary, which was rare) sculpted into printabiity on the desks.
    Those years were the best of a satisfying career, on every level. Too bad you only appreciated a smidgen...

  13. I was at that Orioles game that the ACES idiots prevailed upon John to take us to. He was so annoyed. We had to settle for nosebleed seats. He wore, of course, his topcoat, bow tie and fedora. It was freezing cold and windy. And the Orioles were pasted by the Mariners, 14-0. John probably had a much nicer evening planned somewhere indoors.