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.