Thanks to Rick Reilly’s “Jeter State of Mind” for the inspiration.
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To Rick Reilly’s grandkids (whenever you come along):
You were born too late to know your grandfather the way we did, so I want to take just a minute to let you know what he meant to us.
He was kind of the embarrassment of the keyboard, George Lopez in print, the guy most every sports fan wanted to avoid. He was arrogant, he lacked self-awareness and he was easy to hate.
He was like a bad comedian. Producing formulaic garbage is how he did it. Yet he was once the best columnist in sports for a good 10 years straight, and he somehow continued to win awards long after he was at the top of his game. At the end, the only thing he did better than anybody else was collect: 7 years, more than $10 million dollars, the worst sports media contract in history. He wrote once or maybe twice a week, and managed to say nothing. He had the biggest deal in sports writing, yet never once gave even a little extra.
He never tried to explain his decline, never apologized or gave a reason to justify.
How he was once loved! Yet in an industry full of change, he kept the same 800-word column-length, same dated references, even the same exact columns. In an era of creativity and hard work, he mailed in every column, hard. In a world of I’ll-write-anywhere-for-free-just-for-the-exposure, he was more lazy than you could ever know.
Your grandfather had everything sportswriters wanted. The guy with the million dollar contract. The dude with front page exposure. The man with all of the talent.
And none of the work ethic.
The bloggers scoffed at him, but the bloggers never figured out a way to get away with things like he did. Some guys would write a post highlighting his self-plagiarization. Reilly would just do it over again, sometimes two columns re-told. He’d come out with a bruised reputation, a dented stature … and his job.
Dozens of sportswriters have had no shame, but none like your grandfather. Not even Mitch Albom.
Your grandfather was like a horse’s ass. You always tried to avoid him. The best way to make him mad was to not give him credit for having something first on Twitter.
Oh, he had his positives. He helped fight malaria, which will make an impact forever. He was close with his family and even interviewed his father-in-law. He refused to plagiarize other writers’ work even in an emergency.
He had zero patience for cheaters. One time, in Chicago, when he was with Sports Illustrated, he tried to have Sammy Sosa pee in a cup. But when he cheated ESPN by stealing their money, what did he do? He eventually went and sat in an office and “agreed” to focus just on TV when he was told to by his manager.
He had this way of making you groan. Before he stopped writing for ESPN in June 2014, he published a book. Everybody would want their book title to be clever. Reilly put on the front cover: “Tiger, Meet My Sister … And Other Things I Probably Shouldn’t Have Said.”
He thought he was hilarious and he wanted you to know it. “Cops say a former woman pro tennis ref bludgeoned her husband to death with a coffee cup,” he once wrote. “One lump or two?” he asked.
When his past body of work just couldn’t sustain him anymore, it was bittersweet. Nobody loved collecting checks more than your grand-dad, but he was ready. “I’m moving to Italy,” he said. “I’ve been writing sports for a living, non-stop, since I was 20. I’m ready to try something new.”
After that, he said he was just going to be on TV, which was unthinkable. Rick Reilly on TV? It was like an eagle deciding to take the bus. He did, though, because all those awful puns couldn’t be wasted.
If there was once a better columnist in sports, I haven’t read him. Your grandfather was a storyteller. A jokester. A 1,000-point star. “His column was the first thing I turned to in Sports Illustrated,” people said. “Then he became unbearably horrible and an example of everything that is wrong with sports media.”
He was ours for 30 years, but he’s yours now, and I just wanted you to know how lucky we are.
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