Historic moments rarely written, but rewritten
Postseason baseball is upon us. Close games and games decided in late innings are common during Reggie's month. No one is more aware of the likelihood of lead changes in late innings than relievers, pitching coaches, managers and ... reporters. Writing postseason game stories -- the night games, in particular, often is challenging. And it can be quite rewarding as well.
NEW YORK -- Aside from "Crocodile Dundee" and the "Superman" movies in the past 25 years, almost every film depicting the life or times of a newspaper reporter has included a scene that had a newsman, dressed in a top coat and fedora, rushing to a telephone booth and calling his office. "Gimme rewrite," he says. And he dictates an update to a story already submitted.
That sort of stuff doesn't happen anymore in film -- or real life. To revise a story these days, a reporter needs no more than fingers and an electronic device not much larger than a standard baseball card.
The need to revise a story still develops regularly, though. And it seems the coverage of big league baseball now demands rewriting even more often than managers challenge umpires' calls.
That was the case at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when Derek Jeter made the most of one last swing in the Bronx. His game-winning single went unchallenged. Indeed, the greatest challenge that night was accepting that the Captain had done it again -- made the most of a moment.
Jeter in critical circumstances performs like a magician, leaving his audience to wonder "How'd he do that?" In his case, though, the question is one-word longer: "How'd he do that -- again?" That was the crux of it, how often he had pulled a rabbit from his cap.
Every Donnie, Doc and Darryl has his day; the good ones have multiples. This Derek seemingly had dozens.
Moderate amazement was the prevailing attitude in the press box in the ninth inning when Jeter's hard single to right field proved decisive in the Yankees' 6-5 walk-off victory against the Orioles. What he had done hardly qualified as a surprise. Soon after David Robertson allowed the Orioles to tie the score in the top of the inning, more than a few writers suggested Jeter would do something special in the bottom. Theirs were educated fantasies based on history. But no matter what happened, it was understood rewriting would be required.
Then he did it. Jeter did what some of us had predicted -- albeit with tongues in cheeks and smirks, so we were amazed but hardly surprised. And before we could discuss the matter among ourselves, we were obligated to execute the 21st-century equivalent of "Gimme rewrite."
Some of the men and women writing running accounts of the games -- stories that, in a perfect world, are transmitted to offices the instant the game ends, if not sooner -- probably weren't done inserting the Orioles' home runs into their "runner" and discarding lead paragraphs, written during the eighth, that had the Yankees winning, 5-2.
The quicker writers and/or clairvoyant ones might have begun their revisions before Nick Markakis' belated throw reached the plate. But the rest of us had to fight through our amazement, pause, delete, think and type at the speed of Billy Hamilton, then rush to the elevator and clubhouse to collect the many thoughts Jeter's latest exploit had prompted. Deadline awareness was always with us.
Rarely is a solid, comprehensive, clever and accurate rewrite produced in such hurried circumstances. That's why God created copy editors. Why he also created deadlines is a bothersome issue for another day.
I was pretty much finished with my piece about Jeter's final home-game fling when Robertson began creating another opportunity for the Captain. I's, T's and typos needed attention, but I was generally pleased with what had been written and was hardly hoping for a chance to trash it all. However, decades of covering Armando Benitez and Braden Looper and other luminaries among Mets closers has made me an accomplished revisionist.
No writer is pleased by the need for ninth-inning revision. As a group, we generally root for good angles, compelling situations, insightful and even clever quotes and, most important, quick games -- anything to make moot the menace that is the deadline. There's no such thing as a good story that doesn't make the paper. Websites have that advantage.
Instances evolve, however, when rewrite circumstances are embraced. The problem is we don't recognize them until a few minutes -- or innings -- pass. The immediate reaction when the Orioles tied the score was four-letters long. And it wasn't "good." But then the prospect of another plate appearance by Jeter displaced the profanity. The drop-dead deadline wasn't imminent, anyway. We could relax for at least 45 seconds.
The Captain and his mates then manufactured the magnificent moment, which pleased us in retrospect, not because the Yankees had won or that Jeter had tightened his hold on sixth place on the hits list, but because we had added to our own mental scrapbooks. We had witnessed one more frozen baseball moment, one more image to store with those of Reggie's third home run, Kershaw's delivery, a Clemente throw, Musial's stance, Lincecum's hair, a Piniella tantrum, Campy's wink, Eck's pistol, Ozzie's flip, Jackie's steal, Kluszewski's sleeves, Endy's catch, Wrigley's vines, a Ryan strikeout, Blyleven's curve and Teddy Ballgame's All-Star Game appearance at Fenway.
That's why we are routinely in press boxes after Fallon has signed off -- to see what there is to see and relay it, with some perspective added, to those with interest and more ordinary sleep patterns. We enter this business, to a large degree, for the excitement and the thrill of the big event, the stunning play or the great moment. And to serve as informants.
We endure the mundane and the tedious -- lopsided, rain-delayed games between teams that are 20 games out -- and wait for the two-out, ninth-inning home run Lucas Duda hit on Saturday night for the Mets. And if it takes a little longer some nights, we have to remember the payoff might be worth the wait and the effort.
It was Thursday night in the Bronx and Saturday night in Queens as well.
Five most memorable rewrites
5. Jose Canseco's grand slam in the first inning provided a lead that stood up until the ninth inning and allowed us to think before we typed, a luxury in postseason. Then Kirk Gibson swung. The story of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series required wholesale changes. What a rush job! "I don't believe what I just wrote!"
4. The running stories about Game 4 of the 1984 National League Championship Series hadn't been completed because the Cubs and Padres were tied at 4-4 after 8 1/2 innings. Then, after one out in the Padres' ninth, Tony Gwynn singled (what's new?) and Steve Garvey launched his missile home run that sent those at "The Murph" into an ear-splitting frenzy. Thought was impossible until the shrill dissipated
3. That game, Game 6 of the 1985 American League Championship Series -- the Denkinger game -- and any game in the Metrodome were uncomfortably loud. To add to the press-box tension in Kansas City that night, phone service went out immediately after Dane Iorg's two-run single made the Royals winners and didn't return for more than 10 minutes. So even those who had completed their rewrites couldn't transmit then.
3. The Braves led the Mets, 8-1, through 7 1/2 innings on June 30, 2000 at Shea Stadium. The Mets scored 10 times in the eighth, the last three runs scoring on a rocket home run by Mike Piazza. A story can withstand just so much massaging before it loses its tone and credibility. This one required rewriting even before Piazza stepped into the box if only because he would bat with two runners on base. But at least there was a top of the ninth that allowed the rewriters to catch up.
2. Trailing 2-0, the Braves rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. Never had a decisive game in a postseason series turned on a game's final play until Sid Bream outran Barry Bonds' throw from left field to score on a two-run single by Francisco Cabrera. Everyone had to rewrite. No East Coast papers made first-edition deadline that night. Even the West Coast papers had to revise.
1. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was written after Dave Henderson's home run and the run that followed. And the temporary result brought two compelling angles into the play -- the Red Sox's Curse would be over, and the Mets' 108-victory season would be ultimately unsuccessful. When Gary Carter singled, we thought little of it. Stories, already filed, still were on point. Then Kevin Mitchell singled, and the press box squirmed as much as New England did. We all knew Red Sox history. Adjustment was possible.
And when Ray Knight singled, surgery was required on what we had written and sent. The ensuing wild pitch tied the score and increased the heart rate of reporters who weren't even there. They knew what a tie score meant. Then Buckner's life changed, and every writer started over.
It was worth the effort.