Off Base
Q & A With Bill Shaikin

March 22, 2011, 11:32 p.m. Saving the best for last, we conclude the nine-part series with Bill Shaikin, of the Los Angeles Times.

I've been reading "Shake" long enough to consider him my favorite L.A. writer – that's L.A. writer, period; sports, non-sports, whatever. It's more than just the fine (or as some might say, heroic) reporting on all things McCourt, the Sunday baseball column which starts up again this weekend, and the great game story writing, which is a bit of a lost art nowadays. It's the way the words flow together, from beginning to end, from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.

Shaikin gets baseball. He just gets it, and provides a Los Angeles-best combination of baseball savvy, historical knowledge and perspective.

Interesting side note – and sorry to embarrass, Bill – when I asked about the Pulitzer Prize, Shaikin thought I was kidding. To which I say, no, not kidding, serious question. The award committee recognizes sports topics occasionally, the LAT wins Pulitzers all the time, and he's one of the paper's best. So why not Bill Shaikin?

Since and Bill Shaikin both require the initials BS for abbreviation, let's go with the traditional Q & A instead:

Q: Most people know you from the Los Angeles Times. What have been the other stops along the way?

A: "I got my first full-time job at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, covering the Angels when they were the California Angels. I also worked at the Orange County Register, covering the Angels when they were the Anaheim Angels."

Q: Did you study journalism in school, and just generally, what have you done to develop your skills as a writer?

A: "I graduated from Cal, where there is no undergraduate journalism major. I wrote for the school paper in college and in high school -- at University High in West L.A., where our best players at the time were Rodney McCray, now the Dodgers' roving baserunning instructor, and former Dodgers minor league coach Damon Farmar, the father of ex-Bruin and ex-Laker basketball player Jordan Farmar. I never would discourage anyone from pursuing writing just because he or she never took journalism classes. Write, write often and write about anything that catches your fancy. You can't get better at hitting a breaking ball just by listening to someone tell you how to do it. You have to do it -- and do it again, and again, and again. Same for writing. (I still can't hit a breaking ball, though.)"

Q: What is your current job title, and what are your responsibilities at the LAT?

A: "I am the national baseball writer, humbly following in the footsteps of the excellent Tim Brown and his predecessor, Hall of Famer Ross Newhan. The scope of the job has changed over the past few years, since The Times was bought by the Chicago-based Tribune Co. When Ross was here, we would send him to wherever the hottest baseball story in the country might be -- Kansas City as George Brett approached 3,000 hits, St. Louis to write about a rookie star named Albert Pujols, etc. We still cover national stories to some degree, but my job includes more of a focus on the Dodgers and Angels, both because The Times has been integrated into a national chain in which another writer might be closer to, say, Kansas City or St. Louis, and because the rise of national websites provides fans with an option for the Brett-and Pujols-type stories that did not exist a decade ago. Our web data indicates a Dodgers analysis generally attracts more traffic than a feature on an out-of-town team."

Q: You became somewhat of an expert in sports litigation during the fight over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim name change. What was it like to cover what almost amounted to a courtroom beat, and did that prepare you for the McCourt divorce story?

A: "It was certainly helpful to have some experience, however limited, in how the courts work. In the baseball world, fast is a two-hour game. In the legal world, the McCourts went to trial fast – 10 months after filing for divorce. The lawyers in both the Angels and Dodgers cases have been very helpful in explaining what was happening and why so that this novice legal reporter could understand, and could share that understanding with readers. As it turns out, even the most accomplished lawyers involved have gotten a kick out of seeing their names in the sports section."

Q: What do you read?

A: "I struggle with this, since there are more and more great reads every day. The blessing and curse of the Internet is that I could read about baseball all day long – and get Twitter updates every few seconds – but I need to log off and do my own reporting too. I try to read daily coverage of the Dodgers and Angels, from newspapers and blogs and national websites, and follow the rest of baseball as well. And the rest of the world."

Q: If pressed for an estimation, what would you say are the chances of the Dodgers being sold during the 2011 calendar year? 2012?

A: "There are too many factors for me to even hazard a guess. Assuming the McCourts fail to settle, we don’t even know if the next phase of the divorce trial will begin in 2011 or 2012."

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?

A: "Actually, I wanted to be a broadcaster – me and a million other kids who grew up in L.A. with dreams of following Vin Scully in the broadcasting booth. This would be a good place to thank my family and the family that sat in front of us at Dodger Stadium, the Watermans, for indulging my 12-year-old self, as I did play-by-play while sitting in my seat. It is a thrill to see Vin in the press box, an honor to get to talk with him, and a joy to behold how graciously he treats everyone.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: "Save Cal Baseball! It is utterly disgusting that the flagship campus of the greatest public university system in the world is not going to field a baseball team."

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