Tim Marchman: One of the Good Ones

There’s a lot of snark on this web site, particularly where sports media is concerned. Thanks to one professional endeavor or another, I spent several years immersed in the stuff, so it’s hard to wash the stink off.

That makes it even more important to stop the presses when I spot a rare example of Truth
and Justice in sportswriting. So I take time out of my regularly schedule bile to declare the following: Tim Marchman is awesome.

Tim Marchman has written for such lofty outlets as the New Republic and such not-so-lofty ones as the New York Press (a weekly that once let this asshole write for them). I know him best as a baseball columnist for the New York Sun, and if you enjoy the game of baseball even slightly, you will love his writing. I’m usually not so absolutist in my opinions, but I feel confident making this statement.

If you’ve never read Tim Marchman or even heard of him, it’s because he writes for the New York Sun. I have no idea how I first heard of him, since I’ve never picked up an
issue of that newspaper in my life, and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen it on a newsstand. From what I understand, the paper’s politics and mine are not exactly compatible (having never read its op-ed pages, I can neither confirm nor deny this).

But this obscurity can not dim the light of such brilliance. Tim Marchman is the best sports columnist in New York, and the race isn’t even close.

Trailing miles behind him are guys like Mike Lupica, who uses cheesy puns, outdated references, and facile arguments to present opinions that are about as dangerous as a pair of safety scissors. Eight hundred words on how Michael Vick is a jerk? You don’t
care who you piss off, sir!

Then there are the Phil Mushnick types, who seem to watch sports for the sole purpose of reaffirming their core belief: Everything Is Different Today and That Is Horrible. Rap music, instant replays, fax machines–all of these things are signs that world has gone to shit. If he lived 150 years ago, he’d be marching into textile mills, smashing mechanical looms.

Then there’s Wallace Matthews, a cancerous little category unto himself. The less said about him, the better.

And then there’s the horde of inoffensive, anonymous writers whose main role in a newspaper is to fill up precious column inches. Not nearly as hateful as the folks mentioned above, but not memorable, either.

But my purpose here is not to bury these people, but to praise Mr. Marchman. He is so good, I can barely believe he exists. Because all the things that make him so good are completely antithetical to the characteristics displayed by more popular mainstream sportswriters.

1) He doesn’t write like he thinks his readers are retarded. He presents a thesis, lays out evidence, concedes the existence of an opposing point of view, and reaches a conclusion. That may sound like Essay Writing 101 to you, but it’s not the way most sportswriters construct their columns. For these writers, an opinion is a hammer, to be used bluntly and repeatedly, as if you will forget their argument unless they restate it in every single effin paragraph.

2) His prose actually flows. He uses “big words” without being ostentatious. He has a dry wit. His columns are brief, testaments to the show biz adage that you should always leave ’em wanting more. And best of all, he doesn’t use one-sentence paragraphs, the lamest and laziest arrow in the Hack Sportswriter’s quiver. His prose is a seamlessly crafted, like an smart, catchy pop song (think Elvis Costello or XTC). In comparison, most columnists are just two-year-olds banging pots together.

3) He is a stat head. Or at the very least, he acknowledges that sabermetric approaches to the game may have merit. Peep this recent column about the Padres, which discusses the amazing ERA+ of their twin aces, Chris Young and Jake Peavey. Unlike some of the Stat Zealots that litter the web, New Numbers are not a crusade for him–he will simply
use these sabermetric stats in order to illustrate his point, with brief but helpful explanations for the uninitiated. This alone is amazing because among all other baseball columnists, it is an article of faith that sabermetrics is some kind of crazy voodoo calculus created by eggheads to make them feel stupid. They’ll inevitably make fun of acronyms like VORP, because that’s easier than learning anything new.

4) He writes about teams that aren’t called The Yankees. That alone is a nigh impossibility for most NY newspapers. He writes about the Mets so often that I suspect he is a fan of the team, so obviously that plays to my own biases. But he often writes about other teams that catch his eye and players that deserve more attention. In a town where newspapers actually print articles that attribute the city’s economic slowdown to the Yankees’ crappy start to the season–no, seriously–it’s refreshing to read someone who acknowledges the existence of Baseball Life outside of the Five Boroughs.

If there is a downside to Mr. Marchman, it’s that the web site hosting his columns kinda sucks. Depending on your browser, certain characters like em-dashes and smart quotes can be rendered as Dingbats-y gobbledygook. Also, Marchman’s archive page on the site currently only goes back as far as this June. Because of his prodigious output, that’s still a lot of columns, but it’d be nice to read back farther than that.

But these things are mere trifles. In summary: Tim Marchman is good. You should read him. There’s not much more to say.