Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brush with greatness: John DeSilva

One still common misconception about the life of sportswriters is that their job is glamorous.

Rubbing elbows with the professional sports elite, munching on free food, watching ball games for nothing, what's not to like? My personal favorite is when people assume we watch games on TV at home and then write about what transpired. If that happened, then my job WOULD be fantastic.

That doesn't mean I don't think that there are pleasant parts to my job. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing this Brush With Greatness series. It's just that this is not a job in which every moment is a "Dear Diary, the most wonderful thing happened to me today" moment.

For instance, the interview with a professional ballplayer.

To many, this would be the highlight. Isn't that what autograph hunters aspire to -- a chance to communicate, up-close, with a professional player? But as a sports reporter, things are somewhat different.

First of all, players don't see us as "fans." And that's good, because I'm not a fan when I'm writing up a game. They're going to act a little different than when Joe Spectator hands them a ball to sign and that's OK with me.

Secondly, unless it's a really special player from my childhood or an extremely famous athlete (I have had one-on-one interviews with people like John Elway and David Robinson), there is way too much going on in your brain besides "Hey! Look who I'm talking to!"

You're trying to stay professional and you're so in the moment of asking the right questions, and making sure you find the other people you need to talk to, and getting the story out before deadline, that there is very little time to enjoy the moment.

That's sad. But that's the life of a sports reporter.

The truth is that when I come across a story that I wrote many years ago, many times I don't even remember talking to the person. Sometimes, the name of the player doesn't ring a bell.

For instance, former pitcher John DeSilva.

Fortunately for Mr. DeSilva, I do remember who he was. Not that he cares. But I don't remember talking to him at all. Perhaps it was because he didn't say much after an appearance for Class A Niagara Falls. He was the obvious story after striking out nine and allowing one run in a 3-1 victory. All I got out of him was a single three-sentence quote.

But the quote is there in the story. I'm staring at it 20 years later. There's no doubt I talked to him. But there was no warm, fuzzy moment. No, "Hey Mr. DeSilva, I saw you pitch the other day. You were great. You're my favorite player. Will you sign this?"

Four days later, no doubt based on that pitching performance, he was called up to the full-season Class A team with the Tigers and I never talked to him again. He eventually made it to the major leagues with the Tigers in 1993, pitching in one game. Later that year, he pitched for the Dodgers. I remember that because he was the player-to-be-named in the deal that sent Eric Davis from the Dodgers to the Tigers.

DeSilva pitched in three games for the Dodgers. He stayed in the organization until he was traded to the Orioles in December of 1994. DeSilva started two games for the Orioles in 1995. He won one of them. It was his only decision in the major leagues.

DeSilva finished his major league career 1-0 with a 7.20 ERA in six games. As far as I can tell, he has just two cards issued by a major card company -- a 1991 and 1992 Bowman when he was with the Tigers. I would love it if there's one out there with DeSilva in a Dodger uniform.

Because even if the stature of the person doesn't register when I'm working, it certainly does after all these years. That's why when players say -- "It doesn't mean that much to me now. Maybe when I'm looking back on my career, it'll mean something" -- I know exactly what they're talking about.

It means something now.


Speaking of players I talked to who didn't have a lot of time in the majors. I mentioned Tom Bruno way back and how at one time I didn't think he had a card.

I discovered a card of his, although he shared it with two other players. But it was enough for me, after he was kind enough to have a long conversation during a fishing tournament.

Well, a few weeks ago, I saw a card of Bruno in which he was the only one on the card! It was on GCRL's O-Pee-Chee blog. I immediately inquired whether Jim had a double of dear Mr. Bruno.

He did.

It showed up at my home a few days ago. It's a 1977 O-Pee-Chee card. You can't find Bruno in the regular Topps set from that year.

I am very pleased.


  1. This was a great post. I am not nearly as accomplished a reporter as you, but you nailed it! I am usually nervous as I approach the first person I need to interview, but all of that fades as I actually interact with him/her.

  2. Another good "Brush with Greatness" post. Thanks for pulling back the curtain a little on the life of a sportswriter.

  3. Great write-up. I never really thought about player interviews from a reporter's position. I just always think about it from a fan's perspective.


  4. 1977 opc is where unknown blue jays thrive.