Received a fascinating e-mail from a colleague who is familiar with Simers and Los Angeles media. He said I could anonymously re-print his sentiments, and I thank him for that.
Pretty riveting insight …
Good post about Simers, Jeff. I’ve always been surprised that he doesn’t get called out more often on what he does. But it’s not what it seems. It’s kind of a weird deal. Humor me.
Simers is like Don Rickles. His schtick is getting under people’s skins. It’s not sportswriting as much as it’s a form of entertainment. (I’ve lived here almost 20 years and I don’t read him nearly as much as I used to. More on that later.) Most LA sports figures — the Phil Jacksons and Matt Kemps and Pete Carrolls over the years — they get it after a while. If you read him often enough, you kinda start believing that at some point he winks and nudges and tells these guys, “I’m gonna fuck with you and then I’m gonna write a mean column about you that everyone will overreact to and maybe you and I can chuckle a little together at their overreactions.” He’s been doing it for years. I gotta believe the guys are in on it.
Thames got a harsh introduction. If his teammates care about him at all, they’ll sidle up to him and tell him the deal.
The weird part is this. Simers used to be a NAILS journalist. His coverage of the Darryl Henley story in the mid-1990s (2 federal criminal cases 2 years apart, tons of backroom legal jousting and lots of dirty pool being played) was Pulitzer-worthy. [I’ve asked Simers for help every once in a while] and he was beyond accommodating. Always generous with his time and with his recollections. It is like talking to Halberstam or something—and it struck me as strange because as he was selflessly supporting my work there’d be a caustic column he’d written that morning lying on my desk. It was like two different people.
It seems like in the late 90s he kind of found a niche with this mean-spirited LA Sports Rickles thing, and with the newspaper business being what it was, he rode it. His coworkers swear he’s a good guy, and he’s often self-deprecating in his columns about his grumpiness and his unattractive daughter and her way-below-expectations louse of a husband. He also donates to charity in copious amounts, and challenges the Kobe Bryants and Ben Howlands and Jeff Kents around LA to do the same. Really puts them on the spot to match his $1,000 gift to Childrens Hospital, etc.
Like I said, it’s a weird deal.
Final example: Simers wrote the best piece of long-form journalism ever composed about Darryl Henley [the former Rams receiver who went to prison]. He went to visit him in the worst federal prison in the country and wrote a piece that’ll bring tears to your eyes. A few months later, in a scattershot column about this and that, he tosses out this gem: “I spent some time watching the San Diego Chargers practice this week… I can’t recall a more depressing visit since I stopped by Darryl Henley’s prison cell.”
PS: Yes, the above photo is Henry Ellard with a fish. So?