At the heart of it, a good percentage of sports columns are only about trolling. "What's wrong with Wes Welker?" "Jay Cutler just can't win." These things are written to play the contrarian, and to get a rise, and they tend to work because fans either enjoy being goaded, or can't let the effort pass without getting angry, or both. But that's part of the reader-columnist social contract. You write something inane. We'll know deep down it's just entertainment, but still treat it like life or death. Trolling of fans is old hat. But a columnist physically walking into a team's clubhouse looking to provoke a reaction? Strong work, T.J. Simers, you trolled the Dodgers, and you found one player to bite.
The L.A. Times writer has recently been harping, though not excessively so, on the joyless Dodgers. Even after their blockbuster trades and inflating payroll, the "Choking Dogs," as he puts it, haven't been winning. And speaking for middle-aged white men everywhere, Simers has decided that the problem is that they aren't enjoying themselves. Adrian Gonzalez "shows all the emotion of a mercenary paid to do a job." Matt Kemp, on the other hand, possesses an "upbeat and positive attitude." This contrast, and not a sudden and complete inability to hit, is what ails the Dodgers.
So here's what Simers did last night: he straight-up strolled into the locker room and asked every player he saw if they were having fun.
After a weird intro about his granddaughters and September 11th, it's on to Matt Guerrier, Luis Cruz, Hanley Ramirez, all with the same question. Do you have joy in your heart?
That's when someone yells, "Zip it up."
Now I'm an old man, and every once in a while I forget.
But the voice is telling the team's PR guy to "Get that clown out of here,'' so I know Matt Treanor is talking about me.
"What's your problem?'' says Treanor, and I'm thinking, I'm not the one who hasn't had a hit since July 26.
"Are you trying to tell me you have no joy in your heart?'' I say to Treanor, never for a second thinking I would talk to a Treanor unless it was the athlete in the family.
"Don't come in here causing problems about our attitude,'' says Treanor, and folks wonder why I don't spread good cheer more often.
I tell him the team is dead, but I'm here to revive it and remind them how important joy is to what they do.
He tells me to meet him outside. I have a pass to get back in but I worry he might not. He says, "In the dugout.''
I agree, but need to chat with Mark Ellis. Ellis says he has joy, while Treanor interrupts to call me names that can't be printed here.
In the dugout, Treanor swears a lot, puts a finger in my face and when a team official suggests he apologize, Treanor goes on an obscenity-filled rant.
I just pull out my Blackberry and take a look at the picture of the twins holding their gifts.
As for the joyless Dodgers, they fall flat again.
It is the typical columnist's baseball is supposed to be a children's game screed, trussed up with faux concern and a healthy dose of stunt reporting. And it is masterful. Simers's pseudo-optimism grants him the appearance of the moral high ground, while simultaneously descending into the muck with Treanor. He strikes gold with the always-entertaining writer-player throwdown, and readers can pick up the "bad clubhouse atmosphere" drum he's been pounding for weeks. Not that this was Simers's intent, or anything. He's just a columnist, you guys. He's just asking questions.