Forty years and thousands of games later, Steve Kelley went to another sporting event last night. He loved it. But, 40 years and millions of words later, he then had to write about it. And there's the rub. "The idea of writing newspaper stuff doesn't thrill me anymore," he says.
How did his departure come about, we asked him this morning. "Well, I got into a fight with my boss and hit him over the head with one of our Pulitzers," Kelley said.
Joke. He was just trying to pump up the story a bit, the truth being awfully prosaic. He says he simply told Times Executive Editor Dave Boardman, "I just kind of want to disappear. Thirty-one years here, 40 years as a sportswriter, I just want to do something else."
The repetition of sporting events had something to do with it - the loopy Groundhog Day effect of look-alike games and legions of coaches and players droning on about "execution" and "taking them one game at a time."
"I find myself at a lot more games thinking 'I've written this story 411 times now. Isn't that enough?'" says Kelley, who came to the Times in 1982 from The Oregonian, with earlier newspaper stops in Olympia, Centralia, and Pennsylvania. "It's more and more a challenge to find a different way to write it."
But also give some credit to his detractors - anyone who writes for a living has them - for driving him out.
"The reader comments section, it's a free-for-all," Kelley says. "The level of discourse has become so inane and nasty. And it's not just at the Times, it's ESPN, everywhere - people, anonymous people, take shots at the story, writers, each other. Whatever you've achieved in that story gets drowned out by this chorus of idiots."
Like a lot of career newspaper writers, Kelley doesn't have a lot in the bank. But his wife, who works fulltime, backed his decision to semi-retire - he'll continue as a volunteer coach at Shorewood High and teaching writing to Seattle 4th graders. He also has a book and some film ideas he's working on.
His farewell column is set for January 31 or thereabouts. Kelley wrote an unintentional preview of such a column in a piece he did for The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists, recounting moments with Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Michael Jordan, to name a few, noting:
I'm old, and the only advantage I can see in my 60th year is that, as sports fan and sportswriter, I was lucky to have witnessed many great moments and almost all of the great modern athletes.
Yet, "If I have a choice, I won't write a farewell column," he said today. A friend of his from the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote a heartfelt goodbye, and got strafed by readers, a.k.a. the idiot chorus. Kelley would likely recall similar deep sentiments, such as the memorable time that then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren - after hearing Kelley complain about having a bad day with his grade-school writing class - offered to drop in for a chat with them.
"Fifty kids in a circle, with Mike sitting in a big rocking chair, talking about sports and life. He was unbelievable. Of all the great events I've covered, that's the one I remember most," says Kelley. "I'd rather just walk away with that memory untarnished."