Interview with Ted Berg
Ted Berg, senior editorial producer of SNY, was nice enough to answer some questions for us at Mets Today. Ted is a modern-day renaissance man with a broad cultural interest, ranging from baseball to buffalo wings to sandwiches, which you can read all about on his blog, TedQuarters.
Matt Himelfarb: Mets fans are mindless sheeple brainwashed by Nazi-esque propagandists such as yourself and Matt Cerrone. How are you so good at hiding the truth?
Ted Berg: It’s not easy, and it requires Andy Kaufman-esque dedication to staying in character. My career would be ruined if they found out I’m a secret Phillies fan and just doing this for the paycheck. WAIT, ARE YOU PUBLISHING THIS?
MH: Take us through how you got the SNY gig. I have never seen you write anywhere else before. Did you just jump straight from journalism school to the Shea Stadium press box? Did you have any prior journalism experience?
TB: It’s kind of a long story, but I didn’t go to journalism school (though I considered it). I was in a grad-school arts/literature program and planned to go into academia. After the spring semester in 2006 I needed nine more credits to get my master’s, so I started looking for part-time jobs so I could save up some money before I applied to doctoral programs. I saw a part-time editing job at MLB.com on Craig’s List, so I applied and got it, at least partly because my new bosses thought it was hilarious that I had been a vendor at Shea.
SNY runs its website in partnership with MLB.com and I worked on the site a lot when I was there. A couple months after I was hired I happened to have tickets to Mike Piazza’s return to Shea, so my boss asked if I wanted to write something up about the fan perspective. I did and he liked it. That led to a series of features about offbeat and unheralded sporting events around the city and then, eventually, the site’s Mets blog (later renamed a Mets column).
A year and a half later, after I took on a bunch more responsibilities on the site, SNY hired me to help coordinate the web efforts from this side of the partnership. And the job has expanded from there.
I wrote a column for the school paper in college and co-hosted a sports TV show on the campus television show, but I had no professional journalism experience before I got hired at MLB.com. All my jobs to that point had been in education or food services. Oh, and a few awful months in a temp job at Macys.com.
MH: Describe Ted Berg back in the day. Were you an athlete growing up? Was most time spent philosophizing about the superiority of wOBA to OPS over cheesy nachos? Who would you say stood out as influences on your writing, whether they be authors, columnists, etc.?
TB: I played football through high school and I think I was actually pretty decent at it, which surprises a lot of people because I’m a rather mellow guy now. My friends and I were hardly jocks, but we played sports constantly: mostly football, stickball and basketball, though I went through a roller hockey phase also. I did lots of other stuff too: music, student government, the relentless and mostly fruitless pursuit of female attention. Pretty busy kid.
I’m not sure wOBA had even been invented when I first got into baseball stats. I was in 10th grade, so the big revelation for me was coming to understand that on-base percentage was more important than batting average. My friend Ripps introduced me to the concepts and turned me on to Rob Neyer’s writing. And we spent a whole, whole lot of time talking about baseball and going to games and everything. The summer of ’98 was my first with a car, and all the homers got us pretty well hooked. Oh, and Taco Bell was a constant. I grew up in reasonable proximity to three different Taco Bells, so we could pretty much stop at Taco Bell on the way to or from anyplace we were going.
As for influences, I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t read a whole lot of sportswriting growing up. I read a ton, but almost exclusively fiction. I loved Roald Dahl when I was a kid and John Steinbeck in late high school and early college, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read every word Kurt Vonnegut has ever published. Also a lot of Nabokov, though that was – predictably, I guess – a grad-school thing. All told, though, I’d guess my parents are the biggest influence on my writing. They’re funny people, and my mom’s big on grammar.
MH: What do you think is the key to good baseball writing? To me, it seems like baseball is, relatively speaking, a simple subject, where the talent difference between your average fan and analyst, is not really significant. How can a writer or blogger really distinguish himself?
TB: I wish I knew. I’d guess it has to be some combination of clarity, vigilance, quality of writing and personality, but I don’t think there’s any formula to it. I read some people for the information, some for the analysis, some for the prose, and some for reasons I still can’t figure out. Really depends what you’re going for, I guess. And I suppose the first step is to know what you’re going for.
MH: Do you sometimes find it tiring writing about the Mets so much? I mean, I feel like you can only write about how Jeff Francoeur is overrated so many times before you feel like it’s all part of the same premise (Omar hates sabermetrics and is generally incompetent) which most educated baseball fans already realize?
TB: Ahh, well, yes. I mean, there’s no topic I’d rather cover than baseball, but I do often feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over again. The Mets do a pretty good job of finding new and fascinating ways to inspire my brand of internet snark, though. But a big reason I started the blog is to have the freedom to write about things other than the Mets. And I think writing about Taco Bell, squirrels, sandwiches, Tadeuz Kosciuzko and whatever else actually helps me with the Mets stuff by keeping my mind fresh. Some people can write about the Mets every single day and I envy them for it. But I might go crazy.
MH: How do you think your writing has evolved over the last three-four years? How do you feel you have improved as journalist?
TB: Sometimes I’m not sure I have, but generally when I look back at things I wrote a few years ago – even things I really liked at the time – I find it seems like I was trying too hard. I think and hope I’ve pared down some of the pretense and artsy-fartsyness in the interest of clarity, and I prefer it that way. I’m a bit more measured, too, for better or worse.
MH: Do you have any TV aspirations? Does SNY realize I’ve watched every Mets yearbook three times over? Can we get the baseball show on the air for a half-hour?
TB: Well I’m not sure the Baseball Show would work as a half hour program, but yeah, I like to be on TV. I’m not much of a self-promoter though and I can’t bring myself to seriously lobby for more airtime, so I just sort of take what comes. My dream has always been to host my own late-night talk show, but I haven’t yet entirely figured out how to translate that part of my personality onto the screen.
MH: Given your SNY access, are you privy to inside info and sources like most reporters? Or do you mostly not concern yourself with this and spend most of your time editorializing?
TB: I have a season credential, but since I only go to about half the Mets’ home games, tops. I’ve never developed anything like the relationships with players and team personnel that the beat guys do. I pick up the occasional snippet of inside info, but nothing about the anonymous-source thing really appeals to me. I’m happy whistling at the wind.
MH: In general, how do you think the Mets should approach the upcoming trade deadline? Where do you see the Mets finishing this year? Will Omar and Jerry finally get the axe?
TB: I think their best move, considering how they’ve been playing, would be to hold their cards. They’ve got a decent crop of young players coming up the pike and I’d hate to see them mortgage the future if it might not make that big of a difference anyway. Since the two biggest difference-makers are off the board and it looks like Oswalt will be prohibitively expensive in terms of prospects, I’d rather they try go with what they’ve got and see what shakes out. Ted Lilly’s not going to make much of a difference if they can’t score more than a run a game.
I think they’ll finish second or third, but out of the Wild Card. I said 84 wins before the season and I think that still seems reasonable now. And I think 84 wins would mean a new manager and GM in Flushing in 2011. But then baseball is a difficult thing to predict.