The curious case of the Times sports columnist versus the backup Dodgers outfielder

Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers, or as he prefers to refer to himself "Page Two", has made a name for himself with a humorous, yet often abrasive, style. Simers style is marked by a lack of reverence for just about any sports figure, including people like John Wooden and Vin Scully.

Simers like two types of subjects to write about:

  1. People who will play along with Simers and provide him with good material for his column.

  2. People who don't understand that Simers is, for the most part, just trying to stir up trouble and get a rise out of people and react negatively.

In his Tuesday column, Simers decided to make one of the new Dodgers, backup outfielder Marcus Thames, the subject of his column. And Thames, who likely did not know who Simers was, fell into the second category. The results would not be good for Thames. However, the reaction from the baseball blogosphere turned out to be even more vicious toward Simers than Simers was toward Thames.

Thames, a 34-year old hoping to start his tenth season in the majors has made his living as a backup outfielder and designated hitter. He made his debut on June 10, 2002 with the Yankees and hit a home run in his first major league at bat (on the first pitch no less) against Randy Johnson, then of Arizona. He later moved on to Texas, Detroit, and then back to the Yankees. While Thames has always been a decent hitter for power, he's not exactly the most graceful of outfielders. Simers seized on this information in his greeting to Thames.

"Are you that horrible on defense that teams don't think it's worth playing such a home run threat?'' I asked by way of introduction.

Thames did not reply to Simers.

He said he wasn't going to talk to me because I hadn't introduced myself. That would have allowed him to pull out the little card the Dodgers' PR department provides players advising them how to get a running start on Page 2.

I can't imagine this is the first time in 10 years that Tims/Tems has been asked why he stinks on defense, thereby limiting his time as a regular player.

Unable to answer, he just stood and walked away.

The point of Simers column was mainly to point out that the Dodgers were signing a stopgap player to fill in a spot in the outfield and weren't going to spend money on a better free agent because of the financial problems the team has.

However, Simers kept bringing up Thames' defensive lapses, low batting average, and a confusion over how the player's surname is pronounced. It has been pronounced been "Timms" throughout his career, but Simers heard "Tems" (like the river, not taking into account that a short e and a short i sound may differ because of regional accents).

When I ask Don Mattingly about Tims/Tems' horrific problems on defense, the manager says, "I'm not going to say he's [crummy] on defense. He's not a Gold Glove outfielder . . . he's OK. All we've asked Marcus to do is what he's supposed to do."

You can see what a motivational speaker Mattingly can be when it's necessary.

"All we will ask him to do," Mattingly says in giving it another try, "is to play up to his capabilities."

So right away I want to know, "Who won't you ask to play up to their capabilities?" I'm expecting him to say Matt Kemp, but he says he wants the best out of everyone.

He goes on to say Tims/Tems' problems go way beyond criticism of his defense. "Maybe it's because he doesn't hit righties as good as lefties," Mattingly says.

So now we understand the Dodgers have a guy in left who can't catch, can't hit right-handed pitchers and can't answer questions about his obvious shortcomings.

Was Thames treated worse than any other sports figure that Simers has written about in the past? It's hard to say. But this particular column drew heated responses among baseball bloggers.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC's Hardball Talk wrote a piece on the column titled "One of the Most Insulting Columns You Will Read This Year." Tyler Duffy of The Big Lead opted for "T.J. Simers unnecessarily cruel hatchet job on Marcus Thames.

On Twitter, the reaction was resoundingly negative. Curtis Granderson of the Yankees, who played with Thames in both Detroit and New York, Tweeted:

I don't like to criticize media. They have a job to do & sometimes have to be the bad guy. But @LATimesTJSimers should be ashamed of himself

(Note, in researching this, I noticed that Granderson retweeted a link of mine. I am expecting a wave of new followers. OK, maybe not.)

Peter Gammons, formerly of ESPN and now working for the MLB network, replied:

@cgrand14 I know that to be true. Thank you for defending a good person

There were many more examples I could link to, but this has already gone on way too long. I was struck at the vitriol toward Simers that this column stirred up. What would the aftermath be? Rule of thumb: If Jeff Pearlman thinks a writer is being obnoxious, it's bad.

What I expected would happen would be damage control on the part of the Dodgers and Thames. And that is what happened Wednesday when Simers wrote about Thames taking ground balls at first and discussing his defensive abilities in a seemingly good-natured way.

Simers is, despite this column, a well-regarded journalist by his peers. And it's doubtful that he could write anything about a backup outfielder for the Dodgers that would damage his career. The Thames column was not going to be a Joseph Welch vs. Joe McCarthy moment for Simers.

But it does seem that the only way to avoid being the target of one of Simers' columns is to make sure he never learns of your existence. It's a little late for him to develop a new style.

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