The first time I read a T.J. Simers Page 2 column was July 19, 2000. I wondered if fiction, or maybe Dan Jenkins, had come to the L.A. Times Sports section. Simers wrote that Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown “jumped onto a table in the middle of the clubhouse, and, showing no rhythm whatsoever, began dancing, ranting and raving . . . looking a little like Richard Simmons, he picked up a crate of sanitary socks and hurled it toward his locker. . . . He began kicking all the items on the table in my direction, but missed and nailed a columnist from Long Beach, who should have been nailed years ago for his smart-aleck prose.”
All true. No fiction needed in Simers’ dispatches about life on the delusional planet of Sportsworld, a mystical place where egos and ids run wild, and where some sportswriters wish they could be more than just visitors. As Simers puts it, “Many reporters come across as being phony, fearful that the athlete might take exception to a direct question and yell at them, or maybe never talk to them again.”
No danger of that from Simers. No matter what he writes, the vast majority of those tagged in his columns seem unable to quit talking to him. Simers can be relentless in pursuit of a subject, as he was with the Dodgers’ Jeff Kent, whom Simers took to calling “Mr. Chuckles” in honor of his dour demeanor. For the better part of a year, their relationship was more like a one-sided Penn and Teller act; now it’s evolving into a back-and-forth barb fest of near Lou Reed–Lester Bangs proportions. Simers’ ability to pierce the veil, honed over years of covering sports, mainly the NFL, enables us to glimpse the unvarnished characters of the jockocracy — many of whom are funny even if they don’t mean to be.
As he says, “The overwhelming motivation on Page 2 is to maybe get folks to chuckle three or four times to start their day.”
There are those who don’t. Mostly those who think sports is more important than their jobs, families or who is president. After a column “poking fun at” the city of Philadelphia, Simers received 7,000 e-mails and a bomb threat. Still, they keep reading.
Many insiders, such as Laker coach Phil Jackson, who can be as sarcastic as Simers, say they don’t read or pay attention to Page 2. They are often betrayed by their own words, which Simers delights in pointing out. Witness this from a recent column featuring one of his famous confrontations with Jackson:
“As a prolific writer and a guy with an urbane kind of wit that loves to pen things that are so scintillating in the paper,” [Phil] said, and I think he was mocking me, “what do you have to say?”
I wanted to know how he knew I was a prolific writer, because, “you said you don’t read [Page 2].”
“You’re right,” Phil said, and he laughed and so did all the other reporters . . .
Simers insists “the role of Page 2 is not to be influential,” but he’s probably being coy. When pushed, he allows that he’d like to be influential with writers, “challenging them to be more creative and interesting. . . . As for being influential in sports — I take full credit for the Clippers’ rise to power, the Angels’ recent success — and the Dodgers wonder why they’re such losers . . . if only they listened more to Page 2.”
Whether he wants to be or not, with three columns per week and three appearances per week on AM 570’s Loose Cannons radio show (“a grueling experience”), his edgy and opinionated voice is everywhere, its influence undeniable. The most combustible example came in 2001, when then Dodger GM Kevin Malone got into a heated dustup with a fan in the stands. Simers wrote about it, as he should have, and Malone ended up leaving the team.
Simers claims he doesn’t keep track of columns he regrets. If he did that, he says, “I probably wouldn’t write again. And I would suspect that would be all right with some folks, too.”