Art Thiel has been with the Seattle PI for over thirty years. Through the years he has had many assignments on the road to assuming Royal Brougham's throne which is the lead position in the Seattle PI sports department.
I have always been a big fan of Art because more than anything else I simply love the style and skill in which he writes. Art deserves the title wordsmith because he comes up with some words that I have never even seen printed let alone show up in a local sports page.
My first interaction with Art was when he asked his readers to send him their opinions on steroids in baseball after the last strike. The use of steroids of course is cheating and he wanted to know what the average fan thought and if it would forever tarnish their image of the game. He wanted to know if baseball could recover from that.
I wrote back to him and built the case that the strike and steroids were not going to have a lasting effect on the popularity of major league baseball because cheating has always been and will always be a part of the fabric and culture of the game.
I used former Mariner manager Maury Wills as just one of many examples. Maury ordered his groundskeepers to alter the size of the batters box and was caught almost immediately.
Whether it was Ty Cobb sharpening his spikes, spies stealing signs hiding in the scoreboard, players popping beanies, the owners colluding, or Gaylord Perry throwing a spit ball, cheating has always been an integral and historical part of the game. I stated that performance enhancing drugs were just the next step in the evolutionary process.
When a sports columnist actually asks people to write in they usually get thousands of responses. I received a call the next day from the PI asking if I would be willing to speak with Art on the phone because they wanted permission to run my letter. We had a great conversation and he just loved my original angle. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile.
During the preceding years we have bantered a bit on different subjects over time and I have found that he is usually right even if I did not initially agree with his opinion.
Here are just a few of Art Thiel's classics I was able to dig up for you to read at your leisure.
Clever, this NCAA politburo.
As with the old Soviet machine, it has mysterious ways of making civilians do its bidding without leaving much evidence of coercion.
After boiling down bureaucratic obfuscation in the decision yesterday, what the NCAA said to the University of Washington was, "Hey, thanks for firing Rick Neuheisel, but he's eligible for rehabilitation now.
"And by the way, good luck with that wrongful-termination lawsuit."
Here's how to tell when it's time for a tycoon to leave pro sports ownership:
When he starts sounding like a player.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying "absolute drunken orgies" are right or wrong. In fact, I believe it's a degree program at Washington State. It's just that the UW is about a 12 Jell-O-shot underdog right out of the tailgate.
My all time favorite may have been the time Art ran a satirical column on the M's historical bad luck with drafting top rated pitching prospects. What makes it a favorite is it was picked up nationally as fact rather than satire. ESPN even mentioned it on Baseball Tonight.
Art was unaware of it until I e-mailed him to let him know that papers in Chicago and Atlanta were running it as gospel truth. He got a big kick out of that and was amused that the knuckleheads as he called them who repackage the news hadn't taken the time to read the complete article to get or understand the joke.
Picking up a phone to answer a call from the Seattle Mariners, highly regarded pitcher Brandon Morrow suffered an injury to his pitching elbow Tuesday that may have to be repaired by "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery.
"I don't know what happened," said a distraught Morrow, a right-hander from the University of California. "I just reached for the phone on the table and all of a sudden I had this sharp pain. I heard a little pop. Honestly, I didn't do anything unusual."
It may surprise some of you that Art is a University of Washington alum. If you were to ask him who his favorite college football team would be he would most likely say the Huskies. That being said his responsibility has never been to blindly defend the University of Washington in a way most fans would. His job as a journalist has always been to call it exactly the way he see's it and to expose the hypocrisy that exists in sports today.
Begging your indulgence for a self-quote from a column of April 28, 2004, the following was my summary of the results of Washington's own in-house investigation into the abuses in the softball program under Wilson, the highly successful coach from 1991 to 2003:
A "zombie" player so high she was "swimming" on the dugout floor. Narcotic painkillers given freely, without exams or prescriptions. Stolen drugs. Claims of pain-med addiction. A doped-up player falling into a coach's arms. Fights between members of the training staff. Drugs to get on the field, drugs to get down, drugs to get up -- in the same day. In a two-year period, 3,100 doses of controlled substances issued in the name of a single softball player. In an 11-month period, 2,200 doses given to a single UW trainer.
Of all the writers who work in the PI Sports department Art probably has the best chance of surviving locally if he chooses to continue with the profession. It would be a shame if Seattle lost the voice of who I think is one of its last great remaining sports columnists.
As Dorothy once said to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz:
Art, I think we will miss you most of all.