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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Joe Cowley.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak  

He has always chosen the path less traveled.  

Growing up in Cleveland; Ohio, Joe Cowley was a fan…of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When he got his first job in the Chicago media, for the Daily Southtown after the 1997 campaign, it was supposed to be as the Cubs beat writer. However T.J. Quinn left for New Jersey and Cowley was given the choice to cover the more “popular” team or take the White Sox gig. He jumped at the chance to cover the ‘underdog.’ As a Sox beat writer, starting his 12th season, and now with the Chicago Sun-Times, Joe has never backed away from what he thinks, even if it rubs individuals the wrong way. That could be players, management or even fans of White Sox Interactive with whom he has had some well publicized differences. 

Joe Crowley speaks!
Sox beat reporter for the Sun Times speaks to WSI's totally biased Sox Fans.

Like him or not, all Cowley asks is that you respect his efforts to cover baseball and the White Sox in a professional manner. There is no room in his world for actions like his former colleague, Jay Mariotti (with whom he had serious disagreements) regularly did.  

He’s on the field, in the locker room and in the press conferences, showing his face to everyone and standing by what he writes. 

I had the chance to speak to Joe after a Sox spring training game in Glendale, Arizona. We discussed a wide range of topics… from the team itself, to owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his relationship with the media and Sox fans, to his profession and what the future may hold for newspapers, to being a beat writer… with the travel, and the tremendous number of games that you have to cover, as well as what he thinks of blogs, bloggers and fan web sites like White Sox Interactive.  

ML: Joe let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into the business? And why? 

JC: “I was stupid… (laughing). Seriously I had a teacher in high school that influenced me. I can’t say that I was one of those people who knew at 15 that he wanted to be a sportswriter. I came to it late. I really got into it at Kent State where I worked at the school paper. I wrote a lot in college and Kent State has a good journalism school so I got a good sense of the business.” 

“After graduating I thought that I was going to just start at the top. I won the Hurst Award my senior year for writing and expected things to just go from there. I learned quickly about the dog eat dog mentally of the business. That was good for me because I needed to be humbled. I started at a weekly paper and did just about everything. From there I moved to the Morning-Journal which is a paper that’s seen around the outskirts of Cleveland. I covered Ohio State for a few years for them.” 

ML: Then how did the Chicago job at the Daily Southtown come about?  

JC: “I saw an ad where they were looking for a beat writer to cover the Cubs actually so I applied for it. I didn’t hear anything so I just thought they weren’t interested. Then I got a call from them asking if I was still interested about a month and a half after I applied. They flew me out to Chicago and offered me the job. I covered the Cubs for about a month and a half and that just left a bad taste in my mouth so when the chance came to cover the Sox there was no question in my mind that I wanted it.” 

“T.J. Quinn went to the New York area and the paper offered me the choice of teams. I felt that the Sox were a better fit for me. First off I grew up in Cleveland so I knew the American League. Second because the Sox played in Cleveland I’d get the chance to see my family during the year and lastly I liked the Sox mentality, ‘we wear black, we’re not popular…’ 

ML: Before we branch off to other areas let’s talk some baseball. In all the years that Kenny Williams has been the G.M., this may be the biggest gamble he’s taken. I mean the approach to go with kids in key areas of the team. It was a buyer’s market regarding free agents and there were some guys out there who could have certainly solved some of the issues with the club, but he chose a different path. Add to it the fact that since 2005 the Sox have won a World Series, won the division a second time and had some of the highest attendance totals in franchise history. If this doesn’t work out there could be 18,000 fans in the stands come July. Sox fans as you know aren’t much on ‘rebuilding.’ It’s a big risk. Your thoughts on Kenny’s off season plan. 

JC: “Let me start by saying that I was very critical of Kenny the first few years he was the G.M. In fact I think we went two years without speaking.”  

“He has earned the benefit of the doubt that’s for sure. You look at his track record, the deals that he’s done and very, very few have come back to bite him. Some folks say the Chris Young deal was a bad one but look at it this way, if Kenny doesn’t trade Young to Arizona, they don’t trade Carlos Quentin. Who would you rather have right now, Young or Quentin?”   

“This season is going to be a signature year for Kenny however it turns out. He’s going to be judged a lot by this year. This still isn’t the ideal team for Ozzie Guillen, but they are slowly getting there. At U.S. Cellular you have to have the big boys in the three through six spots in the order but they are trying to get some balance and some speed in the lineup at the top and bottom.” 

“Regarding the off season talk, maybe they were scared off by Orlando Hudson’s injury, and maybe they thought it was going to be a chronic thing. Chone Figgins turned out not to be available, although many felt he would be.” 

“I know this, that year in and year out; Kenny is a very dangerous guy to trade with. He consistently brings in people that they think they can fix and they do. He and his staff really do their scouting, they go out and look at guys, and they get a sense of what they can do. I think he’s one of the top G.M.’s in the game and I’m not saying that to suck up, it’s a fact.”  

ML: Yet Kenny himself has said that he and the Sox don’t get any slack from anybody and you get the sense that really bothers him. 

JC: “He doesn’t get any slack. Just from the short time I covered the Cubs I realized that they apparently can do no wrong, while the Sox get nitpicked to death.” 

“People say that Jim Hendry (Author’s Note: Cubs General Manager) is a good G.M. I don’t think he is… I think he’s a fraud because all he does is spend money. ‘Oh we need an outfielder? Let’s buy Alfonso Soriano. We need a pitcher? Let’s get Jake Peavy.’ A G.M. should be able to scout talent and develop it or fix it. Kenny does a great job in those departments.” 

ML: Well as you said Kenny’s going to be judged a lot by how this year turns out. 2007 is still fresh in everyone’s minds, when Kenny took a chance on a bullpen with less then impressive youngsters and that didn’t turn out well at all. Now to his credit, he didn’t make the same mistake twice, he put together a bullpen that was on pace to be one of the best in franchise history before some injuries derailed it a little bit in the second half. 

JC: “Sox fans won’t follow the flock. It’s a gamble and I don’t know how much more money they have to spend in case they have to try to fix a problem. I think they probably have a little more to spend if they need to, I always think when a team says ‘we’re at our limit,’ that in reality they can still spend more if they wish. But again you give Kenny the benefit of the doubt, if you don’t you’ll get crushed because more times then not, he’s right in his guesses.” 

ML: You and the other beat writers recently had a rare chance to sit down with Jerry Reinsdorf for an extensive interview. Jerry has been very reluctant to talk with the media in the past because in his mind, he’s been treated unfairly by the press. What was that like and what do you think of him? 

JC: “Jerry felt very comfortable in the interview. I think all he wants from us is that we treat him fair and report what he actually says. This whole business of the media vs. Jerry Reinsdorf was probably fueled by one person and one person only, Jay Mariotti. He had a personal vendetta against Jerry and did everything he could to make the Sox look bad.” (Author’s Note: According to some sources, the ‘feud’ started when Reinsdorf called up the Chicago Sun-Times and apparently suggested that the owners fire Mariotti for his comments. Mariotti got wind of the call and then escalated his rhetoric.) 

“My dad was asking me why the fans seem to dislike Jerry as much as they do and I tried to explain some of the things that happened in the past that caused the fans to turn against him, things like trying to move the team to Florida and he answered that if the fans think they have it bad, they should try being a fan of Cleveland teams. Remember Cleveland has had owners like Art Modell who ripped the guts out of the city when he moved the Browns. Nobody could have ever imagined that the Cleveland Browns would have been moved. Then you had Ted Stepien, who almost ruined the Cavaliers. Jerry has brought seven championships to Chicago, like my dad said, ‘we’ll (i.e. Cleveland) take him.’ 

“When I hear fans talk about moving the Sox or this or that, my attitude is, that’s the business of sports. Jerry is doing what he has to do as a businessman.” 

“Personally I like Jerry, I respect what he’s done and our relationship to be honest has been hot/cold at times. He’s pulled my over on the field and asked me to ease up on some of the things that I wrote about Duane Schaffer, who ironically was fired by Kenny a few weeks after he talked to me.” (Author’s Note: Schaffer was the scouting director and responsible for the poor drafts the Sox had for a number of years.) 

ML: Not wishing the man ill, but sooner or later Jerry Reinsdorf is going to leave the scene as owner. What happens then to the franchise? 

JC: “Boy that’s a good question. Some of us thought that after 2005 he might leave or start pulling back because he won his World Series, but he isn’t slowing down one bit. I think he still enjoys it. I don’t know if anybody in the organization has even discussed it. The Sox situation is so complex because you have a number of people who have a stake in the team, would they get together and sell it to one person or a company? I don’t know.” 

ML: I’ve been told in the past by two sources, that apparently his son and immediate family have no desire to operate the franchise when Jerry leaves. Do you know if that’s true? 

JC: “I know that his son doesn’t want to run the White Sox.” 

ML: Shifting gears to your job. What’s it like being a beat writer? It has a lot of perks but it’s also damn hard isn’t it? 

JC: “It’s a dream job. I know my goal was always to cover a pro team in a big city. That being said it’s also a grind. It starts in the spring when just like the players, all the beat writers are getting ready. It’s tough. Now I understand that we’re not talking about digging ditches, doing manual labor, but it is hard… especially when you have a family. You’re on the road so much that you just don’t see them as much as you’d like.  

ML: I remember some years ago reading about a Japanese company that said they were going to start making satellite dishes the size of a pizza and laughed. It turned out that was the least impressive thing to come out of the technological revolution in the last quarter century. How has technology changed your job and what do you think of it all? 

JC: “From a technical standpoint I love it. How it’s changed my job? Well just look at what I do. I write for the print edition of the Sun-Times. I use ‘twitter’, I post material on ‘facebook’, I have my ‘blog’ and I’ve done some videos of things from spring training and such.”     

ML: Newspapers are in trouble, big trouble and the Sun-Times are caught right in the middle of it. What do you think about the print business…can it survive the technology that is, in some cases, appearing to make it obsolete? 

JC: “I think there will always be people who want to physically read a newspaper and have it in hand. It’s a lot easier then having to try to find things via the internet and more comfortable too.” 

“I think the idea when the internet started that newspapers decided to give the product away for free on it started the ball rolling on destroying newspapers. We as a business have got to figure out a way to use the internet to our advantage and not to our detriment.” 

“As far as the Sun-Times specifically, our circulation is good…the issue is that our advertising revenue is down. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future.” 

ML: And how about your future then? It seems the day has come where an individual in the media is no longer ‘just’ a television reporter or a radio play by play person or a beat writer. The days of focusing specifically on an individual medium seems to have passed. 

JC: “Well you want to do as much as you possibly can because again, who knows what the future holds. I’ll be starting a paid position at WSCR radio on April 1st in addition to my duties at the Sun-Times.” 

ML: You know Joe both you and I are in the same business, the sports media, and I honestly feel bad when people rip it to shreds. I take pride in my work, I think it’s an honorable profession but even I’ll admit that now it seems it has degenerated into who can insult the other person the most on TV, who can scream the loudest on sports-talk radio, who can write the most incendiary stuff in the newspaper. That isn’t journalism. 

JC: “I don’t blame people for ripping the business, I understand their feelings. I think this whole thing got started with the New York mentality of sensationalism. And that is fostered by the fact that people will write something, say something, then not ‘man up’ to it. I don’t mean that in a sexist tone, it could be a female doing this as well but if you’re going to do something like that, then be accountable for it! T.J. Siemers is one of the most critical writers I’ve ever seen, but you know what? The next day he’s in the locker room, he’s on the field. You don’t like something he wrote? He’s there… he’s not a coward.” 

“I’m not trying to be self serving but I feel the same way. I had to have guys come between me and Orlando Cabrera last year for example but I was there, it’s the folks who won’t show up that give the business a bad name.” 

ML: You worked with one, who by all accounts was like that, Jay Mariotti. In fact he seemed to take pride in the fact that he was never at a game, never in the locker room. As a reporter how did you feel about him using the quotes you worked for in your stories and the fact that you probably took some hits over things he wrote? 

JC: “Well the argument was that since he was a columnist he was advancing the story that was printed the previous day. That was the business standpoint view of it. I understood that point, my issue was that he’d never show up. I always thought it was funny when you read things that are written by people who don’t show up and they try to put an emotional spin on things that they write, ‘he said it through clinched teeth’ (laughing)….how do you know?, you weren’t even there! He may have actually been smiling when he said what he did! When that kind of stuff happens I can see why people don’t trust the media.”  

ML: What do you think of fan based web sites like White Sox Interactive

JC: “It’s a great site. I know this, that whenever we (i.e. the media) hear rumors of something going on with the Sox all of us go to it because we know that somebody will have a link directing everyone to the source of the rumor. It’s a great tool for the media. The people at WSI are unbelievable.” 

ML: Joe not to try to embarrass anybody but you’ve been involved in some run-in’s with the site. What happened? 

JC: “At the time I was stupid with a cocky attitude and I handled it wrong.” 

“It started when I was getting ripped hard by some fans over a story that I did with Frank Thomas over his contract. But what those folks didn’t know was that I never tried to instigate that story. Frank actually called me over and said that he had something to tell me. So I talked with him and got the story out.” 

“Then I got an e-mail that the fans at WSI were killing me over it. So I checked it out and there was one individual that was ripping me via my last name. Well that bothered me, I take pride in my name and I said some things back to him. It escalated and I wound up saying something about George Bova’s wife that I shouldn’t have done.”  

ML: Another criticism about you from some Sox fans goes along the lines of ‘you are always changing the story.’ You’ll write something and then change it a few hours later. Care to comment? 

JC: “Let me give you an example of what I do and why. Mark Buehrle’s contract situation is the perfect example. I was on top of that situation the entire week. It was a volatile situation and changed quickly, literally from, ‘he was staying’ to ‘he was being traded’ to ‘Rick Hahn is flying down to Florida’ to ‘Kenny Williams refused to give him a four year deal,’ to ‘they figured it out’ O.K.? When something like this happens my attitude is, ‘if I was a fan of this team, what information would I want to have? What do I want to read?’ So when the situation kept changing I kept trying to bring the fans the news as it was happening. That’s the way I am. I’d rather give the fans the updated news and change the story to fit what’s going on at that moment as opposed to just sitting back the week and writing a story saying ‘The White Sox signed Mark Buehrle to a four year deal.” I think fans would rather have the updated news. And let me tell you the fans don’t realize how close Buehrle was to getting traded.” 

ML: During the ‘doll-gate’ controversy last season you took a different position on it, certainly compared to your colleagues like Carol Slezak and of course Jay Mariotti, who immediately demanded that the White Sox fire Ozzie Guillen. Basically if I recall correctly your views on ESPN, you said along the lines of, ‘this isn’t the boy scouts we’re talking about, this is a professional team of men and they are going to do things like this.’ Also you talked about the fact that the locker room is the players’ office and they are allowed some privacy and respect.’ Can you further elaborate on this? 

JC: “I’m not putting down Carol or anybody because everyone is allowed an opinion. Carol obviously felt strongly about it and wrote her views accordingly. I thought frankly it was funny that some were speaking out so strongly against it considering the Sun-Times take ads from strip clubs and the fact that Elliott Harris tries to have as many pictures as possible of women with the fewest clothes on.” 

“The thing is I know what I’ve covering and it’s not a chess club. I think there are certain things you have to overlook. In baseball the locker room can be a brutal place – jokes, good natured insults. Unless you’ve experienced a locker room setting before I could see where it could offend people. And if that does bother you then you need to think about going into a different line of work.” 

ML: You right honest stuff and in a lot of cases I’m sure it’s not well received by some in the clubhouse. How do you handle that? 

JC: “If it’s someone who considers me a friend they understand that this is my job, it’s how I feed my family. I’ve had run ins with some guys over the years… Royce Clayton, Cabrera, but for the most part if I’m critical I’ll have guys tell me that we’re actually on the same page with it. I try my best to be fair, remember I don’t have a stake in this. I’d like to see the guys win, but win or lose, it doesn’t really affect me.”  

ML: So as we start to wrap this up tell me what you think? How’s it going to work out in 2009 for the White Sox? 

JC: “Last year I picked the Sox to win the wild card and people looked at me like I was nuts but I saw these guys in spring training and I saw that Ozzie was going to do everything and whatever he had to do to turn it around from 2007, and he did. I thought last year was his best job as a manager, even better then 2005.” 

“I wish I could tell you the same thing about this year but I just don’t get the same feeling. There are still too many question marks….how does Chris Getz do? How about Josh Fields? What will the back end of the rotation be like? So many ifs.”

“Now every team in the division has question marks and if these guys come through the Sox could have it wrapped up by late August / early September. But I think if they don’t, the Sox are in the position where they have to overcome the Twins – and they have the ultimate home field advantage until they start playing outside in 2010.” 

“The Indians are a team that when you think they’ll do well, they don’t and when you think they’ll be bad, they do great. Detroit still has talent… can they play as badly again? and watch out for Kansas City. I think if they don’t finish over .500 this year that will be a disappointment to them. No longer will clubs be thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got the Royals, that’s two wins… now let’s go for the sweep.” 

ML: The Sox have talked about economic concerns again this off season. If they are in the race come July at the trading deadline, will Kenny be able to make moves? 

JC: “Kenny can’t add payroll right now but he will be able to come July. I guarantee you if they are in it, he will go out and get what he needs. That’s the way he is. Jerry Reinsdorf won’t stand in his way, if the organization can see any light, no matter how small it is, at the end of the tunnel. Jerry would badly like to win another title to justify 2005, to show everyone that it wasn’t a fluke. And you don’t go 11-1 through the postseason on a fluke, but they would love to win another one. It would be the ultimate middle finger to everyone who doubts this organization.” 

“This has been a terrific decade for Sox fans and I’d think they have to be thrilled at what’s happened and where this organization looks to be headed.” 

ML: Joe, last question. You’ve had some health issues the last few years, how are you doing? 

JC: “I’m O.K. First I had stage four lymphoma and then the doctors removed a piece from my leg that tested for melanoma. With the leg issue that put me out of action for about three weeks. The two issues weren’t related but I feel good. I work out just about everyday and I try to eat right. I get checked every six months.” 

“In some ways this was good for me… I needed a new path in life. It was a life changing experience. It was tough with the chemotherapy and all but I had great doctors and everyone was supportive. Then my wife and I were able to have another child, a boy, last August.”   

“I told you that I grew up a Steelers fan. On the day I was getting ready to have my first chemo treatment I got a package delivered to me, inside was an autographed football from Jerome Bettis. Someone in the White Sox got wind of the fact that I rooted for the Steelers and was able to get in touch with them to have this done. Last year when the Sox were in Detroit, Bettis was asked to throw out the first ball so I got a chance to meet him and thank him. Even though he didn’t know me or know what I was going through just the fact that he took the time to wish me well on the football meant a lot. And it was special that the Sox were able to arrange it.”  


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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