Why Art Thiel is The Goods

Jeff · March 8, 2005 at 10:19 am · Filed Under Mariners 

A common criticism of blogs is that they focus too much on the negative, particularly as regards local media. While I’m loath to challenge this well-deserved reputation for curmudgeonry, people need a change of pace every now and then. Just ask Jamie Moyer.

For today’s edition of “up with people,” I want to offer today’s Art Thiel column as an example of what make the P-I’s ace a columnist of first order. It’s more than just his engaging prose; when taking snapshots of the sports scene, Thiel is an expert about changing your eye angle through creative lens placement.

The top story of Mariner camp so far has been Felix Hernandez. Beat reporters are also closely following the expensive offseason acquisitions, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.

So what does Thiel do? He writes about Wladimir Balentien.

Too many columnists hop eagerly onto the news of the day, either parroting the established line or taking an obviously contrarian stance. Nuanced thought is rare, in print and in society. It would have been fairly easy, to take an improbable example, for the top columnist at a major daily to use a recently settled lawsuit as an opportunity to churn out 15 inches about how Rick Neuheisel is less than honest. Luckily, no one in our media market would take such an easy way out.

There’s a famous Jimmy Breslin column that is still taught in journalism school a generation later. In the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, media professionals scrambled to interview those close to the deceased commander in chief, or world leaders, or prominent social figures.

Breslin interviewed, and wrote an entire piece on, Clifton Pollard — the man who dug Kennedy’s grave. The result was work that was unlike anyone else’s.

It’s true that not every column should be an off-the-beaten track bit. The day to day commentary is important. It’s also true that a less skilled writer might have turned the Balentien piece into a snoozer, at least for non-baseball junkies. With Art Thiel, you get a heady mix of informed comment and roadmaps to unturned stones.

We’re lucky to have someone with Thiel’s skills writing for us, uncovering the intriguing details of a young player’s life — even if he did miss the chance to mention Balentien’s skills as a barber. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

Hope that last sentence adds enough snark so they won’t revoke my blogger card.


28 Responses to “Why Art Thiel is The Goods”

  1. Evan on March 8th, 2005 10:41 am

    Thiel also described Balentien’s size:

    “The progress of the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Balentien is a reflection of the Mariners’ increased emphasis on international scouting.”

    If Wlad weighs 280, no wonder he has power. Somehow, though, I think that’s a mistake.

  2. Rey Quinones on March 8th, 2005 10:57 am

    Yes, but is Wladimir Balentien any good?

  3. Todd on March 8th, 2005 11:18 am

    Baseball Prospectus thought that Balentien had pretty good upside, particularly if he can curb some of his strikeouts. He does have impressive power potential.

  4. Morisseau on March 8th, 2005 11:23 am

    I saw that 280 lb comment, too — gotta be a misprint, doesn’t it? I email Thiel to get confirmation, still no reply.

  5. msb on March 8th, 2005 11:24 am

    “even if he did miss the chance to mention Balentien’s skills as a barber.”

    I was wondering who would turn out to be the club barber…. you know there has to be one…

  6. Rey Sanchez on March 8th, 2005 11:26 am

    I just hope he doesn’t give any haircuts during games.

  7. Conor Glassey on March 8th, 2005 11:30 am

    I believe Balentien weighs closer to 180. The Baseball Cube lists him at 160 and the Mariners’ roster has him at 165.

  8. Jim Thomsen on March 8th, 2005 12:08 pm

    Sorry, Jeff, but I can’t agree with you. Granted, Thiel did a nice job in making Balentien the subject of his column, but that doesn’t obscure the fact that he can’t get out of the way of his own writing.

    Despite a competitive field that includes Shin-Soo, Yuniesky, Ichiro, Masao, Pokey, Wiki and Shiggy, in the category of Mariners spring-training exotica, one cannot do better than Wladimir Balentien.

    Balentien is still raw as garage-band music.

    Hopelessly clunky prose. Thiel is obsessed with glibness as an end unto itself — “Out Of Left Field” is one of the most maddening reads in the solar system because of this.

    That being said, he did good this one time. I learned something I didn’t know before. A rare triumph of storytelling in harmony with story for Thiel.

  9. J on March 8th, 2005 12:26 pm

    Odd that he’d compare himself to Ramirez, because his glove is rather similar to Manny’s as well. Not all the time, mind you.

    I think Wlad’s done pretty well considering how much he’s been rushed over the years. Granted, he spent a few years in the summer leagues, but he got a year in the short-season Arizona League, then two-thirds of a year in Wisconsin and now he’ll be in the California League. He’s handled it quite well, though, and if you take out his first month of play in Wisconsin (when he was playing through an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and probably shouldn’t have been on the field), his line reads .300/.338/.570.

    I’m also going to have to agree with Jim on this one. I do appreciate that he went out and got a story that no one was focusing on, but his writing style has always grated on me.

  10. Jake Brake on March 8th, 2005 12:47 pm

    Gotta agree with Thomsen here – as I was reading Jeff’s post, I kept waiting for a punchline that never came. Thiel is reasonably skilled at finding interesting angles, but his writing is flat-out awful. He has a unique facility for awkward phrasing and weird metaphors that almost-but-not-quite make sense, and on bad days his column is pure gibberish.
    Thiel comes across as a writer who doesn’t recognize his limitations and tries too hard to be interesting by exercising creativity he doesn’t really possess. On a daily basis, he’s not as bad as the master of the shopworn cliche, Steve Kelley (“It’s the crack of the bat. The smell of new-mown grass. Baseball is in the air.”), but neither of these guys can hold a candle to Larry Stone, who not only finds interesting angles but is also a talented writer.

  11. troy on March 8th, 2005 12:48 pm

    I’ll also agree with Jim – Thiel’s style drives me nuts.

  12. TheMook on March 8th, 2005 1:52 pm

    Balentien’s weight has now been corrected in the article as 180.

  13. tyler on March 8th, 2005 2:04 pm

    personally i find thiel to be a literary Richie Sexson. He hits a lot of homeruns, and he often strikes out.

    But there is something magnificent in just flat out taking that cut, and because he is one of the few that do, i will always read him hoping to see one of those majestic long balls.

    and like Sexson, i would just assume he swing for the fence, or strike out. No Check Swings!!!

    thiel has a voice. you may not know him personally, but his writing is such that i feel like i do. that, to me, is always a good thing.

  14. Jeff on March 8th, 2005 2:29 pm

    Guys, that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla — because y’all like crappy ice cream.

  15. Jeff on March 8th, 2005 2:34 pm

    Except Tyler. Tyler likes good ice cream.

  16. paul on March 8th, 2005 2:42 pm

    In the same vein as the Thiel piece, but better, are writers like Roger Angell. Angell is the baseball writer that all other baseball writers should aspire to be. He knows the game, but more importantly, he wraps his knowledge of the game around a good, compelling narrative in language that evokes how it feels to be at a game, or watching a season pass by.

    How many other current baseball writers can make that claim? Now, how many can mean it?

    After all, why settle for vanilla or chocolate when you can have oatmeal cookie chunk?

  17. Jeff on March 8th, 2005 2:52 pm

    I like oatmeal cookie chunk, too.

  18. Jim Thomsen on March 8th, 2005 3:00 pm

    I prefer Okra & Cream … sometimes Brocci Road.

  19. Ralph Malph on March 8th, 2005 3:37 pm

    Saying that Art Thiel isn’t as good a writer as Roger Angell is like saying that Willie Bloomquist isn’t as good a hitter as Barry Bonds.

  20. Jim Thomsen on March 8th, 2005 3:42 pm

    Nah, Thiel’s not THAT bad. Just not good. He’s more of an Hiram Bocachica … flair in the service of mediocrity.

  21. firova on March 8th, 2005 3:45 pm

    Thiel and Kelley can both be said to possess distinctive lead voices as sports columnists,(which is not to say they have much going on in the analysis department) but I always read Thiel and rarely make it beyond the first sentence or two of Kelley’s formulaic melodrama. He just gets worse.

  22. Saul on March 8th, 2005 3:52 pm

    If you look at the article, the wieght is actually changed to 180 now, and it notes that a correction was made.

  23. Evan on March 8th, 2005 4:43 pm

    That’s a shame. I was hoping Balentien was actually a 280 lb. behemoth.

  24. Marty Lighthizer on March 8th, 2005 6:13 pm

    #23: Maybe if Balentien ate more of the oatmeal cookie chunk ice cream Paul prescribes, he may balloon into a that 280 lb. behemoth. Just don’t give out any cartons to Spiezio…

  25. John D. on March 8th, 2005 7:41 pm

    Different strokes for different folks.

  26. John D. on March 8th, 2005 7:43 pm

    BTW, in the late afternoon edition, Balentien’s weight has been changed to 180 pounds.

  27. JPWood on March 9th, 2005 2:40 am

    It could be that Thiel mistake on Balentien’s weight was a personal slip since Thiel himself is rumored to carry 280 lbs on his 6’10” frame.

  28. The Ancient Mariner on March 9th, 2005 9:25 am

    He’s a big man, all right; my brother happened to be working for the Times when the papers went on strike, and was blown away when Thiel walked into the strike meeting. He’s also probably the best of the Seattle papers’ multi-sport columnists, but that’s not saying much at all; and he’s not a patch on David Locke, or on Dave Boling and John McGrath of the TNT.