In the last two months, we’ve learned that David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez each cheated baseball in some way. They all appeared on “the List,” the roster of some 100 baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. When their names came out—Sosa in June, and Ortiz and Ramirez in late July—the game of baseball looked, if it’s even possible, a little worse.
All those names were reported first by The New York Times. The Boston Phoenix wrote a piece a week later asking whether The Boston Globe had blown a story that should have been theirs—Ortiz and Ramirez were both Red Sox in 2003, and the stars of the 2004 World Series champion team. The Globe‘s editor, Marty Baron, told the Phoenix, “The Times has had one or two reporters covering the subject of performance-enhancing drugs for a very long time.”
In actuality, it’s one reporter, a 25-year-old former Blondies deliveryman who has been on the beat for just over a year and a half. His name is Michael Schmidt, and now, he’s eating the lunch of all his competitors in the off-the-field, performance-enhancing-drugs beat—probably the most important in sports today.
Outside of sports circles, no one has ever heard of him. He doesn’t hit the media circuit, he’s not really into his Twitter, he’s not screaming on ESPN at other yo-yo reporters. He’s written only one game story in his short career, and he has few aspirations to write more.
“I wouldn’t even want to cover a team,” said Mr. Schmidt. “This is more interesting, it’s more fun and it’s more challenging.”
“He’s a rare find,” said The Times‘ sports editor, Tom Jolly. “We’re incredibly grateful.”
I met with Mr. Schmidt on a recent sunny afternoon in Bryant Park. He chowed down on a chicken salad sandwich, and told me how he transformed from a little old news clerk at The Times into one of its foremost reporters (and who, after the Players Association started screaming, was the subject of Times public editor’s Clark Hoyt’s Sunday column yesterday).
Mr. Schmidt grew up a Mets and Yankees fan in Nyack, attended high school in Richmond, Va., and went to college at Lafayette. He wrote for the student newspaper, and interned for the WNBA team, the Liberty, at Madison Square Garden in the communications department.
Before his senior year at college, he took the semester off to take a six-month paid job at The Boston Globe to work as a news clerk for the national and foreign desks.
While at The Globe, he wrote 10 pieces. “I thought I was King Shit on Turd Island,” he said.
He graduated on time, and, like millions before and after him, decided to pitch a tent in New York to make it big. He had no job in place. He thought he wanted to be an NBC page (hello, Kenneth!) or get a job as a production assistant with anyone who’d listen.
Within weeks, while he was staying at his bachelor pad on 93rd Street between First and Second, he realized he might be screwed.
“My parents were furious,” he said. “Really pissed.”
He got a part-time job working as a wing deliveryman at Blondie’s on 92nd Street. The first few weeks, he got paid in free food. After a while, he earned $8 an hour, no tips. Things were desperate.
After weeks of hard labor, he scored an interview with The New York Times. The Globe—owned by the Times Company—had sent ahead a letter saying that if they needed a clerk, he was their man. The Times hired him on the spot. Mr. Schmidt felt like they were desperate for a body.
“What they said to me when they hired me was, ‘Look, we will never make you a reporter at The New York Times.’
The second they said that, his TV dreams fizzled on the spot. All he wanted now was to work at The Times.
He started as a clerk on the foreign desk. He got Dexter Filkins and John Burns on the phone with editors. He fetched coffees. He was told that it would take six months to get a byline in the paper. Within a month, he had an obit assignment. Weeks later, he was stringing for Metro.
Toward the end of the season in 2005, he was getting stringing gigs with the Times sports desk. He was being sent to Yankee Stadium to follow George Steinbrenner before and after games. He’d be sent to follow around Johnny Damon when he appeared at the Hallmark store in Times Square.
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