Talkin' With Terry 

Terry Pluto on the PD, reporting on drunks, and a fabulous Shawn Kemp story

Vince Grzegorek: We've been covering the Plain Dealer restructuring and layoff situation for a while now, and while we've heard a fair amount of opinions and talk coming from some departments at the paper, the sports department has been pretty quiet. Is that maybe because you folks are insulated? Between the advertising revenue and pageviews that sports does in this town?

Terry Pluto: From my point of view, it's hard to worry about something that you have no control over. That's what it is and a lot of us feel that way. I don't know what you're supposed to say except I've been through five layoffs at two papers. It's hard to deal with. There's some strange sense of denial involved, but I don't know what to say. In Sports, we don't see each other much. That isolation thing is part of it. If I go to cover the Browns, I'll see Mary Kay [Cabot] or Tom Reed. But we don't see each other much. It's in the back of everyone's mind, though, whether you think you're safe or not.

So, now that that's out of the way, let's talk Cleveland Force.

Yeah, um...

It was the first pro team I ever saw play.

I have to admit, that's one that I missed. I wasn't that into soccer. Maybe it's that I was used to covering losing teams and they won.

Do you actually talk to yourself?

I do, a little bit. Sometimes I write down key words. You always talk to yourself in your head. For example, I think prayer is a form of talking to yourself.

I meant do you talk to yourself in the press box as you're writing your column?

In my head only. We all do. Right now you're thinking what you want to ask me next. I'm just sort of simple. I talk about what's running through our heads. I'm not afraid to look simple, because one of the best compliments people give me is that I'm easy to read. They like notes. They like the popcorn. Now, one of the best ways to walk through a bunch of stats or something complicated is that "talking to myself" routine.

You've been talking to yourself for a long time now. You can ask this of any sportswriter who's been around but for you it might actually be true: Do you get tired of talking about the same shit in Cleveland over and over again?

The names change, the themes stay the same. That's true. The nice thing would be if there was more variation here, but I also know that sports is a diversion and people need diversions. I love to write, I like sports – the main thing is telling good stories, the communication. I don't call names. You've been through too much. Peoples' jobs are on the line – we just talked about that -- but sometimes when your jobs on the line it's not bad to bitch about the Browns quarterback situation. Go to a funeral parlor. The people in the corner are wondering if the Indians are going to spend more money. It's not disrespectful to the reason you're there, we just need distractions. We can't do anything about the Indians, but we like to think we can fix them.

Yeah, I love that quote from Herb Score you had in one book where someone asks him why he doesn't say this manager or that manager should have done this or that differently, and his answer is that, "That's what fathers are for." He didn't want to ruin that moment for a father and son. It's a family thing.

Yeah, that was in one of my books. It's a nice family thing, for sure. And the more books I write about the Browns or Indians, the remarkable thing is all the emails from fans I get talking about how much they love the team and what it means to them. When I talked to Joe Banner, he was truly impressed and almost overwhelmed about the intensity of the fanbase here given what's happened. They lost the team, the team came back and hasn't won, and they still want to talk about it all the time.

I think that's what people perceived as lacking for Randy Lerner – caring, intense about the team like they are – and that they're searching for now. I think, above and beyond the legal stuff, it's what people worry about with Jimmy Haslam, not that he'll be in trouble but that he won't be as passionate about or involved with the team.

They just don't want more change. I was resistant to the change to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. I was just tired of change, as opposed to looking at it and realizing the new regime knows that the 3-4 is where it's at. You imitate the Steelers. And you might not like that, but they keep winning. They've been in the top 10 of defenses for the last 10 years. It's not just the players, it's the system.

Former Browns GM and current Denver Broncos front-office member Tom Heckert was recently arrested for a DUI. After that news, a ton of people close to the Browns in Cleveland wanted to now talk about how they knew about possible drinking problems and gossip. That sort of stuff never comes out but I wonder: If you knew about the reputation, as I suspect you did, why wouldn't you report that? Should that sort of stuff be fair game?

It's the same thing with politicians, right? This guy likes to go to the bar and drink. Is he doing his job or not. Until you see he's arrested, there's not news. Denver did not fire Tom Heckert, remember. In my mind, it's very easy to look at someone and say, "Hey, he's doing this or that." Over the years, I've heard some strange stories come back to me and I've been nowhere near where they're talking about. Where did that come from? I wonder. Maybe it's because of that I don't pay much attention. I think here, after the DUI, it would have been on the front page of the paper. A lot of guys go to bars.

I mean, I guess that's true. Like with politicians, for example: I would be out and see Zack Reed at a bar or have a drink with him. You don't mention it though, and then the guy gets charged for driving under the influence again.

Yeah, he was one of the ones I was thinking of. Are you going to be the moral police?

But should we be waiting until he gets arrested or hurts someone to write about it? Shouldn't that Deadspin-y type stuff be fair game, or at least have an outlet for that sort of news?

I have a hard enough time worrying about if I'm doing a consistent job to worry about what the rest of the media thinks is important.

What's one G-rated or PG-rated story about an athlete that you've heard but haven't had an opportunity to share?

Shawn Kemp was late for a flight back in his Cleveland days, as he often was. He was beginning to run out of excuses. The one he gave the Cavs this time was, "My dog fell asleep in front of my car and I had to wait until he woke up."

No shit.

Poor Randy Wittman was the coach and he just took it. That's when we knew Randy was in big trouble. He was a rookie coach and Kemp worked him over. It actually said a lot about a bunch of things that were going on with the team at the time. Kemp was losing control of his life and Randy was overwhelmed. The best thing Jim Paxson did was find a way to hoist Kemp on Portland, which set it up for the Cavs to eventually get LeBron.

So Kemp's lame excuse about his dog falling asleep in front of his car in some way can be traced to the LeBron era?


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