Why Steve Kelley's retirement is a loss for Seattle sports fans
Sports columnist Steve Kelley is retiring. His final day is Friday and his final column after more than 30 years at The Seattle Times will be published Sunday.
I wanted to share a few thoughts about Steve and offer some insight into the kind of talent, passion and grind-it-out work ethic it takes to write a sports column for more than three decades.
I’ve worked with Steve for nearly 26 years, and I’ve been his boss for the past four. But I’ve worked alongside Steve for longer – almost 30 years.
The first time I met Steve was in 1983, when I was covering Husky football for The Journal-American, the now-defunct daily newspaper in Bellevue. I had a drink with him the night before a September game that year at Northwestern University. We found out we were both runners, and he invited me to run the next morning with him and a colleague - Rich Myhre of The Herald in Everett, as I recall. I don’t remember much about the run except the stifling humidity and how hard it was to keep up with Steve. I’m a lifelong jogger, and these guys were RUNNING. I remember keeping up for four or five miles before they left me in the dust, sweating and discouraged.
Thirty years later, a lot of sports journalists can say the same thing. Steve Kelley is hard to keep up with.
One of the things every journalist has to cope with is that many readers think they can do exactly what we do better than we can. It has always been that way. And with the advent of online comments with stories, these readers get to take shots at our stories (and us) anonymously. It's part of the job. Steve has taken more shots than anyone. Such mean-spirited comments are actually the highest compliment a reader can pay a columnist because making people read your column, making them think and making them react viscerally is what a columnist is supposed to do.
Think for a moment about the degree of difficulty of what Steve and most of our amazing sports reporters do every day. Trust me when I say it is hard to write ONE good column. Now think about writing FOUR good columns in a week. Now think about doing that for more than 30 years. If Steve has a rare bad day, hundreds of thousands of readers see it. It’s really a remarkable feat of creativity, longevity and work ethic to do that day-in and day-out.
Still think you can do what Steve does? Consider this: A lot of his work was done on deadline. From Husky basketball games, as he did Thursday night writing his next-to-last column. From Mariners, Sounders FC, Seahawks and Seattle U games. Often Steve reacts to the sports news of the day in real time. Steve’s very good at those kinds of columns because he writes well, he writes accurately and he writes fast.
But through it all, Steve has made a career at writing about people. He nearly always found the humanity in the people he wrote about, whether it was a column about Lenny Wilkens, Lou Piniella, Jake Locker, or a Special Olympian. There were many weeks when Steve churned out a memorable mix of topics that really captured the diversity of Seattle sports. He has written, for example, about golf in Kabul, about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, about Nathan Adrian’s family, about signing Ken Griffey Jr. and about the death of Dave Niehaus.
Think about all the things that happened in Steve’s career. His columns included the death and rebirth of the Sounders, the death and rebirth of Seattle University as an NCAA Division I athletic program and the exit and possible return of the Sonics. It's really a remarkable legacy.
When I first arrived at The Times, back in 1987, I remember Steve talking about his young son. Later he talked about that son as a high-school quarterback. I eventually hired that kid, Mason, twice, as a part-timer answering the phones and later as our high-school sports coordinator. It had nothing to do with Mason and Steve being related. They were good in their own right. As probably the only father-son sportswriters working for the same newspaper in America at the time, they did podcasts and videos together. Another amazing legacy.
Because sports is about numbers and statistics, I asked one of our crack news researchers, Miyoko Wolf, to find a few for me to illustrate the depth and breadth of Steve's remarkable career at The Times. These numbers date only to September 1984, a year after Steve's arrival, because that's as far back as our electronic archives reach. So most of these numbers should actually be larger.
2: Number of Kelleys who wrote sports for The Seattle Times.
3: Number of alter egos Steve used over the years in his columns – Jim Ratt, a Sonics fan; Ducky Ponds, a Mariners fan; and Red Dogg a Seahawks fan. (They're all retiring, too.)
5: Number of times Steve has been named National Sportswriter and Sportscaster of America state sportswriter of the year – four times in Washington and once in Oregon.
563: Number of times Ken Griffey and Steve Kelley's names appeared together in a Times story.
621: Number of columns about the Huskies
1,258: Number of columns about the Sonics (note that this number and the next two are nearly identical)
1,265: Number of columns about the Mariners
1,269: Number of columns about the Seahawks
3,446: Number of Steve Kelley columns.
5,882: Total bylines.
6,389: Total mentions of Steve Kelley in text, taglines, bylines.
Like I said, Steve leaves quite a legacy. Many of our readers grew up with Steve, too. I grew to respect him for his passion and willingness to take on any subject at any time.
Be sure to read Steve's final column for The Seattle Times on Sunday, which will highlight some of the most memorable people he met, reaction from readers as he retires and highlights from some of his most memorable columns.
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