Bill Dwyre’s Late Innings

How Southern California’s best-known sports journalist is failing at retirement.

Bill DwyreBill Dwyre had a cool job. He lived and breathed sports. Pick an Orange County sports legend—Ducks superstar Teemu Selanne, six-time Grand Slam event winner Lindsay Davenport, 1984 Olympics architect Peter Ueberrot —and he can get them on the phone. Dwyre took a call from Pat Haden in the media center at St. Andrews golf course in 2010.

“I’m going to take the athletic director job at USC, and I want you to break the story,” Haden told the longtime sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Dwyre decided—twice—not to hire a young baseball writer named Ned Colletti, who then went on to become the Dodgers general manager. And how many people have Angels manager Mike Scioscia at their retirement party?

As I sat at that event for Dwyre, I recognized it as the end of an era in Southern California journalism. Colleagues and writers he taught along the way offer consistent descriptions: fair, gracious, supportive, a good listener, a good reporter, you always knew where you stood with him—their diplomatic way of saying he was brutally honest. His influence is felt all over the industry.

He became Times sports editor in 1981 and led the paper to award-winning coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. His staff produced 24 special sections during the games, and he set a high bar for the newspaper’s sports section for years to come. He was given the resources to do great work. Greg Gibson was the sports editor for The Orange County Register during the competitive era in the 1990s and early 2000s, and he recalls being told “Dwyre had an unlimited travel budget, and he still busted it.”

After 25 years in his “glass office,” Dwyre wanted to get back to writing. He became a columnist for the Times in 2006 and tried to find stories beyond the standard sports cliches. He was a one-man crusader, bringing attention to horse racing and tennis in a world focused on the NFL and NBA. He liked the underdog. And competitive
reporting gave him a good dose of humility.

“I was at a deadline event, and I had finished the interviews and was heading back to the press room to start my column, feeling pretty good,” he says. “I look over and there’s (former Register columnist) Mark Whicker packing up his computer. He’s already finished and heading out. And when I read his column the next day, it was fantastic!”

As the business changed, Dwyre began to struggle with the shifting industry. He loved being out in the world and finding a good story, but social media and digital technology had become the norm. He was ordered to start tweeting. Two weeks later, he was told to stop tweeting. Apparently he’d offended the digital team in making fun of Twitter in every post.

And he was starting to feel under-appreciated. “I was in the airport, on my way home after covering the British Open and then the Olympics in London in 2012,” he recalls. “I had just written 28 columns in 28 days. I got a call from the office, and the only thing the editor said was ‘What are you writing for tomorrow?’ ”

The Times offered buyouts last October, and after nearly a decade as a columnist, he decided it was time to go. “When you’re 71 and someone offers you a buyout, you take it.”

Like many of the retiring professional athletes he wrote about, Dwyre wasn’t ready to quit. He laughed as he looked at his calendar for January 2016. “There was nothing, nothing, nothing. I wrote in ‘Wash the car’ just so I’d have something!”

So what’s it like to suddenly have quiet after constantly keeping an ear out for a good story and having been a Times big-wig for so long? “That’s part of my resume, and I’m proud of that. But I’m not a hang-on-the-past kind of guy. I think a lot of people were surprised that I’m not hanging on that crutch forever. When you go, no one wants to hear from you anymore.”

But that wasn’t true in his case. He signed contracts with two publications for lengthy freelance stories. In January, legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum offered him a contract to write for the Top Rank website leading up to a major fight in April, with the proviso that he could say whatever he wanted. He has taken his storytelling to other platforms—website coverage and magazine stories about winter- league baseball and professional tennis.
He says he has been busier this year than he would have been had he stayed at the Times. “It’s nice to be a brand!” one of his former colleagues marveled.

So at 72, Dwyre hasn’t figured out how to retire. But how does he feel about not being employed by the Los Angeles Times after 35 years? “Some relief in not being connected to all the silliness that goes on there. Who am I to say what’s right and what’s wrong in the world of journalism today? I do understand the corporate world, and I want no part of it.

“There are times when I hear something and I want to write it, and I don’t have any outlet for it. And that bothers me, because I haven’t shut off the creative valve yet. Maybe I never will.”


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