Get to know Tigers beat writer Chris McCosky: From Bo to Gardy, he's covered — and seen — it all
Editor's note: As coronavirus sweeps the globe, shutting down so many entertainment options including sports, we thought this would be a good opportunity for you to get to know a little bit about us. Up today: Tigers beat writer Chris McCosky, who can be followed on Twitter @cmccosky.
1. I’m 62, have two ex-wives, three grown children and two delightful grandkids. How’s that for a fetching first line on an online dating profile? I would probably add, parenthetically, that Ex No. 1 was the mother of all three children, that I remain friends with both exes, and despite my ineptitude as a husband, I was and remain a damn good father — though I haven’t recently conducted any surveys on that.
2. Shortly after graduating from The Eastern Michigan University in 1980, I took my first job in journalism at the weekly Pontiac-Waterford Times. I covered literally everything — cops, fire, city hall, school board, zoning board of appeals (ugh) — wrote stories on Selectric Typewriters and got paid $139 a week. No joke, I had to race the other employees to the bank every payday because not all the checks would cash. Good times.
3. I was an associate editor/sports editor at the Advisor Newspapers (Utica, Fraser, Mount Clemens, Washington Township, Romeo). I covered three prep leagues for the wondrous Prep Football Weekly publication (of which my friend Pete Skorich is also an alum). I was sports editor for the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers and assistant sports editor at the Muskegon Chronicle (one of my sportswriters there was a young Jim Trotter, who went on to big notoriety as an NFL writer). That was, more or less, my seven-year internship.
4. In 1987, I was hired to cover the University of Michigan football beat at the Ann Arbor News. If the first seven years was my internship, covering Bo Schembechler was my baptism by fire. It was stressful, labor-intensive, sleep-ruining and ego-deflating — but it was also the best on-job education I could want. I can still hear Bo telling me in front of a table full of reporters at Weber’s Inn, “McCosky, you are the worst sportswriter in the United States of America!” Coming from him, the same man who pulled me through my grief after my father died suddenly in 1987, that was high praise.
5. One of the proudest moments of my career, much to Bo’s chagrin, was breaking the news of his retirement in December 1989. The Ann Arbor News had a special section completed and published and on newsstands before his press conference that day. We scooped his players, actually, which made him understandably furious. I apologized to him for that and we remained friends until his death in 2006.
6. That event kicked off a whirlwind six months that landed me in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I had covered Bo's retirement, Michigan’s loss in the Rose Bowl, and then joined my late colleague John Beckett (from whom I served a valuable apprenticeship) covering Michigan’s run to the NCAA basketball championship. That run started, you might remember, with Bo firing head coach Bill Frieder, who had interviewed for the head coaching job at Arizona State. “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan,” Bo said. “Bo, I have a degree from Michigan, you don’t,” Frieder said.
7. A day before the opening round in Atlanta, I was awakened at 5 a.m., told I had a few hours to catch a flight to Phoenix and attend Frieder’s introductory press conference at Arizona State. So I flew to Phoenix (got there after the conference, but was able to get a cassette tape of his remarks), then to Atlanta and I was there for every game of that phenomenal tournament. Glen Rice’s shooting display is etched in my memory — knocking down corner jumpers, even while J.R. Reid was knocking him into the first row. It was a blur. I know I was eating poorly and stressing with crazy deadlines (the Final Four was at the Kingdome in Seattle). When I finally got home, my body just collapsed and I was rushed (by my late ex-father-in-law, who was a saint) to the hospital. I still don’t really know what happened, just a stress-related malady of some sort. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
8. That physical breakdown led eventually to an emotional breakdown, which precipitated the end of my first marriage and my eventual ouster at the Ann Arbor News — and set my career back three years. Three years that I spent raising my three small children and rebuilding myself, body, mind and spirit — and that ultimately led me to Phil Laciura and the Detroit News.
9. Laciura, former News sports editor, saved my career (and possibly my life) and I am forever grateful to him. He brought me in, let me work the prep desk at night, let me do smaller stories and then finally gave me the Pistons beat in 1995. He would be the second person ever to call me the worst sportswriter in America — though I think he was just trying to motivate me. God bless you, Phil.
10. Here we are now in 2020, 40 years since this journey started. I’ve dictated stories over the phone. I’ve written them on typewriters, tele-rams and desk tops. Shoot, I’ve written stories on type-setting machines and built pages on light tables. I’ve written on the wondrous Tandy TRS-80 — with a screen that showed just three lines of type, and you had to transmit the stories through phone lines using couplers. I’ve filed stories in every way and from just about every location you can think of. But I don’t think there are any prizes for that.
11. I also have the irrelevant distinction of being maybe the only sportswriter in this market to cover all four professional sports in this town as a full-time, traveling beat writer. I covered the Pistons for 16 years, the Red Wings for a year-and-a-half, the Lions for four, and since the end of the 2014 season, the Tigers. I don’t think this means anything to anybody else these days — jack of all trades and a master of none, right — but, it’s a point of pride to me. I’d like to think if I sucked as a beat writer, they wouldn’t keep putting me on a major beat. So, I’ve got that going for me — you know, in lieu of making big money or being a columnist.
12. The question I get from people most often — after, “Why are you so grumpy?” — is which sport did I like to cover the best. It’s a hard one to answer. I loved covering the NBA when I did. It would not be the same now. Our access to players, coaches, front-office people, agents, even referees, was incredible. I often sat next to Joe Dumars watching Summer League games. George Irvin once let me sit in on a film session. I had beers at Marriott Hotel bars with referees, often. I covered some amazing things, like Michael Jordan’s last three championships. Covering those Pistons teams from 2003-09, though, with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Lindsey Hunter, Corliss Williamson — that will always be my team.
13. I would’ve happily covered the NBA the rest of my life, but Laciura wanted to shake things up and the Pistons weren’t considered a big story anymore. I didn’t cover the Red Wings long enough, but I enjoyed it immensely. Nick Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby — thank you for putting up with my naïve questions.
14. Skipping over my four years covering the Jim Schwartz Lions — miserable time for me. Frankly, I didn’t like anything about the league, the game or the team. But a lot of that could’ve been because I was so bad at covering pro football. That was a really bad fit for me. But, again, Laciura threw me a lifeline.
15. Baseball is my sport. It’s in my blood. My great uncle Barney McCosky played for the Tigers in the 1940s, was traded away for George Kell. Injured his back crashing into the center-field wall at Tigers Stadium, but still hit .312 in 11 years. I played baseball. My one crowning athletic achievement was hitting a game-winning home run that beat former Tiger Pat Sheridan’s Wayne team and sent us (Inkster) to the Connie Mack districts. Baseball connected me to my father and it’s helped connect me any three kids, even my daughter Molly. My oldest son played college baseball and is now an assistant coach and assistant athletic director at Davenport University in Grand Rapids. So, when Laciura told me he wanted me to cover the Tigers, well, believe me when I tell you, it made my career complete. Now if we could just get back to playing ball.