St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Joe Strauss died over the weekend at the age of 54 after battling leukemia for the better part of a year. He left an indelible mark on St. Louis sports in his 13+ years there, and obituaries and tributes have poured in from all over the sports world in the less than 24 hours since the announcement of his passing.
Strauss was a great writer who cultivated a persona on social media and other places online as a snarky contrarian who enjoyed pouring gasoline on the already enflamed fringes of any local fan base. But those who truly knew him confirm what most of us suspected: he wasn’t some joyless curmudgeon; he had a huge heart and was loved and respected even beyond his professional accomplishments.
I had the privilege of sharing the journalistic floor with Joe a couple of times. He pursued answers relentlessly. And, while amusing in the moment, the exasperation on his face when a question was blown off, answered weakly, or stepped on by someone else’s softball told a story of a man who took great pride and responsibility in his work. For me—a credentialed blogger trying to do a good job but still not step on the toes of the real pros—he was inspiring.
I also had the privilege of talking with him a bit in that arena. While writing up his story after most had gone home, he took the time to have a conversation with me about sports writing—something most bloggers, I’m sure, would find unbelievable if they’ve followed his Twitter account over the years. But there was no “Who are you? Why are you here? Don’t bother me; I’m working” coming from him, even in the face of trying to complete his work. It was a short conversation, but it’s one I wish I’d kept my recorder running for.
In the wake of Strauss’s passing, a recurring theme emerged online yesterday. It contained some form of “I didn’t always agree with/like/want to hear what he said, but he was a great writer…” As his name trended on Twitter, I couldn’t help but wonder what he would think of that if he knew about it…a “balloon party” in his honor. For all the battles he fought—and sometimes initiated—with readers in St. Louis, I hope he knew just how much people really enjoyed his work. I hope he knew how respected he was as a journalist by peers and readers alike. And I hope he knew what a vacancy he would leave behind.
Rest in peace, Joe Strauss. Thank you for always giving it to us straight.
Right. So it’s the closing moments of what would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 76th birthday. Not coincidentally, I’m in the closing sips of a glass of a pretty good 5-year rum.
If not for the good doctor, I’m not sure I’d enjoy writing—and, for that matter, reading—as much as I do today. I never wanted to be HST; I just wanted to capture that bite. It’s not something that can be properly explained but you know it when you see it. I could be talking about anything—sports, politics, pop culture, cooking, laundry tips—and then, crunch, like a shark through unsuspecting flesh. Fear. Loathing. The bite hits you and you can’t turn back. Maybe you’re inspired or horrified or tickled or disappointed. Regardless, your brain carves out a little niche and shoves those words in. And they’re in that little cranny forever. It’s a legacy to which all writers should aspire, content be damned.
No one can capture and relive the frenzy that was Thompson’s life; at least not fully. But your own life can take on Gonzo qualities if you really want it to. Because I always viewed that state of being as completely subjective. Live your life. Take chances but always be smart. Fight for what’s right. Do it with a buzz or do it without; it doesn’t really matter as long as you make your own rules in spite of theirs and manage to not get caught along the way.
Thank you, Doc. For everything. Maybe someday I’ll come up with a proper tribute.
Res ipsa loquitur.