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Before the Internet Made Trolls of Us All T.J. Simers Was a Pro

Updated: Jun 23

TJ Simers and Notepad Wearing an Angels Cap
“It’s been my policy to view the internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”-Mike Royko

T.J. Simers, a longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a brief panelist on ESPN's "Around The Horn," passed away last week. Simers covered athletes from Reggie Jackson all the way to LeBron James. In a career spanning decades he sparred with everyone from John Woodenwho he liked to rib with the nickname "Wizard of Westwood" (a nickname Wooden hated)to Chris Paul.

Simers had been battling a brain tumor for some time when he finally succumbed. He was 73.

Simers famously wore an Angels cap to cover the Dodgers, a Raiders jacket into the Broncos locker room, and a Children's Hospital cap when he wasn't working. He once approached Mark McGuire (then a hitting coach for the Dodgers who were hitting the fewest home runs in baseball at the time) and asked him if it was time to give the team steroids.

When he worked for the Rocky Mountain News, members of the Denver Broncos would brush Simers as they left the field and try to knock him over. Even as he kept his footing to avoid being trampled, Simers was ready with a quip. "If you guys hit that hard on the field you'd win more games."

Simers legacy is buoyed by some of the targets he hit, but also for managing to stay relevant in a business model that was crumbling around him.

Simers gave people nicknames in his columna shorthand for regular readers who were in on the joke. He called former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt the "Parking Lot Attendant." Kobe Bryant was the "Ball Hog." Ryan Leaf was a "punk." The Spanos family, who own the Chargers, were dubbed the "Spanos Goofs." The writer didn't single out high profile stars either: Simers would needle whole cities. He called Memphis a "rat hole."

"My job is credibility," said Simers in a 2009 interview. "My job is not to recruit... When the Lakers won the championship here, I don't like the people on the team so I was critical of the Lakers. Even when they won the championship. I'm going to survive through credibility, so people know that when I write it, I'm not pulling their leg."

Simers famously bit the hand that fed him, more than once. His shtick seemed to wear as thin on his colleagues as it did on athletes and owners: Helene Elliotta hockey writer so renowned that she was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Famedidn’t talk to him for years when they both worked for the Times.

“As precious as space in the newspaper is these days,” said Elliott in the June, 2006 issue of the Los Angeles Magazine, “I think there are better uses for it than for sexist, bullying, one-note, self-absorbed writing.”

Before the term "punching down" had been coined you recognized it when the Times letters page would overflow with angry readers eager to tell Simers how much of a jerk he was.

SIMERS: The Original Troll

Simers would look for any angle he could to get a rise out of you.

The first thing he said to Dodgers' outfielder Milton Bradley was, "I hear you're a real dick."

In a July 24, 2003 column titled "Fruit is Rotting Away, Just Like the Chargers" Simers wrote, "When practice ended, I chatted with the Mission Bay Shrimp to see if Doug Flutie felt like seafood out of water in Carson. 'It’s not La Jolla,' he said, and you can see why he’s so good at reading defenses."

Simers could pick a fight with a player at training camp simply for the way he looked. Former Times editor John S. Carroll once spoke of managing Simers as though he was a feral animal sheltering at a posh hotel: “T.J. has nine toes over the line, and it’s our job to keep him from using his last toe."

When he made fun of the Sparks for failing to draw large crowds, Simers was derided as sexist. When he mocked a mixed martial arts crowd for their bloodlust, he was called a hack.

Newspaper columns are only intended to last for about a day. To write anything that lasts longer in the popular consciousness is a feat. Simers legacy is buoyed by some of the targets he hit, but also for managing to stay relevant in a business model that was crumbling around him.

What got lost in the blowback to a controversial Simers column was an industrial axiom that has always plagued journalism: negativity drives engagement. The angry letter writers hated Simers' shtick, but, more importantly, they had read it.

If you were in on the bit, you knew that Simers was just as likely to skewer his own family as he was to attack your third baseman. Simers' Page 2 column introduced family members as recurring characters; they were ripped just like everyone else.

He made fun of his own daughter for not being able to get a date. When she eventually did spark up a romantic relationship, he lampooned her boyfriend because he worked in a grocery store.

As a father of two daughters who he championed as athletes at every opportunity, we all knew that his sexist routine was a put-on. His admiration of the physical beauty of female stars—a recurring bit in Page 2was frequently derided as lecherous old man behavior. Salma Hayek, Anna Kournikova, and Halle Berry were as close to muses as he would let on in his column.


Growing up in Illinois, Simers might have found the model for his combative style in his actual muse, columnist Mike Royko. A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for multiple Chicago papers, Royko provided a template for cutting public figures--large and small alikedown to size: one word at a time. He filed a column five days a week in his astounding career. By creating working class avatars (typically Polish) he could debate the events of the day in the same gruff terminology that you would hear at Royko's favorite haunts like the Billy Goat Tavern, which he made famous.

When Simers returned to Chicago as a nascent reporter on assignment he made his own pilgrimage to the Billy Goat in the hopes of bumping into Royko. As credible as his word in the papers, Royko was there.

After some ribbing from a friend Simers approached the lauded journalist and told him the truth: I want to be just like you someday. To which Royko told Simers he was an idiot as he cursed at him for ten minutes.

It was not the first, nor, the last time Simers would be called an idiot. But, like a hitter who had been brushed back off of the plate, he stepped back into the batter's box and gave as good as he got, telling Royko that he owned all of his books but that he didn't buy them. "I wouldn't pay for that crap." said Simers.

Royko loved it. He shared a bar tab and pages from his own personal playbook with Simers who would eventually take Royko's abrasive approach to the sports section.

Establishing your credibility was important. More importantly, be willing to show your face, do the work, and live with the consequences of it.

"Some athletes look upon reporters as stenographers, as if everything they have to say should stand unquestioned. But there’s nothing wrong with disagreement between player and writer so long as the writer gets the last word in print." Simers wrote in his column March 11, 2011.

"These are all intimidators. Every athlete is an intimidator, trained earlier in life," said Simers. "If I'm an offensive lineman, my job is to kick your ass so you don't get to the quarterback. And you're upset that I'm going to ask you a tough question?"


Simers grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, the son of a laborer who loaded newspapers onto trucks. His father would bring home copies of the papers which Simers poured over, sometimes five a day.

In 1973, his junior year at Northern Illinois University, there was an opening for an assistant sports editor at the DeKalb Chronicle.

"I told them I was a few minutes away from graduating—which wasn't exactly true—and got the job," said Simers as a guest on Jeff Pearlman's podcast. "I covered every little donkey sport you could think of. I was making $130 a week and was on my way."

He was 22.

In the years that followed Simers became a sports editor for newspapers in Idaho and then Wisconsin, before a stint at the Morristown (N.J.) Daily Record—a leap analogous to an actor moving from an off-off Broadway gig to an on-Broadway role. In this case: Broadway actually being the Bronx.

In 1978 he covered the World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. The press would visit with Yankee Manager Billy Martin before the games. Reporters familiar with the Yankee beat would file into his office and fill their notebooks with Martin's bellicose responses.

Only nobody would ask a question.

So Simers asked one. Martin dressed him down with language too colorful to print. Everyone but Simers knew that Martin would always attack whoever asked the first question, no matter what the subject was. It was just Martin's way of blowing off steam.

If being screamed at and told what an asshole you are doesn't sound like your cup of tea, then you probably are not cut out for a job as a reporter. Simers considered his thick skin as a job requirement.

"Who the hell are you? You're Kobe Bryant and you can put the ball in the basket, but that doesn't make you any more special than that." said Simers in a 2022 interview.

Simers pricked and prodded, taking the approach that by making someone uncomfortable you could glean their true character. Athletes are regularly praised for their toughness, but writers rarely are. Perhaps toughness isn't a skill that we admire in our writers.

"That's all I was ever trying to do was go up to somebody and find out. . .Can you handle a joke?" said Simers. "Can you handle being put on the spot? It's not that big of a deal. This is sports. It's not the Pentagon."

When Simers introduced himself to Yankees catcher Thurman Munson in New York in 1978 Munson replied to every question with the same answer: "Fuck you." He asked him fourteen questions, and got fourteen 'fuck yous.’

"And I wrote them all down," said Simers.

Impervious to hot-tempered athletes, Simers needed to now figure out how to write.

"I sat next to New York Times columnist and legend Red Smith. It was a thrill watching him interview, interact with others and then to see what he wrote the next day." said Simers. "When Red wrote 'He swung the mighty mahogany' to my 'He swung the bat,' it reminded me of how dreadful I was."

Alex Spanos celebrating a win with arms raised
Simers covered the relocation prospects of an NFL franchise to Los Angeles for almost 20 years. "Alex (Spanos) has no San Diego legacy, but that doesn’t mean that Dean and his family don’t think so. And so it goes, the NFL with the chance now to come back to town while there is still football in San Diego today and maybe again next year and three more after that. No hurry. As some of us might say, L.A. has its own legacy to protect: The city that doesn’t miss having a team." Simers wrote in his Page 2 column in the LA Times on Sept 10, 2011.


Simers moved to Denver in 1981 after a brief stop in Memphis, where his copy played part in one of the hotter newspaper rivalries in the country: his Rocky Mountain News against The Denver Post. From there, Simers went to the San Diego Union in 1985 just in time to cover the new owner of the San Diego Chargers, construction mogul Alex Spanos.

Simers was not impressed. Not by the team Spanos fielded. Not by Spanos.

Before every season, the team would allow Simers an interview with Spanos in his office. Spanos would ask what he thought of the team's chances. Simers would always say the same thing. "I think the team is gonna stink."

On one occasion, Spanos got so mad that he threw Good & Plenty candies from a glass jar on his desk at Simers. Eventually the team stopped giving Simers access; a theme that would repeat itself throughout his career.

"It’s hard to throw an ugly face at Alex Spanos, the father, however, because ever since he was booed unmercifully after being introduced to the hometown crowd on “Dan Fouts Day” in 1988, he walks around with his eyes to the ground as if he’s embarrassed to be recognized. I gave it a good try, though." Simers wrote in the Times on December 3, 2002.

Brandon Staley At The Podium Following A Playoff Loss
"Do we blame the coach for this embarrassing loss? Yes. He took the Chargers’ job." Simers wrote in his blog the day after the Chargers lost a wild card playoff game in Jacksonville after surrendering a 27 point lead.

Simers did not shy away from adversarial relationships. He fed off them. When the Chargers held a training camp in Carson he brought a fruit basket for the Spanos family; another illustration that he was always in on the joke, even if some of his readers were not.

The Spanos family never allowed him close enough to offer them the gift basket. He turned that into a joke the next day too . He had expensed it to the LA Times anyway!

As a beat reporter covering the Chargers in the late eighties, Simers cut his teeth asking the tough questions to players like Gary Plummer, Leslie O'Neil, and Anthony Miller.

The Chargers were a bottom-dwelling franchise still stinging over the loss of eventual Hall of Famers, quarterback Dan Fouts and head coach Don Coryell.

"The players hated him." said Burt Grossman, a Chargers defensive end (1989-1993).

A spark of combustion was added to their underachieving roster on the eve of the 1989 season when San Diego traded for Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. McMahon, a former Super Bowl champion, possessed—and still owns— a streak of anarchy that distinguishes him from most of the other athletes who play such a highly regimented, militaristic sport as pro football.

The chip that McMahon carried on his shoulder played differently depending on whether or not his team was winning games, a fact that Bears fans experienced first-hand since winning the Super Bowl in 1986.

To suggest that Jim McMahon struggled in his one season with the Chargers (1989) is like saying that the planet's oceans are struggling to recycle their plastic content. He was a beat-up player, playing behind a porous offensive line on a losing football team in the middle of a decade-long rebuild--but to T.J. Simers, McMahon was "fresh meat." Those are T.J.'s words, not mine.

Chargers QB Jim McMahon Looking Awkward
When McMahon faced reporters the next time all they wanted to ask him about was blowing his nose on Simers. “I’ve got nothing to say on anything,” he said. “I’ve got no opinions on anything. I’m a mush brain.” McMahon said. Asked if he would apologize McMahon said, “Hell, no. It was either that or beat the . . . out of him, but you can’t get sued for sneezing.” He cut the interview short by walking to a trash can in the locker room and loudly blowing his nose into it.

When McMahon would try to duck out on speaking to the media from a clubhouse backdoor, Simers barricaded him in by blocking the door with a golf cart. After another game, McMahon tried giving the pool of reporters the cold shoulder.

McMahon clearly did not want to talk, but Simers knew that body language made for bad copy so the reporter persisted: "What about the problems the team's been having in its two-minute offense?"

McMahon wouldn't bite. "I didn't hear your answer," said Simers after a pause.

At that point, the quarterback brushed past him and pressed a finger to the side of his nose so that he could aim the opposite nostril at Simers. McMahon blew his nose on him and walked away.

"Did you get that answer?" said McMahon.

The beat reporter became a headline himself—a decade before taking over the Page 2 column.

"I went to him each day and he would swear at me and I would ask him to slow down so I could write it all down." said Simers.

“I tell people I had just gotten out of the shower," said McMahon in a reunion column Simers wrote; tagging along with Mac at a charity golf event decades later. "I always empty both barrels in the shower, so it wasn’t like a big glob stuck on your head. It was a fine mist.”

Ironic that the San Diego sports fans would eventually come to envy McMahon for shooting his shot, or, is that his snot?

If you let Simers see your insecurities he would pounce on them. He needled San Diegans for years about their inferiority complex. That penchant for schadenfreude was never more apparent than after the Chargers lost a generation-defining game they should have won: the one known bitterly as the McCree Fumble.

"Didn’t hear from a single fan in San Diego on Sunday night, or Monday for that matter. Not one word of thanks for warning them this was going to happen." Simers wrote on January 16, 2007 the day after the 14-2 Chargers lost a home playoff game to the Patriots.

Even when the Chargers won, Simers had a special ability to tarnish their accomplishments: in the weeks leading up to their only Super Bowl appearance, Simers broke a story about how General Manager Bobby Beathard briefly rage-quit in the summer of 1993.

In sports, quitting is a taboo subject that can permanently taint a person’s reputation. To Simers, an athlete who quit talking to him was afraid of competition: they were soft.

Simers would eventually admit that the platform he represented at the Times influenced the people whose feathers he had mussed to continue to engage him. When Simers was suspended by the LA Times on the grounds of attempting to develop his own television show in 2013 he resigned. He quit.

It was a decision that he would second guess for the rest of his life.


By 2013 the Times had new editorial management, who Simers had already ribbed in print.

"What I was doing there had a purpose for it. If I could rip the guy who could fire me in like literally seconds, how could any athlete be upset with what I wrote about them?"

He collapsed while on an assignment covering the Dodgers' spring training in Arizona. Doctors diagnosed the episode as a mini-stroke. Eventually Simers was diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome, but he continued to write his Page 2 column despite his health concerns.

Before suspending him, the paper reduced the frequency of his column citing their concerns for the quality of his writing.

He took a job at the Orange County Register but did not stay long. He spent the better part of the next decade in a legal battle with the Times over his suspension. Three separate juries agreed with Simers' attorneys that the paper had discriminated against him over his age and disability awarding him millions in damages only for the judge in the case to overturn the amount on the grounds that it was excessive.

The insider spent the final years of his life on the outside. He wrote a blog called “Page 2” where he continued to skewer his subjects, but the audience could never be the same.

The marginalization took a toll. Simers built a career on the premise that athletes are no more special than anyone else. The ability to hit a ball, make a shot, or score a touchdown did not warrant any preferential treatment. His notepad and column gave Simers an equalizer. His wit leveled the playing field.

When Simers lost his platform, he lost more than just access to the games and the personalities who play them. He lost his sparring partner. Taking aim at the biggest fish in the pond creates less ripples when you do it from an underseen blog.

His cantankerous reputation did not garner him any sympathy in exile.

The meritocracy that Simers built his career on was now swinging back at him from another direction. From competing with the biggest athletes in the world over who could get the last word to competing with every agitator on Reddit over who could get the most clicks.

Throughout his career the internet was approaching. Newspapers, as a medium, were intrinsically disposable: a record of moments, of accidents and incidents, of personalities and happenings—that would be garbage in just hours.

Soon every fan with a phone was capable of publishing the same brand of vitriol that Simers had spent years perfecting.

"Then along came the internet," said Simers. "And it was easy to call someone an asshole—and not to their face."

Editors' Note: TJ Simers kept a blog here: Check it out if you want to get a taste for yourself. Longtime San Diego sports columnist Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton remembered him on his podcast here:


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SEO: TJ Simers The Original Troll

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