WILKES-BARRE — Hey, Darren Rovell, can we talk?
After Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, you dug up one of Dave Konopki’s Times Leader columns from nine years ago to prove a point.
Then you tweeted it out with the message “Scranton Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader column in June 2009. Heads up, @OldTakesExposed.”
You probably didn’t know that Konopki died in March at the age of 55.
Even though the first result from a Google search for “Dave Konopki Times Leader” is a story we wrote about family and friends remembering Konopki. Even though his obituary was the third search result.
You probably didn’t know because you probably didn’t look. Either way, you probably didn’t care.
On an important level, you shouldn’t have to. Konopki wrote something and it remains public for the world to see and debate. All journalists understand this. If he was wrong, it’s as fair to call him out for it today as it was when he was alive.
I’ll come back to that in a moment.
For now, though, since you’re a fan of pointing out right and wrong, a few things you might have picked up if you had done a little research.
First, there’s no such place as Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
There’s Scranton and there’s Wilkes-Barre, and other than being linked in the cumbersome monikers of two sports teams and an airport, they’re separated by 20 miles of pothole-ridden highway.
Scranton is a national punchline thanks to being the fictional setting of TV’s “The Office.”
We are in Wilkes-Barre. While there’s a hyphen in the city’s name, there’s no hyphen in our paper’s name. There wasn’t one in 2009 and there isn’t one today. Those things matter to the folks who live and work here. They’re also easily fact-checked.
Now you know. Let’s get back to Dave Konopki.
His column, “Teen making bad decision about career,” focused on Harper, then a highly touted baseball prospect, and his decision to obtain his GED early, attend community college in Nevada and leave for the MLB draft the following year.
You’re right, the headline sure doesn’t stand the test of time. What came beneath does.
Konopki never criticized Harper’s talent. He was critical of Harper’s decision to shoot for the next level in unorthodox fashion.
I understand this looks like a bad take because Harper has grown into one of the premier stars in Major League Baseball. It also misses the overall portrait Konopki painted of the rising star.
I never had the privilege of working with Konopki, but many of my co-workers did. They all spoke highly of him, saying he was a man who was larger than life.
They also spoke of his lifelong commitment to youth baseball, being a fixture in our community. He wanted to see kids succeed in the game he loved so much. He also wanted to see them succeed in life and education. That’s why he raised questions about Harper’s chosen path, and what it could mean for other student-athletes.
He questioned whether officials at the College of Southern Nevada “have a problem with their school being used in this manner?”
“If an average 16-year-old with a GED but no athletic ability walked into the admissions office and stated he wanted to attend classes — but was only going to stay for six months and had no desire to complete his course work — how many of those young men or women would have been granted admission to the school,” Konopki asked.
Fair question. The process by which student-athletes circumvent requirements intended for the rest of us has long been an issue and probably always will be.
“I have nothing personal against Harper. In fact, I hope he’s successful,” Konopki wrote.
Harper’s doing pretty well for himself. You and I are getting paid. And as you famously tweeted during the final Trump-Clinton debate, “i feel bad for our country. But this is tremendous content.”
So sure, it’s easy for a big-time content producer like you to score a few points by dredging up a nine-year-old column and taking a shot at some small-town newspaper writer, whether or not you feel bad for his recently bereaved family.
We certainly don’t mind some added buzz for a long-forgotten piece of content, but you can be sure we’re going to defend our deceased colleague.
On behalf of Konopki, I stand by what he wrote. So do my colleagues.
More importantly, we remember him and his work as more than an old take to be exposed.
Dan Stokes is a news reporter for the Times Leader.
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes