Column

He has always been there for fans, and now writer Joe Resnick receives honors he earned

Joe Resnick has died at the age of 62. He passed away Nov. 20, 2016 after a six-month struggle with cancer. This column about his life and career first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 10.

He spent his life perched in the corner of the Dodgers’ press box, behind a Staples Center press table, on a dugout bench, in a locker-room scrum, squarely in the middle of the Los Angeles sports landscape.

But for all of his 32 years on the job, Joe Resnick wondered if anybody knew he was there.

He was a sportswriter for the Associated Press, but he wasn’t. He was paid by the story, not a full-time staffer, unable to land a secure position despite writing hundreds of stories a year.

He was a baseball writer, but he wasn’t. Because of his freelance status, the AP did not credential him through the Baseball Writers Assn. of America even though he covered more games than most of its members.

He wrote about every major sport, but belonged to none. His words were read by millions, but recognized by few. He gave his life to his work, but received little in return.

He never had time for marriage because there was always another game to cover. He never moved out of his modest apartment off the freeway in Downey because it was nearly equidistant from Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium.

Joe Resnick, 62, spent his years in solitude and anonymity. So this spring, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, the sportswriter was resigned to dying in that same fashion.

Only when his deadline arrived did he realize he had missed the story.

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Every workplace has a Joe Resnick.

He’s the part-timer who shows up for work in an isolated corner desk every day, occasionally gruff, sometimes grumpy, but always there.  He arrives earlier than the boss who barely knows him, stays later than the summer interns who are paid more, has statistics on everything and everybody. He’s the employee everyone actually thinks is full time until he admits he doesn’t have insurance.

Resnick, born and reared in Brooklyn, actually began his career as a full-time staffer on the AP’s sports statistics desk in New York when, in 1984, he moved to Southern California on a whim and a prayer.

“He went for the sunshine,’’ said Jim O’Connell, longtime AP basketball writer and close friend. “He took a chance on all that sunshine.”

Turns out, he ran into some clouds. He would be summoned to countless important Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Angels games, but never consistently enough to have the feeling of permanence.

“Nothing ever clicked for him, something always happened when he couldn’t get the full-time job, and that always ate at him,” said O’Connell.

Even when he was there, he wasn’t, such as in March 1990, when he was sitting courtside as Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers died during a tournament game. Resnick quickly and deftly dictated a memorable story to staffer John Nadel in the AP office. But because Resnick was a freelancer, he never got a byline until AP changed its policy in recent years. It’s as if readers never even knew he worked there.

“He wrote more unbylined stories than any person ever,” said Nadel, now retired. “But he cared so much about those stories.”

Resnick loved sports, loved writing, loved the business, and even though it never really loved him back, he kept showing up, becoming part of the press-box furniture.

“There are certain fixtures in Los Angeles sports and Joe is one of them,’’ said Tim Mead, Angels vice president. “He could walk through the concourse and nobody would say, ‘There’s Joe from AP,’ but that didn’t matter to him. He took pride in what he did, and he did it every day.”

It was during an Angels game this spring that official scorer Ed Munson noticed that Resnick had lost weight and was looking pale. He urged Resnick to see a doctor for the first time in 25 years. The Angels set up him up with team physician Craig Milhouse.

The diagnosis was advanced colon cancer. The recovery would be difficult. He was worried about being a burden to people he felt barely knew him. He decided to fight it alone.

One day he just stopped showing up at the ballpark. He swore his few close friends to secrecy. He underwent surgery, battled through chemotherapy, the cancer spread to his liver, and he settled into a slow, solitary wait for the end.

Then he received a call from Steve Dilbeck, a longtime baseball writer. Why wasn’t Resnick coming to the ballpark? When Resnick admitted he was sick, he agreed to receive a visit at his apartment from Dilbeck and former Times staff photographer Lori Shepler.

They found a man who thought he had been forgotten. Resnick was too weak to answer the door. He had lost more than 100 pounds and could barely walk. He was sitting alone on a couch surrounded by a lifetime of memories, sports photos and press credentials, stadium seats from the Montreal Forum and Dodger Stadium, a testament to his love for his work.

“This was obviously a guy whose whole life was his job,” said Dilbeck. “And he was obviously very sick.”

They discovered that Resnick was being crushed by medical bills that his freelance salary could not dent.

“You have to let us help you,” Shepler said.

“Who would want to help me?” Resnick replied.

Shepler began a GoFundMe website and soon Resnick had his answer.

The anonymous sportswriter thought nobody was watching, but it turns out everybody was watching, admiring his work ethic, marveling at his persistence. The man with no byline had indelibly etched his name in the minds of those who watched him carve a lifetime out of simply showing up and doing his job.

The fund’s goal was $20,000 and it reached that figure in a few days, with contributions from sports executives to players to countless journalists. Donations ranged from $10 to $1,000. Love showed up in everything from personal calls from Vin Scully and Mike Scioscia and a voicemail from Doc Rivers, to countless texts from other sports figures. The fund is now at $22,250 and growing.

“He was taken aback, he had no idea people cared so much about him,” said Shepler. “He would go through the list of contributors every day not to see the money, but to see the names, he couldn’t believe so many people remembered.”

Dilbeck and Times staffer Dylan Hernandez came up with the idea of giving Resnick the BBWAA’s annual Bob Hunter Award for meritorious coverage even though he wasn’t a member. Within hours, the 50-person membership approved the honor. Within days, the plaque was engraved, and last week, 11 of Resnick’s friends surprised him with an impromptu ceremony around the hospital bed in the middle of his living room, where he is receiving hospice care.

The moment Resnick saw the plaque he began weeping. He held the thick wood memento close to his face and kissed it. He then pulled out an official BBWAA cap and jacket he had been saving all of his professional life, maybe just for this moment.

“Today is the first day I belong,” he whispered.

He began crying again, and soon everyone around him was red-eyed with the reminder that things many take for granted — a sense of permanence, a sense of place —  were gifts to be honored and cherished. In opening eyes and hearts to these truths during his three decades in the shadows, the anonymous sportswriter had actually been writing the story of his career.

“This is the best day of my life,” Joe Resnick whispered, solitary no more, remembered forever.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillPlaschke

 

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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