John Owen died last week, a fine sports columnist and editor for the Seattle Post Intellgencer, a newspaper he out-lived.
Columnist Art Thiel has a fond remembrance online today, and it will give you an overview of John as a newspaperman and friend. John left the paper in 1993, something of a local legend.
When I met John, in 1988, I was the new kid on an old block covering the Seattle Mariners. There were two long-time Mariners beat writers already in place, Bob Finnigan of the Seattle Times and Jim Street of the P-I.
John was often at games, usually in spring training for a bit. Little by little, we got to know one another, and he was an easy man to tease - always taking it in good humor, never afraid to give it back in the same spirit.
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I once told him that in the autumn of his career he’d become a formula columnist, that he’d write a grabby lead, end with a strong finish. In between, I said, he’d wander through history or food recipes or his own memories.
John found that hilarious. With seven state sportswriter of the year awards, his ego wasn’t in danger of being damaged by me. He was too good to feel slighted, and knew that wasn’t my intent.
He liked talking about writing almost as much as writing, and I enjoyed our conversations.
By 1992, Jim Lefebvre’s sun was about to set in Seattle. As a manager, he was beyond quirky - he couldn’t pass a mirror with flexing his biceps - and he was too thin-skinned for the job.
One afternoon before a game, Lefebvre was in a mini-rage. He had, upon occasion, spoken unhappily and loudly to Street, Finnigan and me about our coverage of him. Jim wanted us ‘on the team.’
Anything he read that could be perceived as negative usually was.
Lefebvre called me into his office that day and asked if I’d read John Owen’s column. I had not. Living in Gig Harbor before the internet meant I usually read the PI in the press box before a game.
“Read this!” Lefebvre said and handed me a copy. I read it.
John had taken a firm and mildly critical look at Lefebvre, the Mariners front office and some players. In the body of the column, he’d waxed eloquently about how long fans had waited for a winning team, how many hopes had come and gone.
It finished strong, but didn’t call for anyone’s job or put the blame on any one person.
Lefebvre, however, wasn’t sure what Owen had said a about him.
“Is he ripping me?” he demanded. Jim was serious. He knew he was angry, but wasn’t certain it was justified.
And here’s the best part. When I told Owen that story a few days later, he laughed out loud.
We agreed it said more about Lefebvre than about John’s writing, but I loved teasing Owen about a column so confusing that the man it was about could not determine it’s message.