14 Jul On Sean Leahy
“It’s called a divining rod.”
Of this, I was sure. That Y-shaped twig that leads one to water was, in fact, a divining rod.
“No, it’s a dousing rod.”
Of this, Sean Leahy was sure. He said a divining rod sounded like something my sci-fi nerd brain concocted, and the thing we were discussing during our final rounds of drinks as Yahoo co-workers on Thursday – at Foley’s, our home away from home – was in fact a dousing rod.
We looked it up and we were both correct, which was wholly appropriate: Not only were we engaged in the sort of Seinfieldian conversation we had countless times over the last nine years, but this was a situation not at all uncommon during our time with Puck Daddy: He was right, and I was right, but only together could we get to the essential truth of the thing.
You can use a divining rod (Leahy: “DOUSING rod”) to lead a writer to water, but you need someone like Sean Leahy to figure out if it’s worth taking a drink.
The first time we ever conversed was in January 2008. I was writing for AOL (my, how times have not changed) and Deadspin, and he had a really strong indie blog called Going Five Hole. When Yahoo decided to hand me the keys to their incomparably named “NHL Experts Blog,” Leahy was the first person to whom I reached out.
He fit one of the basic standards that I have for the writers I hire: It would infuriate me when I’d read something on his site that I had intended to write myself, or that I’d never have thought of writing before reading him. And he made me laugh.
An actual email I wrote him in 2008:
“I proposed an All-Star jersey post for our FanHouse ASG package this morning. And then you go and write a really good one. Dick.”
FanHouse wanted to hire him, too, but on April 12, 2008, I was informed by Leahy that he’d come aboard this weird journey with me. “I was even thinking, even if it’s not until training camp when you’re able to pay me for Yahoo!, I’d be willing to do 1-2 posts a week to help you get things started over there for free,” he wrote, rather insanely.
I don’t know exactly how to describe what that working relationship ended up becoming. I’m humbled by it, and humbled by the amount of work he did to make Puck Daddy what it’s become. When the puzzle pieces fit together with someone like they did with me and Leahy, it’s just not something you can put into words, because frequently there wouldn’t be words. It’s like in “Ocean’s” when Rusty and Danny have that intrinsic way of communicating, speaking their own language with a look or a reference or a sigh. It got to that point with us
The blog doesn’t become the blog without us working together like we did. As he’s fond of saying: I was the face and the lead, and he was pretty much everything else. He kept it grounded, systemically and morally and spiritually. He was the first guy to speak up if he thought we were better than a potential easy-click story. He was the one who practiced what we always preached, which was not to be first on a story but be the best on a story. (Patience in the age of digital journalism isn’t exactly the norm.)
He was the one to talk me off a ledge, or lead me back from the edge of good taste. He would try to get me not to engage in petty fights on social media. It’s not his fault he’d frequently fail on that one.
We demanded a lot from each other, and demanded a lot from those around us, and those demands were the reason Puck Daddy thrived and improved and never descended into the abyss of horrible, lazy content from the sites we’d privately rage about in DMs.
(A daily occurrence: Looking at a hack post from a competitor, or sometimes in-house, and wondering if we were the last knights staggering around the battlefield attempting to do this thing the right way, as we saw it.)
Every ounce of pride I have in Puck Daddy, Leahy shared it, because there was nothing there before we arrived and we built it.
Everything that I’ve achieved since we started the blog, I share the credit with him. Writing eight posts a day, doing a dozen radio hits, hosting two podcasts, traveling, video stuff and the like … the blog didn’t suffer because the other half of its brain (the logical one) was always at the helm when I had to sail off and do these things.
And that went for life in general, too. I still remember driving to the emergency room in the last hours of my cat’s life (RIP, Mr. Mittens) and crying and frantically telling Leahy what was going down and having him just basically say “don’t worry, we got this.”
I cried again the day I found out Leahy was being laid off as a result of the merger. (Or, something; Leahy and I have yet to really understand the specifics behind his particular decision.) After we lost Josh Cooper and Jen Neale in the same month, we figured we’d move onto the next phase of the site together.
I also never figured he’d go like this: As I told Leahy that day, I had been preparing myself for the better part of nine years to hear that he’d leave on his own accord to run a site or reduce his schedule or because he was tired of my bullshit.
(We have a great relationship, but my work ethic can be psychotic and my expectations on others could sometimes veer into Wayne Gretzky’s philosophy as a coach: ‘This comes naturally to me so why can’t you do this too?’ Which is palpably unfair.)
When Leahy was finally informed about his job, I heard that thing in his voice that so many of us in the industry have heard in the last several months: That on top of all the unconscionable losses one suffers with the loss of employment, for a journalist there’s also a loss of identity. We’ve always talked about blogging as a lifestyle choice rather than a job, and for nine years this was his life. And then that life is gone and that routine is gone and you’re “Sean Leahy, formerly of Puck Daddy” and that sucks. And nothing makes sense because the really, really good ones aren’t the ones who get clipped like this.
So I’m confident that, in a short time, he’ll be “Sean Leahy of” something else. He’s too good. Not only as a writer, but as an editor. Not only as a coworker, but as a person. Other media have tried to ape what we’ve done for years – hey, here’s a handy way of doing it: Just hire the guy who helped create Puck Daddy! He’s available!
I suppose at this point I should mention the blog and its future, just because so many readers are asking about it, even though at this very moment it feels so trivial when compared to losing my better blogging half.
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky through the years, considering this industry, to have great runs with great people. With Rich Gooden and Steve Lienert and Randal Smathers at The Connection Newspapers in Virginia, and then with Jeff Graham and B.J. Koubaroulis for many years more. With myself and Leahy and Lambert and Dmitry Chesnokov, and then Harrison Mooney and Jen, and then with Josh Cooper. It isn’t the norm in this business to be able to count your direct coworkers and have them total around a dozen for nearly 20 years, but like I said, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky.
As I start to work more with the new management at Oath – that’s the Yahoo plus AOL entity created in the last month or so – I’ll have a better grasp on Puck Daddy for next season. It isn’t going anywhere, and I’ve heard some exciting things about what Yahoo Sports has in store in its next incarnation.
The one thing I can assure you is that I won’t allow its standards to slip or its coverage to be anything less than what you’ve come to value as readers. I owe that to you. And I owe that to Leahy.
But yeah, let’s be real: It won’t be the same. That’s not a harbinger of doom, but rather reality: I’ve never done this without Leahy. What he brought to the blog, sometimes simply by existing, is irreplaceable. The partnership we had was forged through nine years of tireless – literally, thanks to those west coast games – work together. Every time I see a comment praising his time here, it makes me ecstatic. It deserves praise and credit and acknowledgement. Raise a glass to this Irishman, for me.
I don’t really know how to finish this post. Normally, were this Puck Daddy, this is where I’d bounce several ideas off of Sean. And then he’d tell me his idea, and I’d tell him mine, and then we’d debate it ridiculously, and then we’d both decide that the third option was actually the best.
And then I’d write the third option and get a text from him telling me I used the wrong form of “there.” Because he was always watching.
I’m going to miss that.