Joe Strauss was late. Matt Holliday had just left the media room at the 2014 Winter Warmup and Strauss had wanted to ask him a question. It was a familiar question but the spin Strauss put on it was unique. Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch had asked him the same question but in a different way. It pertained to Holliday’s new teammate, Jhonny Peralta, and his past PED suspension. Strauss walked into the writers room, sat down and asked, “So did Holliday put up his usual moral police stance on PED?”
When I first heard it, I was mad. Enraged. I thought to myself, “What was Holliday supposed to do, tell General Manager John Mozeliak not to sign Peralta because Holliday was so Anti-PED?” I wanted to take a run at Strauss and challenge him. This is was what made Strauss so good at his job. He asked the uncomfortable questions other journalists only thought about afterwards.
Strauss challenged players, coaches, GM’s, his fellow writers and most importantly, fans, to see the other side of the spectrum. The dirty uneven side of an issue rarely talked about. He got me mad about his Holliday claim, but he also got me thinking real hard about my own stance on PED, Holliday’s comments and the future of the game in relation to this reputation. In that one moment, he did what he did best. He challenged me.
Strauss left us Sunday, at the young age of 54, from complications in his battle with leukemia. Like his late fellow colleague Bryan Burwell, Strauss didn’t make his fight with cancer a public one. He fought it behind closed doors, in an abandoned warehouse in his own space where he saw fit. He fought it since January and even survived long enough to write his best most hard hitting column last month about the Mizzou crisis. It was his final swing at a plate where he dominated for many years as a beat reporter and short period as a columnist.
I rarely agreed with Strauss but I respected him more than the people I often agreed with. Does that make sense? Often, Strauss kicked a leg out on the comfy bandwagon many fans rode on. He liked to spin the wheel like calling out young starter Carlos Martinez during a rough patch, discuss the possibility of a player using performance enhancing drugs or challenging popular thought. He did this so much that Albert Pujols nicknamed him “El Diablo”. You know what though…Pujols respected him. So did I.
Strauss didn’t dress flashy or bring an IPhone into media gatherings to take pics of players. It wasn’t required. Imagine Peter Falk’s Columbo dressing like a reporter, and that was Strauss. He had one goal and an initiative every time he entered the press box. He stood there and traded shots with Tony La Russa on many occasions. He made colleagues nervous. He got on Twitter and poked the Best Fans in Baseball with trivial observations. If narrative was water, Joe Strauss was oil. They didn’t mix and he liked it that way.
When I cover the Winter Warmup next month, I’ll miss Strauss. That’s the last thing I thought I would say this year but it’s true. I’ll miss his presence keeping every other scribe honest. I’ll miss his curveballs and verbal fastballs that made players do a double take before answering. I’ll miss seeing a Twitter notification from him rubbing people the wrong way and causing fellow journalism students to formulate a popular defense. I’ll miss the 140 character batches of tears he caused.
This has been a terribly drastic year of loss for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Burwell passed away from cancer last December. Film critic Joe Williams died in a tragic car accident this past summer. Now Strauss is gone. I had the opportunity to talk to all three, debated with them and respected them. I learned from each of them. The world lost three different kinds of fire.
Young journalists should read Strauss’ work. Study it. Take the articles apart. Read them over and over again. There’s a world of knowledge in there. I doubt a hardcore fan can read more than two Strauss takes without feeling a fiery pull inside their heart and throat. A need to debate his point of view. It’s hard to not get fired up about his various stances over the years. His work will live on, growing legs that hopefully touch many up and coming scribes.
Joe Strauss was a journalist who would run towards a player or manager when others decided to retreat. He was never afraid of finding dirt. Sometimes, a writer(even myself) can struggle with that particular initiative. Do you write something that makes you the bad yet honorable scribe? Do you ask that question that may divide a room? Joe was that guy. I feel honored to have known him. Rest in peace Joe.