Interview: Between jobs, longtime MLB reporter Mark Saxon finds rejuvenation in teaching the game to his sons

While the rain made plans to fall and the St. Louis Cardinals were getting set for first pitch at Busch Stadium Thursday afternoon, Mark Saxon was at home. For the first time in 23 years, he didn’t have a team to cover or a ballpark desk spot to sit at.

He couldn’t, however, miss Cardinal Nation fever on St. Louis’ unofficial holiday. As the season stretched its legs, I checked in with the free agent, who spotted Redbird addiction in his own neighborhood while walking his dog, Manny.

It’s a rabid baseball town that welcomed Saxon back in 2018, when he left ESPN and joined The Athletic . Some of the most memorable moments from his three years covering the Cards for me happened before the season could begin. The Winter Warm-up is known for being a kinder ground for players/coaches/front office and reporters/columnists. But “Saxy”-which follows the writer all the way back to his first journalist gig as a reporter for the Orange County Register-didn’t waste the opportunity to fire a zinger at John Mozeliak, the President of Baseball Operations as well as keeping his cool in front of fiery questions.

“Saxy” never left him off the hook, whether there was snow on the ground or triple-digit temps attached to the circumstances. Think of it as a saxophone playing the same tune no matter what the narrative was. The nickname follows Saxon all the way back to his time at the Orange County Register, his first journalistic gig.

“People have been calling me that for a long time, especially around the baseball scene. Baseball names aren’t the most creative. A lot of times, you just add an ‘y’ and that’s pretty much going to be the nickname.”

The easy to compare and remember similarity between his name and an instrument led to the distinction-which still carries today. A moment in time that Saxon finds himself out of a writer’s job.

Over the offseason and seemingly (at least to us) abrupt, Saxon was let go by The Athletic. Painted as a COVID-19 casualty, the beat lost a special breed of writer. It’s not just the ability to fire a rocket at the front office when necessary, but the potent combination of old school sportswriter work ethic with a modern-day ability to analyze the game. During our 25 minute chat, Saxon marveled at the intricate ways that America’s favorite pastime can now be broken down for value. When he started, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were making people fall in love with the home run all over again. Today’s sabermetrics game shows a different playing field, even off the actual baseball diamond.

When I asked him about his job prospects in the industry, Saxon couldn’t help but notice the content desires are switching to the advanced metric authors. His style of reporting and writing isn’t the preferred breed anymore, even if his columns brought out the best in both worlds. What was so appealing about his writing was the combination of knowledge, conventional stats observation, and easy-to-read baseball commentary. I never felt overmatched, but I wanted to pick his brain to see how he fused a pair of thoughts together.

Being an ace in the academics department never hurt. A University of California, Berkeley graduate with a Master’s degree in journalism, he keeps the heat on his fastball by teaching youngsters. Back in 2017, after being let go by ESPN after seven and a half years, Saxon was an associate professor at Webster University. A part-time instructor and faculty advisor for the Journal, the college newspaper, Saxon found rejuvenation in teaching young souls the nuts and bolts of sports journalism. And then, The Athletic came calling.

These days, Saxon is busy tracking down neighbor moments, helping coach his son’s baseball team, and waiting for the next opportunity. Recently, he’s shared the 101.1 ESPN radio airwaves a time or two, so you could hear more from him there. He loves the people that work there, and could see more action. If not, 590 The Fan KFNS is loading up on local sports wisdom, counting Saxy’s old teammate, Bernie Miklasz, on their roster.

Like I wished with the Big Dog during his recent hiatus, I hope the return includes writing. Baseball needs Saxy just like he needs it. No matter where the job begins/ends and the new journey begins, sports reporting is where he returns. It’s been his home for over two decades, a long chunk of time for a person in his line of work. This industry makes no secrets about its quick changeover. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a world with good writing. Saxy is needed somewhere.

It’s a world that has been home to him for many years, starting with the Angels and moving to the Los Angeles Dodgers later in his ESPN tenure. I asked him which player that he covered would stand out as the greatest: Clayton Kershaw was the answer. Speaking of the Hall-of-Fame bound southpaw, Saxon shared a hot take for Cardinals fans. If Kershaw’s then-teammate Hanley Ramirez doesn’t get hit by a Joe Kelly pitch, the 2013 NLCS could have turned out differently. Saxy isn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of fans, executives, or owners. That craft needs a new home. If you’re enjoying this interview, you will enjoy his writing.

In the meantime, he’s staying close to baseball. Coaching his son’s team is something Saxon’s dad would have loved. If you were ever wondering where he got the itch for the game, I will be happy to report that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree here. Saxon once wrote about the connection between baseball and his father, who passed away a few years ago.

“My connection to that era is through my old man. He was born in 1929. You think about the meaning of these games, and it’s really what we invest in it. We feel closer to our relatives,” Saxon said. “He was a Saint Louis guy through and through, growing up in the north part of the city. He went to Sportsman Park back in the day. He didn’t have any money, so he’d sneak in or look through the knot holes.”

It was Saxy’s remembrance of his father on Facebook after he passed that made me appreciate the stitches in the fabric that represented the friendship I had with my own father.

With a new guy in town named Arenado and a season only two weeks old, how does Saxon look at the game these days? Can he cut off the analytical side of his old job and actually relax and enjoy the game?

“100%. A lot of this for me is being able to appreciate it as a fan. All those years as a journalist/writer covering baseball, I always felt like I I had an obligation to be totally neutral,” Saxon said. “There was a need to push deeper. Now that I am not at The Athletic or at a newspaper, I see it more as a fan.”

While he got the itch from the old man, Saxon now finds himself as the old man passing on and teaching the game to the next generation. Along with the coaching, he’s watching Major League action with his own family.

“The thing that has jacked up about baseball these days is that my kids are playing. Their love of it is rejuvenating my own, so all of the above,” Saxon said.

Like any writer in his profession, Saxon has been knocked down and gotten back up. No matter what, he never strays too far from baseball-or the family bloodline that connected him to it at first. Instead of rebelling against the next fleet of young journalists, he’s going to teach them again this August at Webster University again-while finding his own way back into the big leagues.

Whether it’s teaching his son and teammates the intricacies of the game (and fielding eventual questions about Yadier Molina) on the field or watching it at home on the same level as his kids, Saxon is keeping himself warm down in the pen, like any good writer should.

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