Rick Chandler Memorial Service, August 31, 2019
A memorial like this is a wonderful opportunity for healing and warmth, for reflection and optimism. Not today. Today is a time for finger-pointing and blame. Yes, Rick Chandler was taken too young. I know this not only because he was late to everything. If we told him he was going to die at 66, he’d have been here at least two years later. No, the real reason I know Rick was taken too young is because he was a victim of foul play. To Rick, his family, loved ones, those he coached, taught, entertained, informed, today, I am prepared to reveal a list of suspects. It is my belief that the undoing of one of the country’s truly great writers owes to one of the following nemeses, or, their assemblage.
Suspect #1: The Los Angeles Dodgers Bloated Payroll.
Rick loathed the Dodgers. He was everything they are not; loyal, committed to friendship, reliable in October. Rick was there every Halloween for our children, which the Dodgers typically spend trading their lineup while Tommy Lasorda was Ivy at the Shore using racial slurs. But Rick was, above all, dedicated to his friendships, no matter how ill-advised. Do you doubt? Walk back with me to 1995 and Rick, for some reason took me on as a writing partner on TV comedy scripts. I had zero business writing comedy with Rick. ZERO. He was one of the most gifted writers I’ve known across all my writing ventures — with a career that made him a quiet legend, much more than a founding father and voice of Deadspin. His great gift was comedy. When it came to our scripts, he was the Natural and I was a bat boy. Or, if you like your arcane sports references as much as Rick, you’d have seen Rick taking me on like David Thompson forcing the Nuggets to sign Monte Towe, or maybe John McCain agreeing to team up with Sarah Palin. But even Sarah Palin wouldn’t have worn in earnest the bow ties I sometimes wore to that first newspaper where Rick and I worked.
Let me tell you about the greatest script we ever wrote, by which I mean Rick mainly wrote. It involved Kramer fearing that he’d developed secret moth powers after a moth had flown into his ear. “Hey, Jerry!,” Kramer said, “A moth just flew into my ear!” Kramer went on to be drawn to bright lamps. Jerry asks if he’s gone to a doctor.
The script bore both of our names, but the real story had me making only two contributions:
The first is that the script came about one afternoon when I walked into my apartment in Palo Alto and a moth flew into my ear and started fluttering around in there, still alive, and I flapped around like a spasmodic while driving to the Palo Alto Medical Center to have said critter flooded from my canal. Rick, so thrilled by this, commenced writing. So the first contribution I made to the script was opening the front door to my apartment.
I also played a key role in completing the script. I was allowed to staple it together. I was Rick’s staple boy. The man loved a brad. If I actually wrote for the script, it was lost on me. Yet, he let me tag along just the same. The Dodgers, and their bloated payroll, wouldn’t have even let type of the press release saying that Tommy Lasorda was referring to men who are happy.
Suspect #2: Zone Defense
You wanted to get Rick furious, see his face redden, cause him to put a spigot of Diet Coke into his mouth and get loaded? Mention the two words he considered most evil in the English language. Zone Defense. To those unfamiliar, Zone Defense is a term for the way some basketball teams play defense. This popular format entails spreading out your defense in spots around the floor — or “zones” as they are known in hell — and in this way, no one had particular responsibility. This is how Rick saw it. He believed that man-to-man defense taught responsibility and teamwork. This is what Rick coached. This is because Rick believed that did things the right way and you taught kids to do things the right way.
When Rick coached Tom Brady in basketball as a high-schooler, he taught the eventual hall-of-famer man-to-mother-freaking-man defense. No wonder Brady carved up Zone Defenses. That’s right, Belichick, it was Chandler.
Years of coaching — patient, compassionate and dedicated to doing it right. You left a legacy, Rick. So, yeah, zone Defense had it out for Rick, don’t you doubt it.
Zone defense, reached by phone, deferred comment.
Suspect #3: Self-seriousness
Hypocrisy, pompousness, self-serving divisive nonsense.
From the moment I met Rick, from the second I read his first column, I joined the many of us who marveled at Rick’s ability to find a clever and authentically funny way to find the flaw in the reasoning of the powerful, the hot-air filled, the cunning and insincere.
After Rick and I wrote a bunch of spec scripts, we wrote an original pilot that had us parading around Los Angeles with our producer/agents, pitching the show. In the pilot, we’d come up with a character that captured how Rick liked to handle pomposity. The character was a self-righteous, self-important man who lacked self-awareness, felt he deserved to be in charge of everything and had a well-coifed head of hair and wore makeup that turned his skin orange. He was, you guessed it, the main sports anchor. His name was Michael Sermon. Terrible wordplay in his name and I apologize for what was doubtless my only contribution to the script. Here’s a line from it where Sermon is lecturing some young kid.
“What is it with this generation? Don’t get lazy on me,” Sermon said, “You’re still paying your dues here. You know what I went through when I was younger?
Came the response from the show’s producer, Annie: “Savage beatings at recess?”
There are sermons everywhere these days. It’s the era where subtlety has come to die, a self-sanctified, self-immolation of nuance. Rick took a different tack. He used humor to make his points, respected language, wielded words like the ancient masters. He walked an impossible line, threading insight, incisive commentary while keeping on the other side of nasty. Rick just didn’t preach. This is one way to define the word: wisdom. Yes, self-seriousness was out to get Rick.
Self-seriousness, in an interview at police headquarters, blamed everyone else.
Finally, our last suspect: The Month of October.
Rick was a quietly spiritual person. He had a belief system. It was built on a basic, ancient principle grounded in certain truth: come October, the Dodgers would collapse. This bedrock understanding of the human condition allowed Rick to persevere through the good and bad. Then, after the inevitable collapse, Rick would celebrate with his favorite holiday, Halloween. As I alluded to earlier, year in and out, Rick sent Halloween gifts and cards to our children, Milo and Mirabel, reminding them of the importance of dressing up, not taking yourself too seriously, and giving your parents your candy in an exchange program increasingly ruined by inflation. Rick was our Halloween Fairy and we’ll miss him.
But this October presented Rick with a serious problem. These Dodgers, this year, with their exorbitant payroll…oh, wait, did someone point out that the Dodgers have the fourth highest payroll in baseball and the Giants have the fifth highest payroll? Well, never mind. I’m willing to let October off the suspect list. October, you are free to go.
I’ll end with more of Rick’s own words.
In the Seinfeld episode called “The Moth,” Kramer got increasingly attracted to things made of wool. At one point, Kramer walked into a room and pulled thirty handkerchiefs from his coat and put them on the table. Jerry asked where Kramer got them all.
Rick had many powers, and he used them for good. Loyalty to friends, playful skewering of the world’s Sermons using a powerful, creative instinct and remarkable use of language, and belief in the future of our children, presuming they played man-to-man defense.
Whatever nefarious forces got Rick Chandler, they were too late. The great gifts you, Rick, gave the world — as a man of words who led through example — will endure. So anytime you see a moth, or any kind of human-sized insect with generous instincts, or, well, just anytime you see the loyal, the creative and wise person, with wings or without — someone who is making the world a better place — see Rick’s spirit, too powerful to extinguish.
Miss you, moth brother. You were one of a kind.