Terrible news came down yesterday afternoon, as I learned that my friend and former ESPN colleague Jim Caple had died on Sunday. He was only 61 — just two years older than me. His family says he’d been dealing with ALS and dementia. I had no idea, so the news came as a shock.
If you read Uni Watch on ESPN back in the Page 2 days, you were probably familiar with Jim’s byline, because he was one of the founding P2 writers. His main beat was MLB, but he also covered tennis, the Olympics, the Tour de France, and more. He was a serious reporter who could do nuts-and-bolts sportswriting with the best of them, but what made him special was an absurdist sensibility that often came out in unexpected ways, like when he and his wife, Vicki, participated in the International Wife Carrying contest, or when he got a manicure/pedicure with Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, or when he biked up the brutal French cycling climb Mont Ventoux, or when he posed naked on a bicycle to spoof ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body” issue. Looking back at some of his work, I’m reminded of how ESPN, and sports media in general, used to be much funnier, much more able to laugh at sports and at itself, in ways that seem almost alien now.
Another thing I see in Jim’s work: joy — so much joy. He certainly wasn’t blind to all the nonsense in sports (or in the larger world), but he was always able to sift through all that nonsense and find ways to be playful, to harness his curiosity, to have fun. As someone who sometimes takes things too seriously, I always admired that about him and tried to learn from it (although I fear I still have a ways to go).
Jim lived in Seattle, so I didn’t see him that often. During the time when our ESPN tenures overlapped — 2004 through 2017 — I would typically see him once or twice per year, usually at “all hands” editorial meetings up in Bristol. I became friendly with lots of ESPN editors over the years, but Jim was the one fellow writer who I really connected with. One time he flew in to NYC the day before one of those Bristol meetings and crashed at my place, and then we took my car up to Connecticut the next day (stopping at my favorite hot dog joint along the way). He was always good company, whether in the car, at the office, at a bar, or anyplace else.
Like any good colleagues, Jim and I tried to help each other out. When he had a uni-related question that related to a story he was working on, he’d come to me. In October of 2011, when I was working on an ESPN piece about athletes who wore their wedding bands on the field, I was trying to get a quote from Texas Rangers pitcher Matthew Harrison, who wore his wedding ring on his necklace, but the Rangers were in the playoffs and their PR guys were too busy to deal with such a frivolous-seeming inquiry. Jim was covering the ALCS on-site for ESPN at the time, so I asked him if he could approach Harrison for me and get a quote, which he did. I remember one time I ran up to Yankee Stadium to help him out with … honestly, I don’t remember why. I just remember he needed me for something, so of course I said yes. Who would say no to Jim?
Jim was a pro’s pro, but most of all I valued his friendship and, especially, his no-bullshit humanity. As much as anyone I’ve ever known, he seemed to have his head screwed on right, with a really healthy sense of priorities. On more than one occasion, I was confronted with a tricky situation and thought to myself, “What would Jim Caple do here?”
I last saw Jim in 2019. I don’t recall why he was in town, but we met up at one of my favorite Manhattan spots and had a few beers and a bite. I feel like we had the bartender take a photo of us together, but I haven’t been able to find it. I remember that we talked about our years at ESPN, and also about what the future might hold for the next chapters of our careers and our lives. We didn’t know that Jim had so few chapters remaining. I miss him already, and the world already feels emptier for his absence. R.I.P., buddy.