"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky #6: Yankees, Red Sox, and Halberstam

I had intended to follow up on last week’s poll with observations and details of the weekend’s coverage of the Yanks-Sox series, but the sudden death of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and author David Halberstam has rendered that idea moot. There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss Alex Rodriguez’s ridiculous video-game pace, the continuing wussification of Carl Pavano (Pavano told ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe Monday that he was unsure if he’d pitch again this season – Pavano and the Yankees, despite there being a transcript of the interview, are denying the report and planning a throwing session Wednesday), the pantsing Yankee pitchers have received in the early going, and whether or not Dice-K is overrated.

Halberstam was killed in a car accident near Menlo Park, California, following a speech at UC Berkeley. He was 73.

In a strange, cosmic way, Halberstam’s death coming one day after the Yankees and Red Sox played their initial series of the season makes sense. He was a native New Yorker who grew up with Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees. He later became a Bostonian, graduating from Harvard and later residing in Nantucket as well as owning an apartment in New York City.

Furthermore, of the seven sports-specific books Halberstam completed – he published 20 non-fiction works in his career and was working on a book about the 1958 NFL Championship Game at the time of his death – the Yankees or the Red Sox were prominently featured in three. Summer of ’49, to me, is the definitive work about one of the most thrilling pennant races of all-time. The Teammates, which details Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky’s trip to Florida to visit Ted Williams before his death, has much of the same biographical information as Summer of ’49, yet through the four Red Sox all-time greats, gives that pennant race a different sense of closure. Halberstam highlights the end of the Yankees’ dynasty some 40 years before Buster Olney in October 1964, chronicling that year’s seven-game World Series and the rise of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Many writers come to mind when thinking of the Yankees, the Red Sox, and their respective cities: Dick Young, Ring Lardner, Jimmy Cannon, Dave Anderson, Phil Pepe, Maury Allen, Bill Madden, Murray Chass, Mike Lupica (he was awesome once, and still can be when he wants to show he still has game), Leigh Montville, Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Gordon Edes, and more recently, Tom Verducci, Sean McAdam, John Harper, and Joel Sherman. Halberstam, although he never covered baseball as a newspaper reporter, deserves mention among those names. His work didn’t become part of the vernacular or a convenient way to describe 86 years of ineptitude, but it is lasting, and will continue to last because of the historic figures he highlighted, and the way he portrayed them.

I got to meet Halberstam twice: the first time was eight years ago when I interned at the defunct ESPN show “Up Close”; the second was a year and a half ago when he appeared on “CenterStage.” He was tall, quiet, very much the stern, intellectual, professorial type. Yet, for someone so reserved and measured in his speech and gait, he had an energy that belied his demeanor. I spent maybe a total of two minutes with him over the course of those meetings, but I came away with one thought both times: He’s a man that commands respect when he walks into a room.

I didn’t intend to participate in the eulogy, although I unintentionally have in this space. This is a place of intelligent discourse, so why not pay homage to an intelligent man and a giant in the writing field? Halberstam, along with Dick Schaap, made it acceptable for newsies to be sportswriters. They had different styles, but were similarly effective and entertaining in their storytelling. They educated their readers.

With both of them gone now, there’s a great void.

Back to baseball next week, at which time A-Rod’s season totals will probably be in the range of a .400 average, 20 home runs, 50 RBIs, .475 OBP, and 1.500 OPS . . .

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver