I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I can’t get into hoops, I’m not a huge football fan. TV is dull. It’s cold outside. So I’m brushing up on my sportswriting history. Newspaper guys, magazine writers, guys who did both. Boxing writing. You really have to dig to find a lot of the good stuff, especially newspaper columns. Not that much is on-line. Only a small bit of it has ever been anthologized. There are so many guys that are practically forgotten to younger generations.
I’ve been through a bunch of Sport, some issues of True, the newspapers, of course. I raided the Inside Sports microfilm at the library last weekend. That was a great magazine for a handful of years, maybe ’79-83ish, the early years. Tom Boswell was their baseball guy, Gary Smith became a star writing features about football, Pete Dexter did kick-ass profiles of boxers and assorted hardguys. Roy Blount, Jr and Robert Lipsyte had columns.
And you know else did some great bonus pieces for them? Tony Kornheiser. I’ve found stories he did on Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt and Bill Walsh, all of which are very entertaining. And he did a profile on Joe Namath that should be in sports writing anthologies.
Kornheiser had chops, he was a good reporter as well as a skilled craftsman. He was able to apply the same loose intelligence and humor that he later used in his newspaper column and his TV persona to long-form magazine writing.
Here are two random Kornheiser bits from when he was at the New York Times (’76-79):
Philadelphia was having its face slapped by a bully of a winter, and Jimmy was coming from practice where he had attempted murder on a few dozen tennis balls. He had a sealskin coat over his shoulders and the former Miss World on his arm. As he walked past a group of fans one of them called out in a fatherly way, “Button up, Jimmy. It’s cold outside.”
Jimmy didn’t bother to stop, he gave his exit line of his way out of the door. “This is seal, my friend–ever see a seal die of the cold?” The former Miss World began to laugh. Jimmy always leaves them laughing, even if most of his wisecracks can’t be printed.
Jimmy Connors is the master of the single-entendre. He says what he wants, when he wants, to whom he wants. He is a Star. Heis demeanor, his philosophy, is rooted in something the Fonz likes to say: Live fast, love hard, and don’t let nobody borrow your comb. The Fonz gets away with it because–aayy–he’s the Fonz. Connors gets away with it because he wins.
“The Star You Love To Hate”
April 10, 1977
Here is a nice little piece of writing from a feature story on Catfish Hunter:
Underneath the folksy, good-ol’-boy exterior, with all his talk about bird dogs, killin’ them hogs and farmin’ them soybeans, Jim Hunter is an intelligent, thoughtful, honest and astonishingly secure man, the kind of man who’ll wear raggedy overalls to town becacuse he’s a farmer and that’s what a farmer wears even if he has millions in the bank. He has a touch of Senator Sam Ervin in him, the ability to draw a perfect picture of a horse without having to label it “Secretariat.” “Cat doesn’t demand respect,” said Fred Stanley, his teammate, “he just gets it.”
July 3, 1978