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Lede Time


A lede is the opening sentence, paragraph, or several paragraphs to a newspaper or magazine story. I got to thinking about the very best ledes in sports writing history yesterday, then e-mailed a bunch of guys who know a lot about the history of sportswriting to get their take. Got some good ones.

I figure I’ll sprinkle them over a few posts. And I’m going to hit my library to find some more. But here are a few for starters:

Red Smith on the Bobby Thomson home run:

Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it, The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly implausible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

Or how about Heywood Broun on Mr. Ruth:

The Ruth is mighty and shall prevail.

John Lardner on Stanley Ketchel, Down Great Purple Valleys:

Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.


Hugh McIlvanney on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire:

We should have known that Muhammad Ali would not settle for any ordinary old resurrection. His had to have an additional flourish. So, having rolled away the rock, he hit George Foreman on the head with it.

William Nack on Secretariat, Pure Heart:

Just before noon the horse was led haltingly into a van next to the stallion bam, and there a concentrated barbiturate was injected into his jugular. Forty-five seconds later there was a crash as the stallion collapsed. His body was trucked immediately to Lexington, Ky., where Dr. Thomas Swerczek, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky, performed the necropsy. All of the horse’s vital organs were normal in size except for the heart.

“We were all shocked,” Swerczek said. “I’ve seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I’d ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I’d ever seen. And it wasn’t pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger. I think it told us why he was able to do what he did.”

JR Moehringer, Resurrecting the Champ:

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for a call from a man who doesn’t trust me, hoping he’ll have answers about a man I don’t trust, which may clear the name of a man no one gives a damn about. To distract myself from this uneasy vigil–and from the phone that never rings, and from the icy rain that never stops pelting the window–I light a cigar and open a 40-year-old newspaper.  “Greatest puncher they ever seen,” the paper says in praise of Bob Satterfield, a ferocious fighter of the 1940s and 1950s. “The man of hope–and the man who crushed hope like a cookie in his fist.” Once again, I’m reminded of Satterfield’s sorry luck, which dogged him throughout his life, as I’m dogging him now.  I’ve searched high and low for Satterfield. I’ve searched the sour-smelling homeless shelters of Santa Ana. I’ve searched the ancient and venerable boxing gyms of Chicago. I’ve searched the eerily clear memory of one New York City fighter who touched Satterfield’s push-button chin in 1946 and never forgot the panic on Satterfield’s face as he fell. I’ve searched cemeteries, morgues, churches, museums, slums, jails, courts, libraries, police blotters, scrapbooks, phone books and record books. Now I’m searching this dreary, sleet-bound Midwestern city, where all the streets look like melting Edward Hopper paintings and the sky like a storm-whipped sea.  Maybe it’s fatigue, maybe it’s caffeine, maybe it’s the fog rolling in behind the rain, but I feel as though Satterfield has become my own 180-pound Moby Dick. Like Ahab’s obsession, he casts a harsh light on his pursuer. Stalking him from town to town and decade to decade, I’ve learned almost everything there is to know about him, along with valuable lessons about boxing, courage and the eternal tension between fathers and sons. But I’ve learned more than I bargained for about myself, and for that I owe him a debt. I can’t repay the debt unless the phone rings.

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1 Sliced Bread   ~  Nov 11, 2009 10:21 am

I'm not a centaur, or even a horse guy, but the Secretariat story is a heartbreaker. Damn, that's a well written. It's not even written. It's perfectly told.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 11, 2009 10:23 am

Nack is a beast. One of the best bonus piece guys of 'em all.

3 Sliced Bread   ~  Nov 11, 2009 10:54 am

Just read Disney's got a Secretariat movie coming out next October around the anniversary of his death.
Diane Lane as his owner. Predictably sentimental treatment I'm sure, but I'll check that out.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 11, 2009 11:07 am

I know Nack is at least an advisor on that movie. His book on Secretariat is wonderful.

5 ckaftan   ~  Nov 11, 2009 3:08 pm

Here's my take: the best lede I've ever seen was Grantland Rice's "Four Horsemen" of Notre Dame. I get goosebumps every time I re-read that lede.

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