"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Write Stuff

Roger Angell was the first baseball writer I can remember. Actually, it was the two Rogers–Angell and Kahn–whose books were in my father’s collection, and sometimes–I’m sure I’m not alone here–I confused them. But when it came time to actually reading them and not just noticing the jacket cover of their books, Angell was my guy. Years later, when I started this blog, Angell served as a role model. Not because I wanted to copy his style or his sensibility, but because he was an example of fan who wrote well and loved the game.

So long as I was authentic and wrote with dedication and sincerity, I knew I’d be okay. Angell came to mind recently when I read a blog post by the veteran sports writer, David Kindred:

Bill Simmons is America’s hottest sportswriter. Fortunately, at the same time I came up with an explanation that enabled me to continue calling myself a sportswriter. Bill Simmons has succeeded because he is not, has never been, and will never be a sportswriter. He’s a fan.

Lord knows, there’s nothing wrong with being a fan. I love sports fans. Without the painted-face people, I’d be writing ad copy for weedeaters. But I have I ever been a sports fan. A fan of reporting, yes. Of journalism. Of newspapers. A fan of reading and writing, you bet. I am a fan of sports, which is different from being a sports fan of the Simmons stripe.
The art and craft of competition fascinates me. Sports gives us, on a daily basis, ordinary people doing extraordinary things and extraordinary people doing unimagined things. I love it.

But I have never cared who wins. I am a disciple of the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Dave Anderson, whose gospel is: “I root for the column.” We don’t care what happens as long as there’s a story.

My readings of Simmons now suggest he is past caring only about the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots winning (though if they all won championships in the same year, the book would be an Everest of Will Durant proportions). He now engages, however timidly, in actual reporting of actual events; he even has allowed that interviewing people might give him insights otherwise unavailable on his flat-screen TV. Clearly, though, he is most comfortable in his persona as just a guy talking sports with other guys between commercials – which is fine if, unlike me, you go for that guys-being-guys/beer-and-wings nonsense and have infinite patience for The Sports Guy’s bloviation, blather, and balderdash.

Even though Bill James has written almost exclusively about baseball, for traditional newspaper and magazine guys, I doubt that he’d qualify as a sports writer. Not without reporting, or going into the locker rooms. Then where does that leave guys like Joe Sheehan, Tim Marchman, Jonah Keri and Rob Neyer (to name, just a few)? They aren’t fans like Simmons, but they write soley about sports.

The definition of what it is to be a sports writer is changing.

I have done some freelance writing for SI.com, gone into the locker rooms and filed stories. I’ve also worked on longer bonus pieces too. I enjoyed both experiences because it gave me an appreciation for the rigors of journalism. I also came to realize that being a beat writer, for instance, is not a job for me–I’m too old and I don’t have that kind of hustle and I don’t care enough about where being a good beat writer would take me.

Nobody grows up dreaming of beinga  columnist anymore do they? I suspect they dream of growing up and writing, or blogging, so that they can be on TV.

Here at the Banter, I’m more like Simmons or Angell. I’m not a reporter or a columnist or an analyst, and I’m certainly no expert (I’m lucky to have a sharp mind like Cliff writing analytical pieces in this space). I think of myself as an observer. More than a strict seamhead, I write about what it is like to live in New York City and root for the Yankees. Often, I’m just as interested in writing about my subway ride home or the latest Jeff Bridges movie as I am about who the Yankees left fielder will be next year. Which makes the Banter more of a lifestyle blog than just a Yankee site, for better or worse.

So I’m no sports writer and that’s cool but I’m not sure what a sports writer is anymore.

…Oh, and along with Kindred, the inimitable Charlie Pierce has started a blog at Boston.com. Pierce is a welcome addition to the landscape. Be sure to check him out.


1 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 12, 2010 10:57 am

I have a hard time believing that anyone would get into sports writing without being a sports fan and a fan of some team specifically. I did grow up wanting to write, possibly about sports, for newspapers or magazines It was something that fascinated me. I told people that my goal was to write for Sports Illustrated. And I don't think I would have been that interested in that if I didn't grow up in an environment where there were plenty of good sports teams that I enjoyed rooting for.

Further, I don't. think its the "new era" of sportswriters (or whatever you wish to call them) who root for the team instead of a column. "Respected" journalists like Gammons and Lupica don't even try to hide who they root for and against.

2 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jan 12, 2010 11:30 am

All of this musing, Alex, and it is thoughtful, is a subset of the larger picture of what journalism, reviewing, commentary are in the age of blogging, talk radio, and Twitter. ALL of it is in-play, changing.

3 Shaun P.   ~  Jan 12, 2010 11:50 am

[0] Seems just a wee bit self-serving on Kindred's part, no? "He's just a fan, I'm a sportswriter". To me, that's a somewhat kinder shade of "He's just a blogger living in his parents' basement". What is a sportswriter if not someone who writes about sports, regardless of the perspective from which one writes? Sheesh. Hello "distinction without a difference"!

Now if Kindred wants to draw a distinction between a "sportswriter" and a "sports reporter", that I would buy - but he doesn't. And of course he doesn't, because then there would be nothing that separates his current self (when was Kindred last a regular reporter?) from Bill Simmons, or Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, or you, Alex. And yes, I very much consider you a sports writer.

Maybe Kindred is just upset that he doesn't have a wikipedia page, and Simmons's page is long enough to include 32 footnotes.

[1] I can imagine a person getting into sportswriting loving a particular team/player, and then over time, losing that specific love - but I can't imagine writing about sports without loving sports, and I can't imagine loving sports without first loving a particular player/team.

4 RagingTartabull   ~  Jan 12, 2010 11:56 am

you can hate sports and be a sportswriter...just ask Jeff Pearlman.

but I do believe the term "sportswriter" is a pretty broad one. Mark Feinsand, Roger Angell, and Bill James all write about baseball...but I think we could agree that their shared traits end right there. And thats a great thing, it leads to a wide range of commentary and analysis from all different angles. As long as the writing and reasoning behind it are of a high caliber, the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned.

5 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jan 12, 2010 12:08 pm

In the sports noit sportswriter category, from MLB Trade Rumors:

Buster Olney of ESPN and Joel Sherman of the New York Post find a Johnny Damon-Yankees reunion unlikely.

Both writers say Damon would have to greatly reduce his salary demands. According to Sherman, the Yankees are telling agents they have only $2MM to spend. Both writers also agree that Brian Cashman would have to lobby Hal Steinbrenner to expand the budget to accomodate Damon. Sherman says a July trade for Mike Cameron was scrapped because Hal would not approve a $5.5MM increase.

In the likely event the Yanks move on from Damon, Sherman ranks the team's targets: Xavier Nady, Reed Johnson, Rocco Baldelli, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Marcus Thames.

6 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 12, 2010 12:15 pm

[5] I don't like this.

7 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jan 12, 2010 12:18 pm

I'm actually okay with that cheap short list. We need to move beyond 'we can have anyone, let's buy him' I think. And there WILL be changes come the deadline if they are needful. I might even put Jerry at the top for his infield flexibility, though I haven't thought through the platoon LF issues, and maybe one of the RH bats that bop is better (Thames?).

8 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 12, 2010 12:32 pm


I want Johnny Damon.

9 Shaun P.   ~  Jan 12, 2010 12:32 pm

[7] If he can play the field, I've been saying Nady all along, though Johnson's versatility (read: plays CF better than Swisher) may be a plus as well.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 12, 2010 1:15 pm

I inferred the same self-serving message from Kindred. These days, it seems as if arrogance is the defining characteristic of what makes one a sportswriter. Maybe that’s always been the case. After all, sportswriters get to perform a job that many of their readers who love to do while covering subjects that likely have a lower level of education (which doesn’t necessarily make them less intelligent). Perhaps this combination has contributed to the sportswriters’ sense of superiority, and why they seemingly more than other journalists have felt so threatened by new media. Who knows…I am just glad the future will have more Alex Belths and fewer David Kindreds.

[5] I’d like to see them sign Reed Johnson regardless of what they do with Damon.

11 ColoYank   ~  Jan 12, 2010 1:28 pm

"Which makes the Banter more of a lifestyle blog than just a Yankee site, for better or worse."

It's for the better, Alex. Very much for the better. Your blog is a haven, where the insights are more worldly, the dialogue more gracious (by a wide margin), and the perspective more balanced.

And your opinion on Roger Angell is fervently shared in this quarter. (If one can "fervently share" something.) He writes on baseball exactly the way someone named "Angell" would write.

Ever read any Leonard Koppett? This late great, who finished his career in the S.F. Bay Area, expressed himself felicitiously and produced the most thought-provoking material on baseball I ever encountered. Check out "The Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball."

12 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 12, 2010 1:32 pm

Hey, thanks for the kinds words ColoYank. Yeah, I've long been a fan of Koppetts--can you believe that he and Lenny Shecter covered the Yanks and Mets respectively for the Post in the early Sixties, what a team! I really like the Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball and his hoops book too. He was the Bill James of the pressbox, a very even-handed writer. And he was a huge champion of Curt Flood's cause, writing about it in both the New York Times and The Sporting News. One of my great regrets is never getting the chance to meet or interview him.

13 Sliced Bread   ~  Jan 12, 2010 1:33 pm

My kinda sports writer was a guy who worked at the New York Herald, smoked cigars, wore his Mets cap backwards. Oscar Madison was his name. Quite the character.

Sports Writer: Well, that's the ballgame.
Oscar Madison: It's not over yet.
Sports Writer: Bases loaded, Mazeroski up, ninth inning - you expect the Mets to hold a one-run lead?
Oscar Madison: What's the matter? You've never heard of a triple play?

Make no mistake. Oscar wasn't rooting for the story (like the David KIndreds in the press box) -- he was a diehard fan -- and if Oscar Madison kept a blog, Alex, I think it would be something like your Bronx Banter.

Oscar would wear his baseball-loving heart on his sleeve, along with the mustard he wiped from his mug. He'd complain about his neurotic roommate leaving notes on his pillow, the subway, things that people can relate to.

He'd rave about his favorite food (hot dogs), and music (anything but Felix's opera), and art (Playboy). He'd be a connoisseur, an aficinado without using words like connossieur, and aficinado.

His regular commenters, characters like Murray, Speed, Roy, and Vinnie would banter about broads, cigars, beer, horses, poker, etc.

Yeah, this here Bronx Banter is the kind of blog I think Oscar would've maintained -- but Alex, in addition to being an actual person, and a bonafide sports writer -- you're a much more gracious, and generous host than Oscar would ever be.

14 thelarmis   ~  Jan 12, 2010 2:08 pm

[0] my favorite part: "I'm lucky to have a sharp mind like Cliff writing analytical pieces in this space" - we all are! we're all just lucky to have the Bronx Banter, period! : )

i'm cool w/ reed johnson. i would really rather just have johnny back...

15 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jan 12, 2010 2:41 pm
16 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jan 12, 2010 2:45 pm
17 Sliced Bread   ~  Jan 12, 2010 3:01 pm

[16] awesome, weeping. those guys were the best.

18 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 12, 2010 3:04 pm

"We're all out of cornflakes. F.U." Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!

19 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 12, 2010 7:50 pm

[18] Awesome, I used to dream of being a sportwriter like that, and then having the Pigeon sisters move in next door.

20 nemecizer   ~  Jan 13, 2010 5:48 am

I actually graduated high school with Bill Simmons. Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT, class of 1987. I recall him being a nice guy. All he every talked was sports. Glad to see him doing so well.

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