Two years ago, I had dinner with Vic Ziegel at Liebmann’s Deli in the Bronx. We’d been introduced through some mutual friends and I wanted to chat with him about his career and the history of sports writing. He was funny in that skeptical, weathered manner you’d expect from a career newspaperman. I asked him who he thought were the best sports writers and he told me that on any given night any number of guys were the best. “We all had nights when we were the greatest.”
When I asked him who were the most literary sports writers he looked at me like I had six heads. “There is no such thing as a literary sports writer. Not when you are working on deadline, even if I spent most of my time working for an afternoon paper.” Vic wasn’t a journalist. He was a newspaperman. No pretensions.
I just got word that Vic has passed away. Man, this is tough news for the New York sports writing community. His sense of humor and sharp eye for detail will be missed.
In the meantime, read this wonderful piece by Vic about the joys of being a sportswriter:
When I covered baseball for the New York Post, the real New York Post, it was especially important that I finish in good time. Before the bars closed. The Lion’s Head was my bar of choice. If I got there at a decent hour, there was a great chance that Len Shecter, my friend, my idol, would be at the corner of the bar. He was the champ, tough, outrageous, funny, shrewd, fearless, acerbic, but don’t get me started. I wanted to write like Lenny – as they say in TV, the same but different – and on my best nights I came close.
He covered the Yankees when they won the pennant twice a year. When their clubhouse was colder than Greenland. Mickey Mantle was probably the main perp. It was no easy thing to be tough, outrageous, shrewd, etc. Lenny always got there. A few minutes after he left the baseball beat, Mantle told him, for his ears only, “I always thought you had a lot of guts.”
Lenny did a lousy thing to those nights at the Lion’s Head. He died. To this day, when I write a line I like, I tell my friend, “I did good, Lenny.”
My condolences go out to Vic’s family.