"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Press Box Feels Empty (and a lot less funny)

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.

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1 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 12:54 pm

Sad news, I always really enjoyed his stuff.

This is a good one of his, about Charismatic's aborted Triple Crown run in '99. When he pulled up lame at Belmont and everyone thought they would have to put him down, but ended up being saved by the efforts of the jockey Chris Antley who ended up dying of an overdose about a year later.

And yes I'm one of the 20 racing fans in America under the age of 70.


2 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:11 pm

When did he pass away? Ziegel always seemed to fly under the radar, probably because he never really tried to make himself part of the story. Unfortunately, it seems like in order for a good journalist to get noticed, he has to be noticed (if that makes sense).

3 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:12 pm

and Daniel Schorr has passed away, at 93


4 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:27 pm

2) This morning from what I understand..

Vic has one collection of his sports columns, from the early-to-mid-Eighties. I've got it at home and will put together a little tribute. Also wrote, or co-wrote, a book about running I think.

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:29 pm

[4] do you know if there is a halfway decent Dick Young collection out there I could get my hands on? The Post doesn't have online archives and the News only goes back to '95, so all I've ever read of him is excerpts in books and things like that.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:34 pm

5) No, actually, I don't know of any. Even Jimmy Cannon has some compilations, they are just out of print. Young's career is fascinating, and I've read a lot of his stuff doing research over the years, but not much is memorable as writing, which doesn't make it unreadable. He got very sour at the end, last 15 years of his life. But he was a force to be reckoned with indeed.

7 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:37 pm

[6] yeah from everything I've read he was a miserable guy from the late '60's onward. The whole "My America" thing, which is just obnoxious and boorish on so many levels.

But regardless, I've heard so many times what a "legend" he is that I'd like to at some point actually read something he wrote. I'd probably end up hating it, but I'm just curious.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 23, 2010 1:53 pm

[5] If you search Google News, you can come across some of his articles. It seems as if he was syndicated in several out of town papers, many of which have free archives that go back a bit.

[6] Young really wasn't a great writer, except when he was being particularly mean and vicious (beyond his normal demeanor). Then, he could turn a phrase with the best of them.

9 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 23, 2010 2:00 pm

6) I don't think he could turn a phrase with the best of them. But he was an important figure, the first guy to really go into the locker room, this was back when he covered the Dodgers in BK.

10 Chyll Will   ~  Jul 23, 2010 3:41 pm

Damn. One of the few sports writers I highly respected. It will surely make the Daily News that much easier to not bother picking up for me...

11 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 3:50 pm

all this on the weekend Madden gets the Spink award.

I wish I could turn 30 years worth of completely unfounded trade speculation into a shiny plaque

12 calyankee   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:02 pm

Best sports section of all time was the pre-Rupert Murdoch New York Post in the 1960's. Vic Ziegel, Larry Merchant, Leonard Koppett and Len Schechter were the best ever on one newspaper at the same time.

13 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:07 pm

[12] well Bill Simmons claims no one can ever top the Gammons/Ryan/McDonough trifecta in the '70's-'80's Boston Globe...so we're not allowed to disagree with that.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:24 pm

13) What Bill Simmons doesn't know about the history of newspaper sports departments outside of Boston, I suspect, is more than somewhat.

How about Newsday in the early 60s, NY Herald Trib before that. What about the Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright and Blackie Sherrod Dallas Fort-Worth Press of the mid-50s?

John Schulian, who knows about these things, had a good response to an SI.com piece that fawned all over that Boston Globe section (which was a powerhouse, no doubt, but the best?..I dunno, Monteville was the only great writer to come from that section, even if the Gammons and McDonough were kick ass reporters):


15 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:37 pm

[14] ah yes, I remember reading this last year. Good looks.

And yes Montville is the best pure writer of the bunch. Ryan and Gammons were great reporters in their prime, but the prose was never anything special. McDonough I never liked.

I think when looking at just beat guys we have a pretty good thing going in NY with the News. Feinsand, Rubin up until last year, Vacchinao, Isola...not a bad lineup. Lupica, Raissman, Harper, and Madden we all know about...but the beat guys are good.

16 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:45 pm

And Lupica was once a monster, too.

17 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 23, 2010 4:55 pm

[16] yeah he was. Which is the sad part, I've read "Wait Till Next Year" and some other older stuff, and he used to be able to bring it. But he, like Albom and a bunch of other guys, just became seduced by the ESPN machine and building a "brand"

Its sucks because you know that was not at all Dick Schapp's intention when he started Sports Reporters, his motives were pure. But what it wrought? Pretty much the death of major market quality sports journalism, and the rise of Skip, Jay, and everyone else.

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