"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Golden Oldies

Dig this most excellent essay on the old New York Herald Tribune by William Zinsser (who wrote a helpful book about writing):

Much has been written about the Herald Tribune’s bright stars in those postwar years: the foreign editor Joseph Barnes, the foreign correspondent Homer Bigart, the city reporter Peter Kihss, the sports columnist Red Smith, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Nat Fein, the music critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Virgil Thomson, and many others. But the paper never forgot that its readers were an infinitely mixed stew of interests and curiosities, and it had experts squirreled away in various nooks to cater to their needs: the food critic Clementine Paddleford, the fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard, the stamps editor, the crossword-puzzle editor, the garden editor, the racing columnist Joe H. Palmer.

Palmer was typical of the paper’s passion for good writing, nowhere better exemplified than in the sports section. It was in those pages, as a child baseball addict, that I found my first literary influences. The Trib sportswriters were my Faulkner and my Hemingway, and now I was in the same room with those bylines-come-to-life: Rud Rennie, Jesse Abramson, Al Laney. Laney, who covered golf and tennis, never took off his hat. I often paused at the sports department to watch those Olympians, wreathed in cigarette smoke, tapping out their stories with ferocious speed—especially Abramson, who seemed to have the entire history of boxing at his fingertips.

Ruling over that domain was the sports editor, Stanley Woodward. Built like a 250-pound fullback, he was as sensitive to good writing as a 125-pound poet. No hoopsters or pucksters played in his pages, no batsmen bounced into twin killings. Woodward had recently hired two stylists to add luster to his stable. First he plucked Red Smith from the Philadelphia Record, thereby presenting to a national audience the best sportswriter of his generation. Then he imported Palmer, an English professor at a college in Kentucky, to write a column called “Views of the Turf.” I knew nothing about horses, but Palmer’s columns, a blend of erudition and wit, strewn with allusions to Shakespeare and Chaucer, took me into a picaresque new world, often straying far from “the turf.” I still remember a column extolling the virtues of Kentucky jellied bourbon.


1 williamnyy23   ~  Aug 24, 2010 10:03 am

Thanks for posting this ode to sports writing, especially during a week that saw Jay Mariotti arrested for domestic abuse (in what many are relishing as a delicious example of ironic justice) and Jayson Whitlock embarrass himself by resigning from the KC Star during a live radio show in which he made numerous accusations about his employer.

2 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Aug 24, 2010 11:19 am

The Herald Tribune was the paper of record for the moderate Republican constituency that no longer exists. Educated, good government, business types that were a loyal opposition to the more moderate NY Times readers. Think supporters of Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower, etc. The paper was written to the highest standard without sensational rhetoric or loud mouth jingoism.

There was more consensus, compromise, and cooperation then. People trusted politicians, bureaucrats, and leaders. Divisive issues of abortion, gay marriage, state religion, gun control, taxation, and even civil rights did yet divide the country into two fractious groups that seemingly can never compromise and work together. I'm not saying that things were better then (just ask anyone of color who lived at that time, or the mess of Viet Nam), but at least it was thought to be patriotic to pay taxes, keep jobs and business local, and support your president regardless of party. Hard to believe that Lyndon Johnson was from Texas, Mo Udall was from Arizona,and Utah had a Democratic Governor as recently as the 70's.

3 Bluenatic   ~  Aug 24, 2010 3:02 pm

I highly recommend Woodward's long out-of-print book, Sports Page. It is a illuminating glimpse into a bygone age of newspapering/sports writing. Worth the $20 or so a used copy will run you.

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