"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Gun Smoke

Ah, now Grantland has something here that really smokes. They are running a “Director’s Cut” series reprinting old pieces of sports writing. First up, is Tony Kornheiser’s profile of Nolan Ryan from the debut issue of Inside Sports.  Kornheiser was a wonderful long-form writer, first at Newsday, then the New York Times, where he covered basketball and wrote, “That Damned Yankees,” which stands as one the finest stories on George Steinbrenner.

For the first year-and-a-half of its run, Inside Sports was terrific. It was run by John Walsh. Tom Boswell was their baseball guy, Pete Axthelm contributed a column. Diane K. Shah was there. Gary Smith got his start as a magazine writer there and once wrote a wonderful basketball story called “Tinkerbell and Sweet Lou.”  Kornheiser did several bonus pieces, including a classic one on Joe Nameth, and the great Pete Dexter also did takeouts for them–on Jim Brown, Randy White, Daryl Dawkins, and the Tooz. Len Shapiro wrote about Bill James, John Schulian about Mark Aguirre and Gary Fencik, George Kimball on George Brett, and Dick Young wrote a fine piece on Duke Snider. Oh, yeah, Leonard Gardner, who wrote perhaps the finest boxing novel of them all, covered Duran Leonard.

Pat Jordan wrote the most celebrated story in the magazine’s history, a profile of Steve and Cyndi Garvey. The Garvey’s sued Inside Sports’ parent company (The Washington Post) and the ordeal put Jordan’s career on hold for more than a year (though he wrote two more pieces for them: a spring training story on the Yankees, and a profile of Steve Dalkowski). The suit, however, kept the magazine going longer than expected, according to Jay Lovinger, one of its editors. The case was eventually settled, the Garveys got divorced, and the Post sold the magazine. It was never the same.

I’m looking forward to this series. It’s a real mitzvah when you consider that the majority of the greatest sports writing is not available on-line.


1 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 14, 2011 10:06 am

people in LA who are saying Garvey should buy the Dodgers should be forced to read that Jordan story...the man's own kid called him a "sociopath."

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 14, 2011 10:09 am

2) Yup, it was a good one. And the behind-the-scenes story about that piece is as good, if not better, than the story itself. Pat's Dalkowski profile for Inside Sports was also good (better than an earlier one he'd written for SI). And the Dexter stuff is really strong. The Jim Brown piece featured a hilarious photograph of JB on rollerskates on the beach in L.A.

3 John Schulian   ~  Jul 14, 2011 1:57 pm

Every time I read something Tony Kornheiser wrote back then, I'm knocked out by just how wonderful he was. Equally startling is the kind of access he had to his subjects. Nolan Ryan picked him up at the airport, for God's sake, and they drove around chatting about this, that, and the other thing. And all the rest of us who plied the long-form trade, whether full-time or occasionally, had a similar experience with a subject. Think A-Rod or Kobe treat writers profiling them with that kind of grace and ease? The world changed for them when the money got astronomical and the social media gobbled up contemporary culture. Their privacy vanished and their paranoia went into overdrive, and suddenly there wasn't anyone waiting at the airport to pick up a visiting scribe. It was a better world for writers -- and, more important, readers -- when there was.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 14, 2011 2:51 pm

3) Did you ever have to deal with agents and all that jazz when covering a jock? Or did all that start after you left the business?

5 John Schulian   ~  Jul 14, 2011 5:30 pm

The only time I remember dealing with an agent was when I did a magazine piece on Dave Parker, who had just begun making so much money that he couldn't walk through his old neighborhood in Cincinnati without getting hit up for a loan. Parker's agent was Tom Reich (hope I spelled his name right), and there were no problems except with the way I wrote the story. It didn't make it into the magazine. But I was able to salvage part of it for a newspaper column. Sometimes you have to make chicken salad out of . . .

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jul 15, 2011 1:31 am

I will have to go and read some T.Kornheiser..I saw him on tv once or twice and foudn him obnoxious and repellant..perhaps not meant for the boob tube?

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