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Bronx Banter Interview: George Vecsey


We’ve talked about Jack Mann a lot lately (here and here).

Mann was at Sports Illustrated for a brief time in the 1960s. Here is a sampling of his work:

“Just a Guy at Oxford” (Bill Bradley)

“The Great Wall of Boston” (The Green Monster)

“Sam, You Make the Ball too Small” (Sam McDowell)

“The King of the Jungle” (Walter O’Malley)

George Vecsey, right, with his arm around the wonderful Ray Robinson

I recently exchanged e-mails with George Vecsey, the veteran columnist for the New York Times, who started his career at Newsday under Mann.

Here’s our chat. Enjoy:


Bronx Banter: When Jack Mann took over the Newsday sports department was he influenced by any sports editors that came before him? I’m thinking of someone like Stanley Woodward.

George Vecsey: I don’t know. He came up through the news department at Newsday, had some college, was well read, surely knew about sports editors, but was so much an outsider that I doubt he would consider himself an acolyte of anybody.

BB: How would you describe to young readers what the climate of the press box was like in 1960? And how did Mann and “his Chipmunks” differ from the older writers?

GV: Well, the dichotomy was not as clear as I guess we would like to have thought. It may have been a function of age. But Isaacs and Len Shecter of the Post and Larry Merchant of the Philly Daily News were not children, and were capable of thinking for themselves, with Jack only part of it. The Chipmunks were young and energetic and brash. The split was probably on the same generational lines of the Kennedy-Nixon election – new vs. old (politics excluded). Even in 1960, some of us (me at least) were anticipating the forces of the mid-60’s in style and music and attitude. But we all were pretty traditional, except in comparison to the older writers, who were often hooked into the free drinks of the press room and the party line of the clubs they covered, or so we thought. Sounds pretty simplistic, looking back.

BB: Who else writing for the New York papers in the early 60s were like-minded? I’m thinking specifically of Shecter at the Post. Who else was part of the new breed?

GV: Len Shecter, Isaacs, Merchant, of course. And Stan Hochman A lot of the younger guys were Chipmunks just because we chattered a lot, and hung out together. Looking back, it would be hard to put one label on me, Steve, Maury Allen, Vic Ziegel, Phil Pepe, Paul Zimmerman, Joe Donnelly, Joe Gergen. We (or at least I did) admired Dick Young, who was no Chipmunk, but I knew him through my dad when I was a little kid, and Dick was very gracious to me when I came along as a young writer. I was friendly with older guys like Harold Rosenthal (more acerbic than any of us) and Barney Kremenko (a kind man, a friend), and I learned a lot from Leonard Koppett, one of the great people of the business, and I adored Jimmy Cannon. I don’t know that Bob Lipsyte considered himself a Chipmunk, but he and I hung out a lot in those days, and his excellent early work as a sports columnist (in his first tour of duty, I emphasize) re-defined the genre. So it’s hard to define Chipmunk, at this late date. Every generation has its new look. When I came back to Sports in 1980, there was Jane Gross, Allen Abel, Michael Farber, Jane Leavy, Phil Hersh, all good pals of mine. New faces.

BB: And now, the climate is different from then.

GV: The one difference between then and now was that everybody talked in the press box. Talked about the game. Argued about politics. Bickered about where we were going to dinner. Nowadays, the kids are all hunched over their machines, with headsets on, tweeting and facebooking and blogging and goodness knows what else. Nobody talks in the press box. I miss arguments. I miss human contact. I think we had more fun than the Thumb Generation. But the output in the New York Times is really good, probably better than ever, which is what matters.


The Elements of Style

Jack Mann was a great newspaper man: editor, reporter, and columnist.

Over at the National Sports Journalism Center, Dave Kindred has a wonderful piece on Mann:

Mann made his reputation through the tumult of the 1960s. First as Newsday’s sports editor, then writing for Sports Illustrated, he encouraged and reveled in reporting that disturbed the peace. “Chipmunks,” he wrote, appropriating the term of disdain coined by co-opted hacks, “are the New Breed … their outstanding characteristics being irreverence and curiosity.”

He made words dance. He once assigned reporters to interview track fans who carried their own stopwatches so he could write the headline: “These Are the Souls Who Time Men’s Tries.” By the end, his resume came with stops in New York, Long Island, Miami, Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis, perhaps because in his fierce integrity he suffered fools not at all. “Most chicken newspapers,” he once wrote, “which is most newspapers….”

When he was at Newsday (1960-62) Mann sent a style sheet to his staff. It was known as “the yellow pages” because he typed his memos on legal pad paper. I recently came across a copy and so in the interest of honoring history and the elements of style, I now share it with you:

[Photo Credit: Shaefer]

The Man

Over at SI.com I’ve got a 30-minute podcast interview George Vecsey about his new Stan Musial biography.

Dig it…(There is no direct hyperlink to the interview, just go to May, 2011 and you’ll find it there.)

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