"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: leigh montville

Boston to New York


Here’s our pal Leigh Montville on Ellsbury as a Yankee:

Ellsbury’s departure fits somewhere in the middle between Boggs and Damon. Like Damon, he is a more than competent centerfielder, romanced directly off a character-driven, long-haired world championship team. Unlike Damon, he was not the favored face. That belonged to David Ortiz, no argument. Ellsbury was in the second line of stars, high on a long list. Little kids loved him because of his size. Purists loved him because of his speed, his ability to steal a base and track down fly balls. Girls loved him because of his good looks. He was good, good, good, but not break-the-bank good.

There was a curious, season-long disconnect to close out his time in Boston. Despite all the good things he did during the championship run, there always was the sense he was going to leave. He was in the last year of his contract. His agent was Scott Boras, the same no-prisoners negotiator Johnny Damon used. The centerfielder would want the big years and the big money and the Red Sox would not outbid the other bidders. He was good, but not break-the-bank good. Everybody understood.

Unlike Boggs, Ellsbury’s departure would not be without sadness. He would have looked good in a Red Sox uniform for his entire career. Unlike Damon, though, his departure would not be a surprise. He never had promised anything. Everyone knew he was going for the top dollar.

The surprise — ah — would be the destination.

What a Bargain


Leigh Montville on John Henry buying the Globe:

The news last week that The Boston Globe was sold was not a great surprise. The New York Times had been shopping the newspaper for a couple of years and various bidders had been mentioned in a number of stories. The news that John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, was the winning bidder also was not a great surprise. He has become part of the fabric of the city, a 63-year-old rich man about town, a close-lipped maker and shaker, lives in a mansion, is married (again) to a younger local woman. This was another addition to an interesting business portfolio.

The price that he paid for this addition was the great surprise.

“I can’t believe he bought our newspaper for $70 million,” I, a one-time sportswriter at The Globe, said to another one-time sportswriter at The Globe. “He gets all that real estate. He gets all of those trucks. He gets the rights to all of the stories, all of the pictures, the 22 Pulitzers, all of the past, plus the computer present and future of the pre-eminent voice in all of New England. The Times paid $1.1 billion for The Globe 20 years ago. He gets it for $70 million? The stories say that’s about four percent of whatThe Times paid.”

“He just gave Dustin Pedroia a $110 million contract extension for eight years,” the other one-time sportswriter said. “So he’s paying $50 million more for the starting Red Sox second baseman than he is for the pre-eminent voice in New England…”

This fact made the two of us feel very old.

Come Together


Via The Atlantic.

For more on the Boston Marathon here is Charlie Pierce and Leigh Montville.

True School

Leigh Montville on the Hollywood life of Alex Karras.

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]

In Too Deep

I don’t know from hockey but I thoroughly enjoyed this recent bonus piece by Leigh Montville on the Boston Bruins:

The standing ovation was a return to the past. No, not the standing ovation at TD Garden last Friday night, the 10-minute communal fret-celebration at the end of that 1–0, stomach-churning win over the Lightning in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals that sent the Bruins into their best-of-seven transcontinental arm wrestle with the Canucks for the Stanley Cup. No, that was frenzied normality, a universal sports staple, excited people in an exciting moment.

The standing ovation the next afternoon at Pizzeria Regina in the North End was different. That was the way life once was in Boston hockey.

“Milan Lucic came in….” Richie Zapata, manager of the restaurant, reported.

Yes, Milan Lucic. Bruins winger. Still only 22 years old. Fourth year with the team. Six-feet-three, 228 pounds. A fan favorite since he arrived as a 19-year-old, straight from the Vancouver Giants, his junior team. Banger, scrapper, thumper. Yes.

“Johnny Boychuk was with him….”

Yes. Johnny Boychuk. Defenseman. Twenty-seven. Six-feet-two, 225 pounds. Third year with the Bruins. Big-time slap shot from the point. Cannon.

“They were with their girlfriends…. ”


“I gave them a booth in the back. They ordered a large pepperoni with peppers and mushrooms. I gave them some extra slices. Took care of it. They were nice. Signed some metal pizza plates for the waitresses. Just nice. Nobody bothered them.”

So when the two Bruins and their girlfriends finished their meal at the original Pizzeria Regina—not one of the other Pizzeria Regina locations around the area, the original, with the familiar red-and-white-checked tablecloths, with the smart-mouth waitresses, with the waiting line that goes out the door most of the time and down the stairs straight onto Thacher Street, when they stood up, well, everyone else in the restaurant also stood up. And started clapping. Just like that.

Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals are tonight in Boston, with the Bruins trailing 3-2.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Bronx Banter Book Excerpt

Here is Part Two of Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon Jump from Leigh Montville’s new book, “Evel:The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend.”

(Click here for Part One)


Ten . . .

The time was 3:36 in the afternoon of September 8, 1974. The numbers came through the radio in the pilot helmet clamped tight over the man of the moment’s troubled head. No stopping now. He was going to travel over Snake River Canyon in this bucket of previously used bolts. Or not.

There was no turning back now. He was strapped into this compartment in the front end of this retread airplane fuel tank that had been salvaged from a government junkyard, one of those fuel tanks you see on the wingtips of fi ghter planes or private jets, a fuel tank that cost no more than $100 as scrap metal. He waited to be blasted into the sky. Maybe blasted to smithereens. Blasted in some manner or shape or form. That was for sure.

The fuel tank, which was supposed to be a rocket of course, had been altered, painted, given some kind of “jet propulsion” system, a set of surplus helicopter fi ns had been stuck on the side, and some corporate logos had been added to complete the red-white-and-blue American commercial package, but truth was truth: he was riding a homemade piece of shit. Three smart kids with an Encyclopedia Brittanica and a whole lot of spare time could have made this thing. Shot it off from their backyard.

Nine . . .

The sense of doom that had been an undigested worry in his stomach for the longest time had grown and grown in the past months, days, hours, and now, in the fi nal minutes and seconds, it filled his entire body, gushed out, covered his every word and action. He was a dead man. He had talked so much about the risk, the peril involved, while selling this event, this stunt, this whatever it was across the country, that he had convinced himself. He was a goner. He had created his own demise, built it from scratch, from an idea in his head to a public extravaganza televised around the world. “Man Kills Himself.” Come on, folks. Get your money up. Bring the wife and kids. “Right now I don’t think I’ve got better than a fifty-fifty chance of making it,” he had told Robert Boyle of Sports Illustrated. “It’s an awful feeling. I can’t sleep nights. I toss and turn, and all I can see is that big ugly hole in the ground grinning up at me like a death’s head. You know, I’ve always been concerned about kids—not just my own three, but all kids— what kind of an image I’m providing for them, what kind of an inspiration. I don’t know now. Maybe I’m leading them down a path to self-destruction. Our house in Butte is surrounded night and day by people wanting to take a look at me, to take something as a souvenir. And that damn little Robbie of mine, the 11-year-old, you know what he’s gone and done, He has got a big old sign out in front that says ‘SEE EVEL JR JUMP—25 CENTS.’ It’s not a good thing.”

Eight . . .

Push the button. That was all he had to do. Push the button and away he went. He had little control over what happened next. He had no steering wheel. He had no gears to shift. Nothing. He was so cramped he couldn’t put his arms out and attempt to fl y as a last gasp if trouble arose. The last- resort personal parachute hanging from his chest was nuisance rather than comfort. He had his hand on the lever for the drogue shoot, that was it. Wait ten seconds after liftoff and let it go. It would work without him if he passed out. He really was a passenger, not a driver. When he pushed that one button in front of him, the plug would be pulled on the seventy-seven- gallon boiler underneath, the water inside superheated in the past fourteen hours to 475 degrees, and 5,000 pounds of steam pressure would be released. The old airplane fuel tank . . . okay, the rocket . . .the rocket would be traveling at 200 miles per hour by the time it reached the end of the 108- foot ramp into the sky, traveling as fast as 400 miles per hour when it hit the height of its arc, 2,000 feet in the air. (Plus the 540- foot drop into the canyon. That meant he would be almost half a mile off the ground.) If all went well, the drogue parachute and then the big parachute would deploy from the back of the rocket, and he would slow down as he reached the other side. He would be traveling no more than fifteen miles per hour when a pointed shock absorber, sort of a pogo stick on the front of the rocket, would cushion the landing on the moonscape on the other side.

This, of course, was all hypothesis. No one ever had done this.


Fly Me To The Moon

Bronx Banter Book Excerpt

Here’s a smile for you. From Leigh Montville’s terrific new book, “Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel:American Showman, Daredevil and Legend.” I reviewed the book in SI last week and can’t recommend it enough.

“Most of us think of what we do as writing,” said William Nack. “But Leigh Montville sits down and says, ‘Why don’t I tell you all a story?’ ”

“My philosophy has always been that sports should be fun—a thing of joy,” Montville once told SI. “I don’t get up a whole lot of outrage; I’d rather laugh. What I really like to do is take something and stand it on its head, look at it that way, from a different perspective.”

Montville is one of our best pure storyteller’s and he’s perfectly suited to tell the tale tale of Evel Knievel. Here’s the first of two-part excerpt detailing Knievel’s most infamous stunt–Snake River Canyon.




The man of the moment made the moment a family affair. If this was going to be his last day on earth, then he would go out looking like a church deacon. Linda and the three kids would be there. His mother would be there from Reno. His father had been there all week. (“Bob always had to have a challenge,” his dad said at a press conference, sounding a bit like Ward Cleaver. “I tried to discourage him for years for fear of injury.”) His eighty-one-year-old grandmother, Emma, would be there. His half-sisters would be there from both sides of the family tree. His cousin, Father Jerry Sullivan, a Catholic priest from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, would give the benediction before liftoff.

His lawyers, accountants, bartenders, friends, and fellow reprobates from long ago had appeared already at the site. Bus trips had gone down from Butte. There had been a mass migration from the city, people driving the 364 miles in five, six, seven hours, depending on speed. The Butte High band had gone down to play the National Anthem. Everyone had assembled, former promoters, fans, everyone . . . Ray Gunn, his first assistant from Moses Lake in the early days, had returned for the show, friends again, signed up now to watch the jump from a helicopter and carry a bottle of Wild Turkey to the other side for an instant celebration.

The day would be part wake, part wedding reception, an all-time Humpty Dumpty experience. The broken pieces of Robert Craig Knievel’s life would be put together for this one time as they never had been put together, not once, in all of his years.

He would fly from Butte in the Lear in the morning with his family. Watcha would be at the controls and would buzz the crowd at the canyon, a dramatic touch. Watcha and everybody else would switch to a helicopter at the Twin Falls City-County Airport, arrive at the site to great applause, and the man of the moment would put on the flight suit in his trailer, and the show would begin.

Unless, of course, he canceled the show. “I have two demands that if you don’t meet I’ll cancel the show,”

Knievel said in an early morning phone call to Bob Arum from Butte. Arum prepared for the worst.

“First,” Knievel said, “I want to have all the press meet my helicopter when it lands. I want to make a statement.”

Arum said that would be impossible. Moving the entire press corps through the crowd could start a riot. (Another riot.) What he could do was bring Knievel to the press tent. That was possible. Knievel could make his statement that way. Same result.

Knievel agreed. “Second,” he said. “I want you to bring your two sons to my trailer before the jump. I want to say some words to them before the jump because people are going to blame you for my death and I want them to know it was my idea. And I want them to sit with my family at the jump.”

“Done,” Arum said, figuring that the two boys, ages eleven and nine, would do what he told them. “I’ll get them there.”

Knievel seemed sentimental in everything he did that morning. He seemed to be turning off the lights, locking all the doors. Just in case. He had a picture of the canyon, just the canyon, no Skycycle or ramp, that he secretly signed, “Linda, I love you,” across the blue sky. He told Kelly, his oldest son, last thing before everybody left Butte for the jump, to pretend to go back into the house for his shaving kit and hang the picture on the bedroom wall. He wanted that waiting for his wife if somehow the results turned out badly.

Even when he arrived at the site—plane flight, helicopter, there—he was sentimental. Even when he talked to the press.

“When I weighed last night all the good things and the bad things that were said, it came out a million to three for the good,” he told the press after he landed in Watcha’s helicopter. “So I hope all your landings in life are happy ones—and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”


The Shape of Things


Leigh Montville edited this year’s edition of The Best American Sports Writing. If you’ve got the extra scratch, pick-up a copy to see Todd Drew’s terrific Yankee Stadium memory in print. It’s one of the great moments in this site’s history.

WEEI in Boston ran a short interview with Montville who has some interesting thoughts about the newspaper business, Sports Illustrated, and the nature of sports writing today (thanks to the Think Factory for the link).

Also, there’s this on the Babe:

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Babe Ruth when you wrote that book?

“I think he was smarter than most people think he was. He grew up without much education. He came out of an orphanage. He had that reputation, and it was well-deserved of being a late-night guy, a carouser who ate a million hot dogs and all that stuff. But he was very smart in lining up his career. He had the first real business manager of any athlete. The guy took care of him and his money. Babe Ruth had money until he died and lived a good life. He made sound decisions in the people he enlisted to help him. He got a personal trainer back when nobody had personal trainers, when he was starting to fall apart. The personal trainer got him on the road and got him hitting again. He had the knowledge to straighten himself out. A lot of guys don’t have that — Antoine Walker being the latest one. He had more self control that I think most people give him credit for.”

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