The Best American Sports Writing 2001

Overview

For almost fifty years, Bud Collins has ranked as one of America's premier sports journalists, best known for his tennis commentary on NBC and his sports column in the Boston Globe. From surfing to golf, baseball to bodybuilding, Collins's selections for this tenth anniversary edition celebrate sports of all stripes, in pieces by H. G. Bissinger, Charles P. Pierce, Jim Harrison, Rick Reilly, and others.

Author Biography: Glenn Stout has been the series editor of The Best ...

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Overview

For almost fifty years, Bud Collins has ranked as one of America's premier sports journalists, best known for his tennis commentary on NBC and his sports column in the Boston Globe. From surfing to golf, baseball to bodybuilding, Collins's selections for this tenth anniversary edition celebrate sports of all stripes, in pieces by H. G. Bissinger, Charles P. Pierce, Jim Harrison, Rick Reilly, and others.

Author Biography: Glenn Stout has been the series editor of The Best American Sports Writing since its inception and has written three illustrated biographies with Richard A. Johnson: Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures, Joe DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life, and Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines. He is a columnist for Boston Baseball, and his work has appeared in many regional and national magazines and newspapers. He lives in Uxbridge, Massachusetts

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Collins . . . has selected 27 eclectic and inarguably excellent articles and profiles. A must for any collection of sports literature. " Booklist, ALA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618086252
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/10/2001
  • Series: Best American Sports Writing Series
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

GLENN STOUT is the author of Young Woman and the Sea and Fenway 1912 .

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Read an Excerpt

Foreword
Where is sport without the words that surround it?

Every day a thousand games are played a million times and pass by. Sweat is shed by the bucket as wins and losses peel off in laughter and cheers. Tears fall every second and disappear.

Words preserve sport, the taste and smell of it. We remember not the simple exercise, but the result and reason why it matters at all, or why it doesn't. With the words as our guide, we follow and learn.

As I read these stories each year, I find myself caring about someone, something, or some sport I know little about and couldn't have imagined ever wanting to know more about. A writer, by way of words alone, has made this happen, something so surprising and delightful that even the familiar sometimes becomes extraordinary, and the exotic moves close at hand. And I read on.

My daughter has grown up with the detritus of this endless project all around her. In our home, piles of newspapers, magazines, and thick manila envelopes fill the places that in other houses are occupied by — oh, I don't know — potted plants, knickknacks, and knockoffs. Over the course of putting together The Best American Sports Writing 2001, I've watched her grow from almost four to almost five and begin to read. It has been astonishing to watch letters become words and sentences become stories. And she gets lost in other worlds.

So do I. Still. The experience of creating these books has taken me from smoke-filled rooms in Las Vegas to hospital beds and penitentiaries, from mountain peaks to swamps and ocean wrecks, to locker rooms, playing fields, horse stalls, and a hundred other places. The best part of creation, and, I suspect, reading, is thepleasure that comes from being transported outside ourselves to elsewhere. We become happily lost while finding something lasting in what otherwise — without the words — would remain the unexplored.

Most games go unwatched, and athletes remain anonymous. Even the fans' most rabid obsession disregards more than it includes.

Whether or not my team or my sport or your team or your sport appears in this book is, thankfully, immaterial. Final scores do not often matter here. This is not a book of results or an encyclopedia.

Neither is it an awards ceremony, a testimonial, or a competition.

The collective words of the writers in this book are an invitation, a conversation with those we'll never meet about things we wouldn't otherwise experience. Sports is the most subtle of hooks here, one that by the first sentence begins to be unwrapped by language and made into something we do care about. Here is a place where Parts Otherwise Unknown are made familiar.

I suppose that is because the writers both care and use care to let us know that. When they don't, I can tell and fill landfills with their poor directions. But when they do and whisper in our ear and let us in on the secret, this slim book swells and we find our way. Without the words, I sometimes wonder whether there is such a thing as sports at all.

So where is sport? A part of it is here, in the words that follow.

Just listen.

Every season of this process, I read every issue of hundreds of sports and general interest magazines in search of writing that might merit inclusion in The Best American Sports Writing. I try not to miss anything, so each year I also contact the sports editors of some three hundred newspapers and request their submissions. Similarly, I ask hundreds of magazine editors to provide complimentary subscriptions and submissions of individual stories.

But none of us is perfect. That is why I encourage writers, readers, and all other interested parties to send me stories they've written or read in the past year that they would like to see reprinted in this volume. No one should feel shy about submitting his or her own material. A good description of the selection process can be found in the December 2000 edition of the Associated Press Sports I forward the best seventy-five stories or so to the guest editor, who makes the final selection. Bud Collins exceeded his reputation as one of the most gracious, cooperative, and enthusiastic people in this business. Even better, he made some great picks.

To be considered for inclusion in The Best American Sports Writing 2002, each nonfiction story must have been published in 2001 in either the United States or Canada and must be column-length or longer. Reprints are not eligible. All submissions must be received by February 1, 2002.

All submissions must include the name of the author, the date of publication, and the publication name and address. Photocopies, tear sheets, or clean copies are fine. Reductions to 8-by-11 are best. Submissions from online publications must be made in hard copy.

Owing to the volume of material I receive, no submission can be returned or acknowledged. I also believe it is inappropriate for me to comment on or critique any individual submission. Publications that want to be absolutely certain their contributions are considered are advised to provide a complimentary subscription to the address listed below. Those that already do so should make sure to extend the subscription.

Please send subscriptions or submissions to this exact address:Glenn StoutSeries EditorThe Best American Sports WritingPO Box 381Uxbridge, MA 01569I may also be contacted by e-mail at BASWeditor@cs.com. No submissions of material will be accepted electronically.

Copies of previous editions of this book can be ordered through most bookstores or online book dealers. An index of stories that have appeared in this series can be found at glennstout.net.

Thanks again go out to the Houghton Mifflin front office, particularly to editors Eamon Dolan and Emily Little, both of whom make this project as enjoyable as possible. I also thank Bud Collins for his exemplary effort, and my wife, Siobhan, and daughter, Saorla, for all the usual reasons and then some. And to all the writers who have kept me company this year, I look forward to continuing our acquaintance in the next edition.

glenn stoutIntroductionWho was Stroganov?

The question didn't flash through my head as it was being dunked in a plate of the beef dish named for him. In my face suddenly — courtesy of a literary critic who doubled as general manager of the Boston Red Sox — and splattered all over it, was enough beef Stroganov to feed a tag team of midget wrestlers.

Ah, the joys of sportswriting.

Still, on most days it beats working for a living. And on many days it is done extremely well across the United States, as the selections in this volume attest. I know some of the writers included, not a majority. But I do believe that their stuff, on view here, would make any writer proud.

Maybe even Stroganov? But who was he?

Only later did I wonder about the namesake of the entrée of my sudden immersion. A nineteenth-century Russian nobleman, Sergei Grigorievich Stroganov, is not to be confused with Nick Strincevich, who pitched fairly nobly (a 48-49 record) for the Pirates during the 1940s. Stroganov's game was archaeological research, which some of us sometimes dabble in. Perhaps to compare cavemen of the Dead Ball Age, like Frank "Home Run" Baker and his American League-leading totals of 11, 10, 12, and 9 dingers between 1911 and 1914, with such descendants as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Anyway, my immediate thought, as I wiped away moisturizing embarrassment with a napkin, was astonishment. But not revenge. The man who had just given me a facial in a New York hotel function room was a lot bigger and stronger. He'd batted .292 during a long major-league career — and was drunk. Drink, however, had not dulled the critical faculties welled up within Mike Higgins, overseer of the Red Sox.

"Not Mike's favorite writer, are you?" observed another diner at the large round table, Danny Murtaugh, the Pittsburgh manager.

Murtaugh, whom I'd met only minutes before, was kindly trying to take the edge off within a group, as startled as I, partaking of a postgame meal at the 1963 World Series.

Conversation centered on Johnny Podres — until Higgins lurched up to the table. Podres had shut down the Yankees, 4-1, that afternoon, sending the Dodgers halfway through their sweep.

As the heavy-handed critic, satisfied with Stroganov-ing me, staggered off into the maze of tables, Larry Claflin, on my left, laughed, "Obviously Hig's got a beef with you." Larry, a pal and colleague, the baseball writer of the Boston American, knew that Higgins didn't care for my chiding him and the Red Sox on their despicable failure to employ black players.

His and the team management's racism was evident as they maintained a vanilla flavor until winning the major-league booby prize: the last team to put a black on the field, Elijah "Pumpsie"

Green, in 1959. But "racism" and "despicable" were not words you used in print in connection with my town's golden calves, the Red Sox, in those days. Particularly in the bygone Boston Herald, my employer at the time. The business arrangement of the Herald's TV and radio stations carrying Sox games put the team pretty much above hard knocks. Prodding and disapproval had to be fairly subtle, but Higgins got the point — and I got the Stroganov.

A small price to pay for the fun of being around games and games-players, and writing about them. And, after all, sportswriters do like to hear from their readers — though not so vividly.

I suppose writers and players have ever conducted an adversarial relationship of sorts: Us and Them. It softens and hardens, waxes and wanes. Both sides have jobs to do, and sometimes try to understand each other while getting the job done.

As you'll see, an athlete may let a writer into his life, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. did Touré in "Kurt Is My Co-Pilot.

Another, Joe DiMaggio, never would, and the writer, Buzz Bissinger, plumbed other sources in "For Love of DiMaggio.

Gene Collier is the star of his "Ex-Sportswriter," saying to hell with the job altogether.

Whatever, we always have each other: Us — as in Us versus Them. Maybe we, the writers, are a duncely confederation of failed jocks, wiseacres, pontificators, and believers in the axiom of a picaresque old boxing impresario, Sam Silverman: "Never louse up a good story with the facts." And maybe it's true, as expressed by Richard Nixon's son-in-law, David Eisenhower, after a stint at the Washington Post: "Newspaper reporters aren't as interesting as they think they are.

Nevertheless, for me much of the fun, the part I would miss most, is communing with the brothers and sisters of the scribbling lodge. Are we still ink-stained wretches? Nobody has been armed with a quill pen or even a typewriter for a long time.

The former was most likely used to record one of the earliest quotes in print, dealing with prominent, combative opponents of about three thousand years ago. In the Old Testament's First Book of Samuel (previewing Muhammad Ali against Sonny Liston?), a brash young long-shot called David trash-talked an ogre named Goliath: "I will strike you down and cut off your head!" And, beating the odds, he did just that.

Who among us wouldn't have loved to emulate the style of the crusty English golf writer Leonard Crawley, the Daily Telegraph's expert of not so long ago? Crawley, in tweed plus-fours and Norfolk jacket, his stiff upper lip decorated by a curling, rust-toned Edwardian moustache, showed up at tournaments with his secretary by his side, a man ready to take dictation whenever. He dictated notes as they strolled the course, looked them over, and composed and dictated the story, which his man then phoned to London.

"Isn't that the way to go?" mused the wonderful Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, observing Crawley at a U.S. Open. "But I don't quite see myself in the knickers.

But now, in this day of dolt.com and eek-mail, we are software-warped warriors, lap-dancing with infernal machines that can be both divine and diabolical (keep hitting SAVE, stupid!). These indispensable tools of the trade malfunction and/or misplace stories only on deadline. But that can't kill the tribal fun.

Numerous are the computers that have been slapped and kicked, flung and cursed in the service of literature. In fact, I hereby propose to the International Olympic Committee an additional event for the 2004 Games: the computer throw for journalists. It would be reality TV that Everyman could relate to, a crowd of out-of-shape but highly motivated competitors giving their all to redress slights and wounds in the line of duty.

A contender might be one David Israel, who as an operative of the Chicago Tribune once pitched a recalcitrant PC an enormous distance from the press box of Dodger Stadium. A tape-measure job, according to witnesses.

If it had landed in a puddle of beef Stroganov, I would have felt bonded to that typing machine. Should I have sent my assailant, Higgins, a dry-cleaning bill, or applied for a restraining order? No.

I actually wished him well when he was fired three years later by owner Tom Yawkey, though I hoped that move meant better days for the team and Boston. It did. Yawkey had at last awakened from his own alcoholic haze to see how his bigoted minions had been shortchanging the franchise.

Mine was a drip-dry suit, by the way, which came out of the hotel room sink looking just fine the following day. (Suit? Yes, there was a time when sportswriters, historically as dapper as Ray Bolger's Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, did arrive at their alleged labors in coats and ties. Tom Fitzgerald, a hockey writer for the Boston Globe some time ago, was an exception. Normally a meticulous dresser, he once appeared in the Montreal Forum press box in pajamas, explaining that he'd overslept a nap and didn't wish to be late.

Today nobody would even notice him.

Instead of the florists' familiar punch line "Say it with flowers!" Mike Higgins's was "Say it with beef!" His had more punch.

It could have been worse. Genuine punches expressing reader disapproval have been thrown by athletes at scribblers, normally noncombatant types. Verbal assaults are more common.

Irrepressible John Feinstein of the Washington Post weathered innumerable assaults from Bobby Knight and produced the best-seller Season on the Brink, the first serious look — a definitive one — at the tyrant of the basketball court. In a New York saloon, early one morning, another coach, Pat Riley, was fairly patient as Feinstein explained basketball to him. But Riley had the last word, mercifully breaking up the gathering with "John, you're very young — and very loud.

The diminutive, dynamic New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica happened to be the public object of one of those serial tirades of John McEnroe's. Sort of face-to-face in that Lupica was seated four rows behind the court at Flushing Meadows while McEnroe was at work, enmeshed with Mats Wilander in an arduous five-set semifinal of the U.S. Open.

Despite phenomenal concentration on matters at hand, Mac uncannily seemed to know where everybody he knew was seated in the ballpark, and he picked out Lupica. (He didn't know Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, but that hardly stopped him from suggesting, "Sit the f—— down, lady!" the afternoon she dared to walk to her seat before he commenced serving.

Abruptly pausing to fasten a drop-dead stare on Lupica, Mac then castigated him for something he'd written. Far from being put out, Mike was thrilled, uttering the wishful sentiment of all writers: "Hah, he's reading me.

I suppose it's a badge of honor that the first of the not many words Ted Williams ever spoke to me was the extended ten-letter epithet.

Later, when he returned to Boston as manager of the Washington Senators, Ted addressed me: "Are you still around writing that shit?" — although that time with a twinkle in his deep voice.

Lesley Visser is one of those who can tell you how tough it was "to be out on the frontier," wading through insults and indignities as one of the pioneering female reporters handling the same assignments as men, locker rooms included, and eventually winning acceptance.

"It was a class in humiliation," says she, a CBS-TV luminary who got her baptism of male chauvinism as a reporter for the Boston Globe. "Not just the athletes but the supposed grown-ups, the coaches, gave us a rough time. At the 1980 Cotton Bowl game, Bill Yeomans, the Houston coach, march-pushed me out of the locker room, even though it was against the rules, and I was clearly accredited and doing my job. He was yelling, ‘I don't give a damn about the ERA -- get outttt!

"I cried, but I got over that.

So did Lisa Olson, scandalously treated by flashers among the New England Patriots after a game in 1990. The publicity, and the unbelievable public antagonism leveled at her for merely pursuing her profession for the Boston Herald, drove Olson to flee to an Australian newspaper. Recovering her equilibrium, she returned to do fine work for her present employer, the New York Daily News.

Even in the genteel world of golf, at least in Britain, female reporters are still mistreated. Liz Kahn, a distinguished historian of the game who has written for several London dailies, paid her way into tournaments for years. Although on assignment, she was frequently unable to get accreditation, despite belonging to the U.S. Golf Writers Association.

Finally she was granted membership in the British Golf Writers Society, and life improved. Somewhat. "But I had to fight for it" — through dint of an intrepid, crusading personality. "You could say mine was a life on the outside, continually discriminated against. Evicted from clubs and dining rooms to which my male colleagues had full access. It still hurts." Sometimes scribes strike back with other than typing machine. None, however, as spectacularly and literally as my Boston Globe compatriot Willie McDonough, never one to pull his punches literarily or otherwise.

"Willie's in the sportswriting pantheon for what he did that Sunday in Foxborough [Massachusetts]. He did what a lot of us would like to do from time to time," grins the Globe's award-gathering columnist Dan Shaughnessy.

Suddenly mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, Willie gave. Big-time. It was 1979 in the dressing room of the New England Patriots, victorious that afternoon. McDonough, interviewing touchdown scorer Harold Jackson, felt a poke in his back. Turning, he faced another literary critic, defensive back Raymond Clayborn.

Possibly to punctuate the poke, Clayborn then jabbed a finger into McDonough's left eye. A mistake that couldn't be edited out.

Clayborn should have bumped-and-run. Feeling maligned and threatened, Willie, who suffereth gladly no fingers in any context from anybody, abruptly launched three swiftly brilliant right hands to Clayborn's head. Flattened, on his face, hearing the derisive comments of his teammates, Clayborn realized he'd misread a strong-right offense.

Few of us would endanger our typing fingers like that. But McDonough, probably the best informed of all authorities on pro football, shook out his knuckles and wrote a game story, leaving his bombing of Clayborn — the only cornerback ever beaten by a reporter -- for others to chronicle.

Journalists fighting one another may be just as rare. That happened in a Wimbledon interview room when a limey, Nigel Clarke of the Daily Mail, and American Charlie Steiner of ESPN began scuffling, rolling on the floor in a grapple, to the astonishment and delight of assembled confreres.

Apparently Steiner objected to something Clarke had written about John McEnroe and took it upon himself to defend his countryman's questionable honor. Because most of our tribe are essentially pacifists, it wasn't Bunker Hill revisited and ended quickly, each combatant realizing his silliness. Fortunately for both, neither possessed a McDonough-esque haymaker.

One of my heroes, Laurie Pignon, a jocular, charming Englishman, also fought — more seriously, against the Germans in World War II. Taken prisoner for almost five years, he was used as a slave laborer in a Polish coal mine. "I made up my mind," he says, "that if I ever got out of there I would never let anything bother me again — the job, the boss, the players.

He returned to continue writing sports for London dailies, and today, a very happy man in his eighties, he freelances. Pignon's philosophy has held up well for him.

Still, this can be a hazardous trade. I was thinking that, and thinking about Laurie, one impenetrable October night in 1982 when I was trying to put up a tent in a raging blizzard somewhere in a Tibetan mountain range as the temperature plummeted below freezing.

The Chinese guides were lost. An unforeseen storm had pounced, turning a pleasant trek into a wet, shiveringly bitter trial.

Exceptional sleeping bags and amiable, helpful yak herdsmen pulled our group through. We never did find out where we'd been because the guides, new to their business, had no maps. But it made a pretty good story for Sports Illustrated. Anything for a story, of course.

Weather wasn't the problem that balmy summer evening in 1960 when Floyd Patterson won back his heavyweight title from Ingemar Johansson by knocking out the Swede at New York's Polo Grounds.

Instead, it was a hot-blooded segment of the crowd running amok.

Charging the ring to hail local guy Patterson, they stampeded through the jerry-built press rows, smashing typewriters and any reporters in the way. Al Abrams from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was in tears, bruised, his typewriter and notes gone. His buddies helped him to piece together a story in longhand that he could dictate to his office.

Luckily I was not in the mob's path. But another Bostonian, Austen "Duke" Lake of the American, got trampled, suffering a couple of broken ribs. An ex-college football player and World War I battlefield survivor, Lake, then in his sixties, was a rugged, straightforward character. He didn't own an overcoat and frequently and gruffly shouted a favorite pejorative, "Bafflegab!" at anybody trying to con him, whether a press agent, coach, or athlete.

To the Duke the deadline was sacred, and he had to make it.

When his typewriter was knocked off the planking, he hugged it on the ground like a fumble while being stomped. As the crush subsided, he rose, hurting, nevertheless composing his thoughts.

"If I had time I'd show those sons o'bitches a thing or two!

he boiled. He would have, too. However, a slave to the deadline, he found a place to sit and wrote his column in time for the edition.

You wouldn't think covering tennis could be risky, but maybe you didn't know the ferocious champion Richard "Pancho" Gonzalez.

Reporters of the pre-computer days, clacking away at typewriters while he played, enraged him, as did courtside photographers with their flashbulbs. Those of that breed considered themselves lucky if he refrained from throttling them. Pancho didn't always refrain.

Reporters were fortunately farther out of reach. But not out of range when he began blasting balls at them with hefty swings to silence those damned typists. Henry McKenna of the Herald recalled a night at Boston Garden when he was among those "targeted." Even though the balcony press box was far above the court, Pancho was strafing it mercilessly.

"It was a war zone. Balls were coming at us like shrapnel, and we were ducking as they slammed against the press box," McKenna said. "It was late. The office expected something for the first edition, but all of us said to hell with any deadlines until the matches were finished and Pancho was gone.

A typewriter figured in the 1973 tennis ordeal of Mark Asher of the Washington Post, covering the U.S. Indoor Championships at Salisbury, Maryland. Attending to his story while Ilie Nastase and Clark Graebner played Juan Gisbert and Jurgen Fassbender for the doubles title, Mark found himself the uncomfortable center of attention. As Graebner and Nastase forgot about their task, halting play to focus glares on Asher in the building's uppermost tier, customers seated in front of the press row began shushing and screaming at him to be quiet.

Asher, on duty, persisted — "I had a job to do." So thought the patrons, feeling it their obligation to enforce silence. The most adamant among them became a vigilante, determined to gag the Washington Post. This enraged fellow confronted Asher and clawed the newsman's offending hands, drawing blood, like an overzealous parent chastising a naughty child. It would take more than that to deaden those dutiful fingers.

More was soon in force. The guy grabbed the typewriter and bolted down the grandstand steps as though sprinting for the end zone — with Asher in "Stop, thief!" pursuit. As the crowd gaped, Asher chased the typewriter-napper the length of the hall and out the door.

"I gave it my best . . . but I couldn't catch the jerk,"

Asher remembers. Reduced to pencil and longhand, he sighed, "I regret that I had but one Olivetti to give for my paper.

Neither Asher nor anybody else had quite the style of the thoughtful, gentlemanly Allison Danzig, who covered tennis, college football, and Olympic sports peerlessly at the New York Times for more than forty years. Seated in the press section of the open-air marquee, a few feet from the Stadium court at Forest Hills, Danzig never bothered players or spectators at the U.S. Championship with his necessary typing.

So skilled and rapid was Al that he could condense his writing into brief bursts within the few seconds between points, maintaining a champion's concentration on the match before him, and the story. He was a whirling dervish on a folding chair. Scrawling his running account of the match with fountain pen, point by point, he made the note, then attacked the typewriter keys fiercely, stopping just before the next ball was served.

He probably could have written a novella during the twenty or thirty seconds it took the players to change ends, in those days a brief interval, not the sit-down stretch of a minute and a half now in force in reverent respect for TV commercials. His copy that he handed, a few graphs at a time, to a Western Union telegrapher for transmission to the Times office was as neat and precise as Danzig himself.

A soft-spoken Texan who cooked fiery chili, he had suffered a stern penalty for his love of sports. As a ten-year-old in his hometown, Waco, Al was apprehended sneaking into a minor-league baseball game by the "inconsiderate sheriff. My father," he recalled, "was even less considerate of that sheriff. He gave the man holy hell when he came to get me out.

Though Al was one of the most considerate and generous guys in the newspaper business, one of his Samaritan acts backfired. It was 1935. He and two pals, syndicated columnists Grantland Rice and Henry McLemore, were in Columbus covering the famous Notre Dame football victory over Ohio State, won 18-13 in the last seconds, on a pass from Bill Shakespeare to Wayne Millner.

After completing their stories, they dined together and had a few drinks. A few more than needed by McLemore and the celebrated Rice. They were wobbling as though trampled by Rice's immortal "Four Horsemen.

But the younger Danzig kindly, ably shepherded them into a cab to the railroad station, and then into their berths on the sleeper to New York. Arriving the next day, they were profuse in their thanks to the caretaker. Until . . . McLemore looked at Rice and exploded, "Jee-zus, Granny! Now I remember . . . we drove your car to Columbus.

How Peter Wilson of London's Daily Mirror managed to keep his memory intact amazed his comrades of Fleet Street and anybody else who knew him. His column always ran beneath a banner headline identifying him unpretentiously: "World's Greatest Sportswriter." It should have been accompanied by a subhead: "And World's Greatest Scotch Drinker.

Burly, rumpled, and friendly, an unfailingly courteous fellow with a walrus mustache and upper-class accent, Peter wandered the planet, documenting every big sporting event of interest in Britain, setting records for speedy writing and consumption of Scotch — and remaining journalistically sharp. He was partial to boxing and Olympic track events, feeling, "They are the only pure sports. Man either fights or runs away. The rest are contrived.

"He don't look or sound like a guy that can hold a lot of booze, but look out," was the admiring appraisal of Wilson by boxing promoter Sam Silverman, an impressive imbiber himself. "When it comes to Scotch, Peter has flattened more contenders than Joe Louis.

Peter's running mate in touring and tippling was the dashing Desmond Hackett of the Express, an obvious disciple of Beau Brummel, favoring pink cardigans that accompanied well-tailored Saville Row suits. But they parted company on Scotch.

"I savor champagne — preferably sipped from the navel of a beautiful woman," was Desmond's heartfelt cry.

That would not seem unseemly to the bon-vivanting notables of Italian sportswriting and TV, Gianni Clerici of La Gazzetta della Sport and Rino Tommasi of La Gazzetta della Sport and Il Tempo. As amusing partners on tennis telecasts, they babble about all sorts of topics that would never make air on U.S. networks: scandals, the sex lives of the players (and themselves), the e-mail that they receive during broadcasts.

How do they get away with it? Clerici, who covers similar ground in his columns, replies, indignantly, "I live in a free country. Don't you?

For a time, before becoming very widely known nationally in his added role as a TV commentator, Tommasi led a double life. He was himself for Gazzetta, his principal paper. However, Il Tempo insisted on having its own man at the events that Rino covered. This drove him to adopt a separate identity, bylined as Tommy Salvatore, a combination of his middle name and a twist of his last.

"Who's the better writer — Tommasi or Salvatore?" I once asked Clerici, since I'm unable to read Italian.

"Oh, the ghostly Salvatore. Easily," Gianni answered. "As Tommasi, he takes himself too seriously and is careful and scrupulous about being very boring. Too many statistics and pronouncements. When he's done with Gazzetta, he looks at the clock and — oh, Cristo, disastro! — his Il Tempo deadline is on top of him. Salvatore takes over and has to get it done fast. He dashes it off, doesn't think about it. He lets down and just has fun, and it comes out much more readable.

"I tell Tommasi he should kill Tommasi and remain Salvatore for the rest of his life. Be better off. Better for the readers. But Rino is too proud of his own name.

It was Salvatore who perished instead. Il Tempo's editor decided he wanted the renowned telecaster in his stable, and so the Rino Tommasi byline appears in both papers.

When that happened, Clerici said, "I think Salvatore's readers should picket Il Tempo, demanding his return.

The puckish Clerici remembers a demand for his own departure at a tournament party on the Riviera. Because the invitation prescribed "black tie," that is what he wore. Period. Thrown out before he got in, he recalls, "They said, regretfully, that my writing was more interesting than my body.

Though jovial, urbane Brian Dewhurst of the United Press in Australia didn't go that far. He was known fondly and admiringly across the continent as "Daks-dropping Dewhurst." His self-styled performances most often occurred at cocktail parties or receptions where he would be conversing with a prominent personage, preferably female and prim. His mates stayed alert, wondering when "it" would happen.

Brian refused to explain how "it" was done, but at the appropriate moment his trousers began to descend, sliding slowly down to crumple at his ankles. Taking no notice of the breeze at his knees, he continued chatting engagingly while the startled lady opposite him gaped, blushed, averted her widening eyes, and retreated behind a hasty, "Excuse me, please.

Unfazed by the commotion, he rebelted himself without missing a sip or syllable, explaining that his mother had insisted on his always wearing clean, presentable undershorts.

Mine did the same, and was not timid in scolding me for occasionally hanging out somebody else's dirty laundry in a story.

Nor did she approve of one of the best quotes an athlete ever dropped on me, unprinted until now. It was a throwaway line from a good-natured Baldwin-Wallace College halfback named George Morris who had led U.S. small colleges in scoring the year I was only ten and growing up in a house on the campus.

Peddling magazines in the neighborhood one day, I recognized Morris, a hero to us kids, and shyly asked my first question to a jock: "Mr. Morris, how did you score all those touchdowns?

"Kid, it was easy. I just greased my ass and slid on through.

Good advice, wouldn't you say? That and maybe twenty bucks would get you a helping of beef Stroganov.

Bud CollinsCopyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin CompanyIntroduction copyright © 2001 by Bud Collins

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Table of Contents

Contents
Foreword xi
Introduction by Bud Collins xv
Will Blythe. The Marvel 1
from Men's Journal
Doug Most. Shot Through the Heart 14
from Sports Illustrated
Bucky Mcmahon. Everest at the Bottom of the Sea 29
from Esquire
Charles P. Pierce. The Blessed Fisherman of Prosper, Texas 51
from Esquire
Stephen Rodrick. Can Riddick Bowe Answer the Bell? 59
from The New York Times Magazine
Buzz Bissinger. For Love of DiMaggio 67
from Vanity Fair
Michael Leahy. Swing Shift 92
from The Washington Post Magazine
David Owen. The Chosen One 115
from The New Yorker
Tom Friend. The Natural 137
from ESPN: The Magazine
James McManus. Fortune's Smile 148
from Harper's Magazine
William Nack. Bang for the Bucs 186
from Sports Illustrated
Ian Whitcomb. Beach Boy 202
from American Heritage
Kevin Conley. A Stud's Life 214
from The New Yorker
Geoffrey Douglas. The Double Life of Laura Shaw 221
from Yankee
Dave Kindred. Gate Crasher 231
from Golf Digest
Greg Child. Fear of Falling 238
from Outside
Michael Dileo. Deer Prudence 256
from Texas Monthly
Touré. Kurt Is My Co-Pilot 263
from Rolling Stone
Robert Draper. Pumping Irony 278
from GQ
Pete Kotz. Tough Guy 290
from Cleveland Scene
Woody Woodburn. Toughest Miler Ever 306
from The Torrance Daily Breeze
Vahe Gregorian. Olympics Dream Ends in Agony 314
from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Charles M. Young. Losing: An American Tradition 319
from Men's Journal
Gene Collier. The Ex-Sportswriter 334
from The Columbia Journalism Review
Jim Harrison. Starting Over 338
from Men'sJournal
Beth Kephart. Playing for Keeps 350
from Philadelphia Magazine
Rick Reilly. The Biggest Play of His Life 355
from Sports Illustrated
Biographical Notes 361
Notable Sports Writing of 2000 365
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