Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life

Overview

It was a long way from the gritty streets of Springfield Avenue on Chicago's West Side, and hawking stockings in the old Maxwell Street marketplace, to a position as sports columnist and feature writer for the New York Times, and a share in the Pulitzer Prize. But Ira Berkow made that improbable journey. In this joyful, moving, and often funny memoir, he describes how he climbed up to become not just a sportswriter but one of America's most thoughtful writers on sports, a man interested as much in the people who ...
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Overview

It was a long way from the gritty streets of Springfield Avenue on Chicago's West Side, and hawking stockings in the old Maxwell Street marketplace, to a position as sports columnist and feature writer for the New York Times, and a share in the Pulitzer Prize. But Ira Berkow made that improbable journey. In this joyful, moving, and often funny memoir, he describes how he climbed up to become not just a sportswriter but one of America's most thoughtful writers on sports, a man interested as much in the people who play the games as in the scores and statistics.

His father had not a little to do with forming Mr. Berkow's character and his concern for matters like truth and justice. But there were others who pitched in to help suggest a path for a young man who wasn't always sure what he wanted to do with his life. Like the great sports columnist Red Smith, a mentor who took the time to critique a young writer's efforts; and Red Holzman, the Hall of Fame coach of the New York Knicks, who inspired Mr. Berkow as well as his players. Add E. B. White, Muhammad Ali, Saul Bellow, Ted Williams, P. G. Wodehouse, Michael Jordan-the cast of characters in Full Swing is as broad as Mr. Berkow's interests and as instructive as a day at training camp. This is a writer's memoir with the warts as well as the wows, and with all the intelligence and charm that readers of Mr. Berkow have grown accustomed to.

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Editorial Reviews

Saturday Evening Post
Beyond this memoir's revealing insights into a cast of characters...this book is a paean to writing, a craft which Berkow only discovered in his last year of high school.
Sunday Sun-Times
What a brimming bouquet Ira Berkow has delivered in Full Swing...a home run.
Allen St. John
Full Swing is like a great ballpark conversation, where everything and anything is fair game. In the process of layering story upon story, connecting tangent to tangent, each memory marking the passage of time, Berkow reveals himself to be curious, contrarian and a steadfast champion of the underdog. You'll never look at his byline in quite the same way again.
— The New York Times
Nieman Reports
Not only do his words yield a fine read, but journalistic issues he raises merit attention in newsrooms and classrooms.
Kirkus Reviews
A genial, leisurely, occasionally choppy memoir from the veteran New York Times sports columnist. Accompanying Berkow's how-I-became-what-I-am narrative, which begins in boyhood and ends with a touching account of his father's death in 2002, are anecdotes about characters as diverse as Judge Sirica, Groucho Marx, Muhammad Ali, P.G. Wodehouse, Marianne Moore, Mike Tyson, Tonya Harding and reporter Jayson Blair, whose egregious fabrications at the Times also affected Berkow. (He contends that the paper's heightened concern about accuracy led to a nine-paragraph Editors' Note that unfairly targeted minor omissions of attribution in one of his columns.) The author writes with great affection about his remarkable parents, especially his father, who appears throughout as the touchstone Berkow uses to assess his life. It's been mostly successful, once he began to work hard in college. He began his climb to the pinnacle of his profession in Minnesota, where he covered high-school sports and car races, then moved to Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate (until he became too expensive for them) and finally to the Times and a Pulitzer. Berkow chronicles the dissolution of two marriages with an odd absence of affect, perhaps because relations remain amiable with both former wives. He displays much more emotion in describing his relationship with the legendary Red Smith, whom Berkow first contacted when he was an undergraduate. Berkow also takes a few shots: at Michael Jordan, for lacking moral courage, and at Indiana University's "iron-fisted and iron-minded" coach Bobby Knight, for lying. Though not terribly propulsive, the text does remind us that the author witnessed some remarkable momentsin sport, including Ali-Frazier I and the 1989 World Series earthquake.
Saturday Evening Post
Beyond this memoir's revealing insights into a cast of characters…this book is a paean to writing, a craft which Berkow only discovered in his last year of high school.
Jewish Book World
Berkow is affable and very funny, often taking a breezy tone except when he's being passionate about justice and truth.
Rick Telander
A sheer delight...Berkow proves that nothing can hold him back. And the result is a home run.
Studs Terkel
A classy writer, no matter what his domain.... Berkow is a master of his trade.
Gay Talese
He belongs to that rare breed...a writer who specializes in sports but whose subjects represent a broad range.
Chicago Sun-Times - Joe Goddard
A jewel in the New York Times' writing crown.
Chicago - Lauren Murrow
A champion of the counterargument, Berkow reveals in Full Swing what it's like to pose tough questions to legendary athletes.
Sunday Sun-Times - Dave Hoekstra
What a brimming bouquet Ira Berkow has delivered in Full Swing...a home run.
The New York Times - Allen St. John
Like a great ballpark conversation, where everything and anything is fair game.
Mike Royko
If there's anyone doing sports who is even close, I haven't read him.
Saul Bellow
I follow Ira Berkow in the Times with unfailing interest.
David Halberstam
Ira Berkow over the years has regularly given us sportswriting of the most elegant kind....
George F. Will
Sports at its best is a kind of music...Ira Berkow is among the best—a Sondheim of the sports page.
Jim Bouton
Ira Berkow is simply one of America's best writers, sports or otherwise.
Nieman Reports - Jim Kaplan
Not only do his words yield a fine read, but journalistic issues he raises merit attention in newsrooms and classrooms.
Wbai 99.5 Fm - David Rothenberg
Such a treasure....Berkow raises sports writing to a new level.
American Journalism Review - Carl Sessions Stepp
The book...can be read not just as an enjoyable memoir, but a career manual of sorts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566636896
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Ira Berkow has been a sports columnist and feature writer for the New York Times for more than twenty years. In 2001 he shared the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting with his article on "The Minority Quarterback," later published by Ivan R. Dee in a book of the same name. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including the best-sellers Red: A Biography of Red Smith and Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents


Prologue     3
Who Wrote the Poem?     15
Look to the Curtain     37
Thunderstruck     52
Try Again     69
Who Moved the Spike?     89
You Can't Write That     113
Steamy     139
Good News and Bad News     160
Full of the Devil     177
It Must Have Cost You a Fortune     193
It's Our Show Biz     217
Me and Koufax     233
The Comedy Poorhouse     244
Blue Skies     260
Acknowledgments     275
Index     277
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