Links and My Favorite Sportswriters
Today’s four links:
Hand-Holding Across the Aisle: A sweet story about marriages between Republicans and Democrats.
The maps that show the racial breakdown of America’s biggest cities [based on 2000 census]. We could be more integrated. But then, sometimes I feel like half the foreigners in Taipei are inside my dormitory.
Law Schools Now Require Applicants to Honestly State Whether They Want to Go to Law School. It’s The Onion, but it’s funny because it’s true!
And in honor of today’s election…
That’s the one you right-clicked, right? There’s no way you can resist a title like that!
I love four sports leagues and four sportswriters.
My favorite American football writer was Paul Zimmerman, alias Dr. Z. He was born in 1932, grew up in the Bronx, played offensive lineman for Columbia, Stanford, and the U.S. Army overseas, knocked around in minor league football in the time of Unitas, then caught on in journalism in 1963. He wrote for the New York Post from 1966-1979, also contributing a wine column, then wrote in print and later online for Sports Illustrated from 1979 until 2008.
Nobody in print knew more about the game than Dr. Z. When Michael Vick played for the Falcons, he had a dream that they played the single-wing formation Pop Warner invented after World War I. He was the Jets beat writer when Joe Namath played there. He covered every Super Bowl but the first one. He knew everyone, and he’d seen everything, but he continued to work around the clock to understand what was happening in the here and now. He watched almost every minute of football played every season so that he could fairly evaluate the players, for whom he had the utmost respect. He especially cared for his kin, the linemen, who most people only notice for their weight. And he never stopped writing about wine.
Every month, Dr. Z would joke about how his mind was going as he got older. I smiled because I thought it never would. And then it did. He suffered a stroke in 2008, in the middle of the season, and now he’s partially paralyzed and can’t speak. Now the most analytical football writer is Gregg Easterbrook, and he’s great, but his columns are so long that the one I read from start-to-finish was the one after the Colts lost the Super Bowl, as a substitute for the Book of Job. So I simply read less about football. I miss The Doctor. I even watched “Gunga Din” because he loved it so much.
My basketball writer is Bill Simmons. I know EVERYONE my age likes him, but that’s what fascinates me. Without him, I wouldn’t understand what’s happening in pop culture or television. There isn’t a mailbag on the web that’s better than the one he cracks open every couple months, because men trust him so much they’ll tell him everything about them. He saves his most farcical stories for the end and concludes, “Yep, these are my readers.”
I brought his atlas “The Book of Basketball,” which was 800 pages and 80 pounds, to Japan in my carry-on, and then I read it in four days. The most accurate writing is actually done at The Wages of Wins, which is run by economists, so if you want to know what’s going to happen, visit them. They make blueprints. Bill Simmons paints pictures. He’ll make you feel like you understand exactly what happened at a game, whether it was last weekend or in 1975.
Phil Ball is an Englishman living in San Sebastian and writing about La Liga. I could read Spanish writers if I like, but Ball seems more knowledgeable than the rest. Just as crucially, he’s more level-headed: he won’t pitchfork Barcelona or Real after a bad game most of Spain’s writers and fans do, and he doesn’t have allegiance to either. I’d never bought a sportswriter’s book until I ordered “Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.” His gift to the world is explaining the deep connections between the professional league and Spanish society and politics as a whole, something the Spanish writers just take for granted. If you understand the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, you understand the country, and more power to you if you also know Athletic Bilbao, Atlético de Madrid, and the rest of the nation.
Finally, baseball. I’m not sure how old Joe Posnanski is: he looks older than my Dad, then again, but so do I. What’s disorienting is that he can list the 32 pitchers with the best fastballs in baseball history, or the 32 flukiest home run seasons ever, and back it up with so many anecdotes and so much data that it seems like he was there for every one of them, like he’s a memory card for all of baseball. He doesn’t just remember what a team was like in the 80’s; he remembers what it was like in 1987. Yet he understands and loves statistical analysis, which is something most older writers have been fuming about since we’ve had graphing calculators.
Here are the cities on Posnanski’s life path: Cleveland, Augusta, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. If you had to make a list of places where you can raise a nice family, but you won’t ever get famous, it would look a lot like that. Yet he was too good of a writer to ignore, and as of last year he’s the senior writer for Sports Illustrated on not just baseball…but everything. Because he’s been out of the spotlight but working hard, there’s so much he can tell now. He knew nothing about soccer, and they sent him to the World Cup anyway, because he can create an angle for any story, and he’s such a nice guy that you want to listen to what he’s telling you, even though you’re starting at a shiny box a thousand miles away, and there’s no way he’ll know if you read his column or not.
Sports is entertainment. I’ve always wondered if I spent more time on it than I’d need to to carry a conversation with other Americans. It’s not like I get twenty dollars in my bank account whenever Peyton Manning throws a touchdown. People like this keep me coming back. I always thought writers had to have the answers for the “big questions,” but their stories and their humor have made me happier. I’ve enjoyed their writing for years without hearing a word about God or Society. I’ve spent at least three times as much time reading about sports as I’ve spent watching sports, and as long as there are writers like this, it’ll never change.