Interviews with Glenn

A profile:


from Chris Jones’ “Son of Bold Venture” Blog

Glenn Stout is a man of many projects. Among fans of longform sports writing, he’s perhaps best known as the editor of the vaunted Best American Sports Writing series. (The 2011 edition, guest edited by Jane Leavy, will be released in October.) He’s also written dozens of his own books, covering a wide variety of topics, from baseball to the World Trade Center site to Trudy Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
Glenn’s next book, Fenway 1912, is about the building of that ballpark and its first season. It will also be released in October.
I admire Glenn for his having forged a career mostly as an editor and author of books—a very tough nut to crack—but also because of his continued interest in helping develop young writers and readers. Glenn treats the words that make it into print like an inheritance, like objects that are being passed down. And I believe he wants, more than anything, for those words to be good—to be worthy—and for them to continue to be good. I don’t know anyone who’s done more to seek out and highlight bright new talent. He’s like an old birddog scout, and I can still remember the first time he found me. Getting a phone call from Glenn, telling me I’d made BASW, was one of those moments I’ll remember happily forever.
Many thanks to Glenn for taking the time to participate in Five for Writing. There are many lessons here worth noting if you, too, wish one day to be collected.
Sons and Daughters of Bold Venture—Vermont’s own, Glenn Stout:
1. You’ve edited Best American Sports Writing since its inception in 1991. (Happy anniversary!) I have to think you’ve read more sports writing than anyone else alive, and that you’re hard to impress. But what impresses you?

What most impresses me in a story, no matter what the topic, is confidence. Writing that is assured and certain from the first word captures me. This tells me the writer knows the story, has done the work and knows who he or she is as a writer. The story starts fully realized without floundering around or requiring extra tugs on the starter to get the engine to turn over. That’s often the difference between a great story and simply a good one.
As a reader I hope to find small moments of transcendence, when the words lift off the page and take you somewhere totally unexpected, where you didn’t expect to be taken. I can still remember the very first time words had that affect on me. I was thirteen years old and had an assignment in school to create a collage to illustrate a poem. Up to this point in my life I hadn’t read anything more substantive than The Baseball Life of Mickey Mantle and had no desire to. I asked my older brother what I should read and he handed me some poetry collection. I opened it up and I read the poem Suicide’s Note by Langston Hughes: “The calm / Cool face of the river / Asked me for a kiss.”
That just knocked me on my ass. The world split open and my life changed. I wanted to write. I was taken away and in a very real way I have never gone back. Everything I have done since, as a writer and a reader, is an attempt to duplicate that experience. How do you explain how the words of a black, Harlem Renaissance poet written in 1925 spoke to a rural white kid living in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio? Because words have real power, that’s why. They change people. Working with them is a privilege, and if you think otherwise, you should be doing something else.
So I search for a little of that, the place where sound and sense combine to take you away.  It really makes my day when I discover that in a writer I have never heard of before, or from someone I do recognize who suddenly writes a story that is completely new and unexpected. Those are good days, real good days, and that’s what keeps me looking.
2. What makes you stop reading? When do you know a story’s not going to make the cut?

Predictability, those moments when the writer is just getting from point A to point B, filling the page, driving the car down the road while thinking about something else, writing words but not using them because he or she doesn’t know what to do next, utilizing meaningless quotes, falling back on the kind of rote description and commonplace phraseology that appear in almost every story and get in the way, not making every moment in the story contribute. I studied under the poet Robert Kelly in college and he cautioned us that when we were reading something and found our attention starting to drift that was usually a sign that the writer had gone from being engaged in the work to just filling in the blanks. If that happens more than a few times—or if it happens at the start—I move on. The only criteria I’ve ever been able to come up with for the stories I set aside is that I ask myself if I’d like to read them again. If I don’t I figure no one else will either.
3. How has editing that series informed your own writing? I imagine seeing those piles of great stories on your desk could either be intimidating or inspiring, depending on how your own writing is going. What have the words of others meant to yours?

The words of others are the only reason any of us are writers. Apart from my own books and BASW I also write juvenile non-fiction (first as the ghostwriter for thirty-nine Matt Christopher sports biographies, and now of my own series—Good Sports), and I often speak to kids about writing. I always tell them what I think is the first, best lesson of writing—to write well you must read, and that means read everything—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, newspapers, magazines, blogs—all of it. Reading fills the vessel, and reading good writing helps make the act of writing second nature and natural, so while you are writing you are not thinking about the rules, but instead are learning how to follow the story, listening, inhabiting it, ferreting it out from the clutter without stopping every second to think “How should I do this?” It’s the same way musicians play, and painters paint. I really think each story is already there and most of what we do is about staying mindful and attentive, to let the subject speak and create its own shape, and to let the sound and rhythm of your words capture that voice.
I don’t find that the amount of reading I do for BASW gets in the way of my own work—I generally read for that at the end of the day, on the bike or elliptical, and on the weekends. In terms of style, I’ve been doing this long enough that when I do find work that is particularly inspiring, I don’t have to worry about being imitative, which was a concern when I was younger. And I’ve been doing this too long to be intimidated; I’ve published enough and have had enough positive feedback to figure I must be doing something right.
What is most valuable is that good writing is not only inspirational on its own, but often full of practical lessons, often more structural than stylistic. And when you begin any project—particularly the big book projects I tend to work on—you need to have a big box of tools and it is always good to have more. For instance, the structure of my biography of the first woman to swim the English Channel, Young Woman and the Sea, was inspired by the way I had seen other writers pull complicated stories together. I alternated chapters about her with chapters about the Channel and the history of swimming and then united the narrative at the moment she entered the waters of the Channel. You have to keep learning as a writer, because each time you approach the page the subject is going to ask for something a little different.
4. As either a writer or an editor, you’ve had a hand in more than eighty books. Your blog is called verbplow. I get the sense that you must treat words like work, like a more manual brand of labor—that during the course of most days, you must sit down and force yourself either to read or to write something. How do you make yourself do it?

That’s funny you ask about that because just the other day I had this realization that all the things I’ve ever really liked to do are activities that require me to use my hands and my brain simultaneously. You are right that in a sense I do see writing as manual labor, and the metaphor in verb plow is intentional, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valued, or necessarily laborious, because there is also that “labor of love” thing. I love doing what I do and can’t believe I get to do this every day. Growing up the idea of becoming a writer was unimaginable. We didn’t have a lot of money. My parents didn’t read much. Words saved me. They took me away, sent me to college, delivered my life. Now I get to mine the language every day, and talk and work with other writers—that’s dreamland stuff.
I don’t see my work as a chore, and only rarely does it feel forced—I want to do this and by now it’s all a part of my life, like breathing. I spent a number of years doing actual manual labor and I have to say I learned as much about writing from pouring concrete and hauling steel as I ever did in any workshop, or any course. Manual labor teaches you to work in increments, to maintain, to stick to things, to finish what you start, and that’s what I do. On a practical level, I’ve been on my own, completely independent as a writer, mostly working on projects that I think have real value, for almost twenty years. I’m not on the faculty somewhere, on the staff of some publication, or living off a trust fund. For every second of the last twenty-one years I’ve always had book contracts to fulfill and deadlines to hit and either I take that seriously or I’m done, out of work.
Serving as Series Editor for BASW is like a part-time job at minimum wage, and is only a small part of what I do. People assume I’m incredibly disciplined, and in their terms, maybe I am, but I’ve never understood writers who say that they write 2,000 words a day, like punching a clock. I mean, good for them, but I don’t work that way, I can’t be that rigid. I think every writer has to discover that what works for others might not work for you. For me it’s like the old Earl Weaver line: “This ain’t football; we do this every day.” A significant part of doing anything stems from getting up early and putting your ass in the chair every day, and I do that. The rest is experience—learning how not to sabotage yourself.
It helps that I’m always working on multiple projects, often in different genres, so if I don’t feel confined, I can always work on something else. Believe me, after spending months on a project like Nine Months at Ground Zero, about digging up bodies in the World Trade Center, reading sports writing was a welcome experience. Every day is different. Today, for instance, I planned on working on one of my Good Sports juvenile titles, but I got distracted early so I turned my attention to this. One week last month I was simultaneously finishing up a memoir with another writer about his decades-long struggle with war-induced PTSD, doing the final copy edits on Fenway 1912, the manuscript edits on a juvenile book, making the final cuts for BASW, sketching out a book proposal, and in the middle of it all I made a school visit and spent half a day talking reading and writing to a bunch of twelve year olds.  Not that having that university writer-in-residence gig wouldn’t be a nice change, but I like plowing around words.
5. Because I can’t contain myself to five questions, I’d like to use my fifth question as a multi-part lighting round. I hope that’s okay. I promise they’ll be short.

A. Now that you’ve become a master of all things Fenway: How did the architects decide how high to build the Green Monster?

I love that kind of question because it usually assumes that there is an easy answer, but there isn’t, and that’s the logic behind many of my books: I take on subjects everyone thinks they know and find something new. In Fenway 1912 I actually go on for some pages about the first incarnation of the wall, an excursion that takes me into all sorts of interesting alleys off the main road, such as local geology. But the short answer is the only concern was to make the wall high enough to keep people from seeing into Fenway Park from the roofs of the buildings on the other side of Lansdowne Street. The wall had nothing to do with keeping the ball in the ballpark—they never thought anyone would ever be able to hit it that far.
B. I believe you’re a lover of poetry. What’s your favorite line of verse?

I studied poetry in college, have a Creative Writing degree and a million poems sitting in a drawer, so I am. Ask me in five seconds and I’d give another answer, probably from Sappho, James Wright, Rilke or George Trakl or someone, and this isn’t a line, but a couple from Lew Welch, who as a copywriter came up with the phrase “Raid kills bugs dead.”
From Chicago Poem:
“You can’t fix it.  You can’t make it go away.
I don’t know what you’re going to do about it,
But I know what I’m going to do about it.  I’m just
going to walk away from it.  Maybe
A small part of it will die if I’m not around
feeding it anymore.”
That probably explains why I quit my job and later moved to Vermont. I just keep drifting northeast, like an iceberg.  Maybe I’ll end up in Newfoundland.
C. Apart from my Ricky Williams story—which clearly got lost in the mail on its way to Vermont—what story do you most regret not seeing in the pages of Best American Sports Writing? What’s the one that got away?

There are usually a couple each year. I really only make recommendations to the Guest Editor. He or she is free to make their own choices. If they wish, they don’t have to use any story I send them and could fill the book with recipes written by their friends… I think that explains what happened to that Ricky Williams story.
That being said, they usually do make their picks from my selections, occasionally adding their own. The Guest Editor and I usually overlap about 70 percent of the time. What bothers me more is when I discover that there was a great story after the book is done, one that I didn’t find and that no one pointed out to me, that neither the writer, the editor, one of his or her friends or a reader submitted.
Although I’m not really comfortable picking out a particular story, you asked, so I’ll answer, both from The Best American Sports Writing of the Century.  The one that got away would have to be either Bill Heinz’s “Death of a Racehorse”—I remember discussing it with David Halberstam and he preferred the longer pieces—or one of any of three or four pieces from A.J. Liebling, who should have been in that book.
D. What’s your favorite piece of sports writing, ever? If you had to pick just one of the thousands and thousands you’ve read—if you had to—what would it be? And I mean it, Glenn. Only one.

One? You’re a mean bastard, Jones…
Sentimental pick: Red Smith’s “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.” I remember reading it for the first time in one of the old Armchair books when I was a kid and thinking “This is literature.”
E. And last… You were one of the people most responsible for W.C. Heinz—for whom this blog is indirectly named—receiving his belated recognition as one of the all-time greats. Please tell us a story about Mr. Heinz, either the man or his words.

Jeff MacGregor, who wrote about him in that great SI story, and Bill Littlefield, who profiled Heinz on “Only A Game,” and the late David Halberstam, with whom I worked on The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, deserve much of the credit for that. But I still have a story, actually two—one about the words, one about the man.
First the words: When you look at a writer like Heinz, what I think is most impressive is that he didn’t just do the same thing over and over. He wrote columns, magazine features, profiles, short stories, non-fiction books, novels. He didn’t just write about sports and he didn’t just stay where he was comfortable. In short, he wasn’t afraid, and I think there’s a lesson there. The giants—and he is one of them—have a fearless curiosity.
Now the man: After The Best American Sports Writing of the Century was published, Heinz sent me a note. At that point in his life he couldn’t see very well, and writing was a chore, yet he took the time to write me a little hand written note in this squiggly, blocky print. Apart from thanking me for putting him in the book, he added, “I think you’re a damn fine writer.” When I have a bad day, or the self-doubt that keeps us up at night creeps in, I like to think of that.

An Interview with Glenn Stout  from Steve Marants’s Sports Media Guide (2008)

Position: Series Editor of the Best American Sports Writing 1991-present. Author and editor of numerous other books.

Born: 1958, Columbus, Ohio.  Lived and grew up in Amlin, Ohio.

Education:  Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 1981, B.A. in Creative Writing (poetry).  Simmons College, Boston, MA, 1987, M.S. Library and Information Science.

Career:  Construction worker, painter, security guard, library aide, 1978-1984.  Library aide and Librarian, Boston Public Library, 1984 -1993.  Didn’t do anything you think a librarian does, but that’s where all the books were.  I started freelancing in 1986 and have not been without an assignment ever since.  I have been writing fulltime since 1993 and have now written ghostwritten or edited more than seventy-five titles, including Red Sox Century and Nine Months at Ground Zero.  My next book is Young Woman and the Sea.

Personal:  Married with one daughter.

Favorite restaurant (home):  Wits’ End, Hemmingford Quebec.  I live on Lake Champlain in northwestern Vermont and it’s only about twenty miles away.  Guinness and the continent’s best fish ‘n chips.

Favorite restaurant (away): Don’t have one, but Guinness on the menu helps.

Favorite hotel:  I generally don’t generally travel very much as part of my job, but I built a small cabin I consider it BASW World Headquarters in the swamp behind my house just off the lake.  Does that count?

You wrote:

“ A number of great American writers were, at one time or another, sportswriters, ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, James Reston, and Richard Ford. What is unique, however, is that David Halberstam, while moving beyond sports, did not, I think, move past sports. While he never elevated sports out of proportion, sports never ceased to be important to him and he never cast sports aside as insignificant, once writing that “I do not know of any other venue that showcases the changes in American life and its values and the coming of the norms of entertainment more dramatically than sports.”

Do you agree with what  Halberstam wrote of sports?  Or was that an aficionado, in fact, elevating sports out of proportion?

I think that what he meant was that sports was one of only a few venues that has the reach in our society, and in our common conversation, to make those changes visible and intelligible to a great number of people.  Halberstam was wise enough to see that.  Another writer might have selected some other setting in which to make a similar argument, but I can’t think of anything else that has the same coherent reach as sports.  After all, the only two things you can talk to a stranger about are the weather and sports.

I think the significance he attached to sports, both in the larger sense and individually, was about right.  He wrote a post 9/11 essay reprinted in the book entitled “Sports Can Distract, but They Don’t Heal” that makes it clear that he certainly felt there were limitation to the role sports should play in our lives.  Yet I think he also recognized that to each of us as individuals, our personal attachments to sports, either as participants or as fans, can often appear elevated from the outside, and that was even the case in his own life.  His stories about fishing and being a football fans are, in a sense, out of proportion, just as is the attachment most “fans” have to sports.  He didn’t view his personal connections to sport from an academic or overtly intellectual perspective, but emotionally.  And although as the quote you cited indicates he saw sports as lens that occasionally illuminated changes in our society and culture, that didn’t mean he always sought out the larger meaning in sports.  When he wrote about fishing or watching football, it was because valued the way sports connected him to other people more than anything else.  That’s what I particularly enjoyed about editing Everything They Had.  You get to know Halberstam as a person in that book in a way you do not in his other work.

Halberstam had a romantic view of sports and athletes, broadly speaking. Is his body of sports work conspicuous for lack of a critical investigative effort?

Not in a way that diminishes his work.  He made it very clear that he considered his sports books and sports writing to be a different kind of work than his books on history, society and politics.  They were entertainments, breaks between work he considered to be more rigorous, and intentionally different in tone and subject.  I think his sports books and articles were akin to the short stories, profiles or poems a novelist might write between novels.  I write across various genres and to different audiences and I know that I approach each somewhat differently.  I think Halberstam was making a conscious decision not to be overtly investigative when he wrote about sports.  I’m guessing, but I don’t think he wanted to strip sports of the obvious enjoyment he took from it.  But that does not mean that he turned his back on larger issues or didn’t emphasize reporting when he wrote about sports – he was always a rigorous reporter, no matter what he was writing about.  While his shorter sports stories, in particular, may not be investigative in the purest sense, books like the October 1964 and The Breaks of the Game, are investigative in their approach – they reveal some essential knowledge of their subject that few other books approach.  Halberstam was a smart guy – obviously.  He understood and had the confidence to write each story and each book within it owns borders and not try to write in the same shape and tone every time out.  I mean, The Teammates and The Best and the Brightest have radically different intentions.  His approach in each was, I think, completely appropriate to the subject.

Can you describe the process of selection for BASW?  Numbers and types of submissions?  Your role vis-à-vis the guest editor? 

My primary role is to provide material to facilitate the selection process, and to give advice to my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in regard to who we should consider as guest editor.  I am adamant that it should be someone who is known for their writing first, and has shown an ability to write about a variety of sports.

Every year I send out a letter and ask hundreds of newspaper and magazine editors for submissions and/or, in the case with magazines, guest subscriptions.  And in the foreword of the book I always invite writers and readers to submit work they feel is worthy of inclusion, and I try to make it clear that I don’t attach any stigma to a writer who submits his or her own work. The same instructions also appear on my website,  Really, and I try to make this absolutely clear, if I never read a story, I can’t select it, so I really don’t care how a particular story gets brought to my attention, or who brings it to my attention, as long as it does.  My only frustration is that after eighteen years I still get the feeling that writers, editors and readers are not quite as forthcoming with suggestions and submissions as I would hope.

Nevertheless this still generally results in a hundred or more magazine subscriptions and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of submissions from either writers or their editors, particularly at the end of the year.  I also troll around quite a bit on the internet, and receive submissions from quite a few online venues as well, and occasionally spend time in libraries looking at magazines I either don’t get in the mail or who do not send me anything.  One way or another thousands and thousands of stories pass by my eyes each year, and now I have the bifocals to prove it.

I would guess that probably 80-90% of the works submitted are, roughly speaking, features and profiles or essays, as opposed to columns and game stories.  Somewhat more than half come from newspapers, but that is offset by the magazine subscriptions I receive or read on my own.

My job is to pick approximately 75 stories or so that I forward to the guest editor a few weeks after the February deadline.  As I make my selections I don’t worry about balance between different sports, sources or story type.  If I pick the best stuff those questions will work themselves out.  I even pick a few stories along the way that I personally don’t like but understand that someone else may have an opposite reaction.

The guest editor makes the final selection of the 25 or so stories to make the book, but is always welcome and encouraged to include material not submitted by me.  Some, like David Halberstam, Bill Littlefield, Bill Nack and a few others have aggressively solicited my opinion and input during the selection process.  Some have not.  That is entirely their prerogative.

Characteristics of a BASW selection?  When you come across a worthy piece, how do you know it?  

The best work announces itself pretty quickly – one example of that, I think, was J.R. Moehringer’s story “Resurrecting the Champ.”  I wasn’t at all familiar with Moehringer at the time but the lead was so good I just knew the story would be terrific – it felt like a part of something much larger, which it was.  I didn’t even read it all the way through before I submitted it to the guest editor.  I had a similar experience the first time I read Bill Nack’s “Pure Heart,” about the death of Secretariat.  In the opening scene the vet discussed the physical size of the horses’ heart, provided a similar experience.  As for the stories that don’t make the book – well, I usually recognize those in the first graph or two.  If the lede fails terribly, I can’t expect a reader to keep reading and hope it gets better.  Sometimes, if I read a lede and like it, I’ll skip directly to the end, to see if that holds up.  I try to think like a reader in the bookstore who may pick the book up, flip it open to a story, and maybe read two facing pages – the end of one story and the beginning of another.  If they don’t like what they read, they put the book down and walk away.  Obviously, I don’t want them to do that.

I’ve never been able to come up with a criterion for selection that’s very complicated, and I gave up trying to do so a long time ago.  I select as if I am a reader.  All I’ve ever looked for are stories that, after reading them once, I want to read again.   I usually read just about everything when it first arrives, and those stories I want to read again go in one pile that I save and all the others go in a much larger pile that I take to the town transfer station every Saturday.  As the deadline approaches and then passes, I go through that pile I’ve saved over and over again until I’ve winnowed it down to about seventy-five stories.  Then I start all over again.

After eighteen years the process is like the M.C. Escher drawing “Relativity,” the one that shows people simultaneously climbing both up and down the stairs in a loop.  That’s me. This process never ends.

Have bloggers cracked BASW?  Do you envision that happening?

Oh yeah, Derek Zumsteg did in 2007, with a story from the Seattle Mariners website  He analyzed the “Baseball Bugs” Warner Brothers cartoon as if it were a real event.  Great stuff, and utterly, completely and entirely original.

I’m sure it will happen again, although the problem with many blogs is that since there are no space restrictions, and publishing is often instantaneous, very little editing taking place, particularly self-editing by the author.  So the work can tend to meander around too much, and lack shape, or reach “print” with a glaring mistake.  Obviously, too, I can’t read every blog post either, so to consider work from a blog the author has to be pro-active, print it out and send it to me.  I’m not sure why, as I make it clear that I welcome online material, but although I regularly receive submissions from commercial online outlets very few “bloggers” have bothered to submit work to me.

You wrote about the difference between sportswriting and writing of sports.  Can you explain?

The first decision I made in regard to the book was to suggest we call it The Best American Sports Writing, two words, rather than The Best American Sportswriting, compound word.  Sportswriting, I think, is more constrained and makes the reader think in terms of the newspaper only, writing primarily about the daily event.  Given the fact that the book can appear almost two years after some of the stories inside were written, the book had to be more wide open than that, to allow for writing that was about sports outside of daily journalism.  There is simply more room to write when sports is an adjective to a noun and not the noun itself. Similarly, I use the widest possible definition of sports.  I suspect at one time or another virtually every reader of the book has read something said “I don’t think that’s a sport.” That’s okay, because I hope the writing is good enough that they still enjoyed the experience, and if I tried to confine the definition, we’d miss out on a great deal of terrific writing.  My ideal BASW story would be about a subject the reader knows nothing about, written by a writer they’ve never heard of, from a publication they have never read before.

How good is sports journalism today in a historical context?  How has it been affected by the decline of print, and the rise of Internet publishing?

You know, as a literary genre sports writing – and sportswriting – is a very young field.  You can hardly identify it at all before about 1880.  In most of my other work –  authoring big survey history books of the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs, writing dozens of articles on sports history and editing some historical anthologies, I have read a tremendous amount of  period sports writing – more, I’d wager, than just about anyone else alive.  The very best work today is, I think, better than most of the best work of thirty, or forty or fifty years ago, and far, far better than the vast bulk of work before the World War II.  Writers today are more creative and have more instruments at their disposal, as well as a wider viewpoint.  It is also not just the sole domain of white guys anymore, and the entry of more minority writers and female writers into the field has strengthened it immeasurably.  But the average, run of the mill work – the stuff I send to the transfer station – has not improved that much.  Day to day, I find far too much writing that lacks style, or else tries to substitute cleverness for style.  Too much is either too dry or edited into paste and completely style-less, or a series of none note jokes pounded over and over again, writing that apes sports talk radio.

This series started at an interesting time, 1990, just before both the online explosion and the cable/satellite TV explosion.  There is no question that we are in a transition, and that as the online and electronic reach expands, the print world narrows.  When this series started there were at least fifty Sunday supplement magazines.  They were a terrific source for stories that didn’t fit the sports page, a place for writers to grow and experiment, as well as a significant freelance market.  Almost all are gone now, and many of those stories simply don’t get written anymore.  I worry that even though the online reaches everywhere, and even though anybody can blog, that it is harder for quality to be seen and read amid all the white noise.  It seems that everyone is either famous or unknown, and there seems to be no well defined track for writers to move up through the ranks anymore and learn their craft.  This kind of compression squeezes good people out, and in the long run, isn’t good for the field.  But here’s the thing – no one and no thing has ever been able to keep people from writing and  breaking through.  Despite all this – perhaps in spite of all this – committed writers of talent keep writing their asses off and do great work.  And if you do great work, I believe it eventually gets found.  My job is to find it for  BASW.   That’s the goal anyway.

Five BASW pieces that should be on every bathroom shelf?

I’ve often thought the entire book should have a hole perforated in the corner to facilitate being hung in the bathroom, because I suspect that’s where it gets read.  I’ll leave aside both the Nack and Moehringer stories I’ve already mentioned, but would otherwise be on the list, and a few more that probably should be on there are in BASW of the Century.  Here goes, but if you asked me tomorrow I might make different selections.

Bill Plaschke.  Her Blue Haven, a profile of a Dodgers fan.

Charlie Pierce.  The Man, Amen, Pierce’s infamous story on Tiger Woods

Gary Smith.  Shadow of a Nation, about Native American basketball

Paul Solotaroff.  The Power and the Gory, a cautionary tale about steroid use by a body builder.

Florence Shinkle.  Fly Away Home.  A very quiet story about pigeon racing, a subject I knew nothing about, by a writer I’d never heard of.  I think its tone fits her subject precisely.  Her editor hated it; David Halberstam and I loved it.

 You are named editor of the All-Time Greatest Sports Staff?   You get 10 hires.  Who are they and why?

There are probably a hundred names I could select and not go wrong.  I hope you understand that I don’t feel that it is appropriate for me to include anyone still writing – in my position I cannot and do not play favorites.  So I’ll confine this primarily to the giants we stand on today, a list that is quite a bit more pale and includes more testosterone than if I were to include contemporary authors:

Ring Lardner, for his ear for the language, and because there are very few writers ever who I have found funnier.  It is a real pity no one has ever collected his newspaper sports writing.

W. C. Heinz for the music of his work and the big heart that comes through it.  As I wrote in the foreword to this years’ volume, I think part of BASW starts with me reading Heinz in the old Best Sports Stories collections when I was a kid.

 A.J. Leibling.  If for no other reason that the line he wrote about the younger writers of his generation, about whom he complained did their work and then ran  home to “wife and baby” instead of, as he put it, sitting at the saloon and “soaking up information” like they should.

Red Smith because I still think he’s the best sports columnist we’ve ever had.  Some people in newspapers complain to me that we never reprint enough columns in BASW.  Well, that’s because not many are writing them very well – too many columns today are just brief anthologies of one-liners.

Wendell Smith, because advocacy journalism sometimes has a place.  The work he and other African American sports writers did to put pressure on baseball to break the color line deserve our lasting gratitude.

David Halberstam, for his example as a reporter and for his generosity to young writers.

Harold Kaese.  A bit of a sentimental choice.  Kaese, who won the Spink award in 1976, wrote for the Globe for more than forty years, was a pioneer in the accumulation and use of baseball statistics as well as a terrific writer.  When I worked at the Boston Public Library I pored over his archive, which gave me a crash course on not only Boston sports history, but on the life of a sportswriter.

Frederick P. O’Connell.  This little known writer for the Boston Post died in 1907, before age thirty.  But he was extraordinarily good for the era – the best of his work reads as if it were written today.

Shelby Strother.  I encountered Strother, of the Detroit News, while editing the first edition of BASW, and only learned that he had passed away when I tried to contract him to inform him of his selection.  He was really good, and, like Wells Twombley, another great writer who dies too young, should not be forgotten.

Frank MacDonnell.  A personal pick.  He was sports editor of the Detroit Times in the 1930s and my wife’s grandfather.  He took her mother out of school to meet Babe Ruth once and died young, in 1941.  I have his BBWA wallet and press card and would have liked to have met him.

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