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The Golden Age of Sports Writing

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  • The Golden Age of Sports Writing

    One of my favorite childhood books was Charles Einstein's Fireside Book of Baseball, an anthology that introduced me to Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner, Westbrook Pegler, and other giants of the 20s+/-.

    One of the accomplishments of those writers was the invention of "The Golden Age of Sport," the age of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Bill Tilden, Man o' War . . .

    On this forum, at least, the baseball of that era has undergone some scrutiny and revision. I'm wondering how that era of baseball writing looks now.

    Obviously, there's a lot of variation. "Alibi Ike" probably holds up pretty well, but I'd agree with Bill James that it's hard to read Granny Rice without getting purple ink on your fingers. (On the other hand, sports writers and readers are all in his debt for raising the level of aspiration, for setting a standard to aim at or over.)

    What do y'all think? Immortal classics, or pioneers who showed others the way to go further?

  • #2
    I will go with immortal, with a caveat. James is right (how I hate to say that about him) that Rice and some of the others would be hard to read today. But each era has its own style, as do each region and sport--no one would write about baseball the way he would about football, for example, and fans in some areas expect a different approach than in others.

    But these greats--Rice, Pegler before he went crazy, W.O. McGeehan, John Kieran--paved the way for the greats like Red Smith and Jim Murray who followed. I wonder how much harder it is to be great today when the internet requires much greater speed and makes the dissemination of information so much easier.

    I'd also recommend Jerome Holtzman's No Cheering in the Press Box to go along with the great Einstein collections.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Michael Green View Post

      I'd also recommend Jerome Holtzman's No Cheering in the Press Box to go along with the great Einstein collections.

      Frank Graham's Baseball Wit and Wisdom has many writer accounts.
      Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
      Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
      Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
      Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
      Robin Bill Ernie JEDI

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Michael Green View Post
        I will go with immortal, with a caveat. James is right (how I hate to say that about him) that Rice and some of the others would be hard to read today. But each era has its own style, as do each region and sport--no one would write about baseball the way he would about football, for example, and fans in some areas expect a different approach than in others.

        But these greats--Rice, Pegler before he went crazy, W.O. McGeehan, John Kieran--paved the way for the greats like Red Smith and Jim Murray who followed. I wonder how much harder it is to be great today when the internet requires much greater speed and makes the dissemination of information so much easier.

        I'd also recommend Jerome Holtzman's No Cheering in the Press Box to go along with the great Einstein collections.
        The early writers had it easier in terms of accountability. Jimmy Cannon for example was pretty loose with the facts, and even fabricated a lot of stories.
        Writers today face much more scrutiny, and with the exception of a few tabloids, that would not be tolerated today.
        http://soundbounder.blogspot.com/

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        • #5
          What do you consider the classics of that period, pieces that are just as good as it gets, regardless of when they were written? It's been a long time since I read it, and I can't abide Damon Runyon's schtick, but his piece on Casey Stengel running out his 1923 World Series home run sticks in my mind.

          "This is the way old "Casey" Stengel ran, running his home run home, when two were out in the ninth and the score was tied and the ball was still bounding inside the Yankee yard.
          This is the way--
          His mouth wide open.
          His warped old legs bending beneath him at every stride.
          His arms flying back and forth like those of a man swimming the crawl stroke.
          His flanks heaving, his breath whistling, his head far back."

          It has the virtues and the vices of its time, I guess, but "His warped old legs bending beneath him at every stride" is hard to beat, especially in context.

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          • #6
            I think it was during the same World Series that Heywood Broun wrote as great a lead as you will ever see: The Ruth is mighty and shall prevail.

            I'll say a word for Fred Lieb, who was, I believe, the longest-tenured member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, from 1911 until his death in the late 1970s. He wrote thorough accounts of games of the kind we would all benefit from today.

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