If only he could have helped me with my wanky “Uwe Blabla Doll House of Usherettes” fantasy team this year.
J.P.: I’m going to make a point, and tell me why I’m wrong (or, perhaps, right). I was on staff at Sports Illustrated when the writers included Steve Rushin, Richard Hoffer, Rick Reilly, Jack McCallum, Alexander Wolff, Michael Farber, Jon Wertheim, Phil Taylor, Bill Nack, Leigh Montville. And I would argue that those guys were far superior to the sports writers from the past everyone raves about—the Red Smiths, the Grantland Rices, the Edwin Popes, the Furman Bishers. I read a lot of the older work and think, “Meh, sorta overhyped—and a lot of really bad, forced analogies.” Am I now damned to hell?
D.O.: Take Red Smith out of your second list, and I think you’re absolutely right (I would have asked you to remove W.C. Heinz, John Lardner, Jim Murray, and A.J. Liebling, too). But there’s no question that the maturation of Sports Illustrated in the 1960s, under the great editor Andre Laguerre, lifted sportswriting to a new level. The real comparison should be made between your excellent list, and the one of an earlier SI generation: Dan Jenkins, Mark Kram, Bob Creamer, Frank Deford, etc. And stepping away from SI, the great Roger Angell, of course.
By the way, I’m really glad you included Hoffer on your list of favorites. I don’t know why he’s so underappreciated; to me, he’s the perfect sportswriter, filled with grace and ideas, but never taking himself too seriously.
• Five favorite baseball players of all time?: Among those I’ve seen live, Joe Morgan, Ichiro, Fred Lynn (from 1975-77), Ozzie Smith, Mark Grace (he wore wristbands that bore the legend, “WWBSD”—for “What Would Bart Simpson Do?”). I wish I’d seen Jackie, Babe, Joe D, the Big Train, and Eddie Gaedel.