Archive for May, 2007

Keep writing: Start a blog

May 29, 2007

Most beginning sports writers look forward to the day when they can cover professional sports, whether that is major-league baseball, professional football or a PGA event. There’s a certain appeal to covering pro sports. We grow up as sports fans, admiring athletes on our favorite teams, so we want to be a part of it all. Some of us even dreamed of playing professional sports. So this is our shot at joining the sports fraternity. In time, we learn we are part of another brotherhood (sports journalists) and we find that it is just as good. We work side by side with hard-working, dedicated, sharp editors and writers to win battles against deadlines, to cajole reticent sources, and to fully capture the essence of a game, person or event. Journalism is also a team sport.

Eventually, we find we love it just as much. We no longer have an emptiness that drives us, or a need to hit the ball fields in the spring, our hands itching without a glove or bat in them. Instead, we are sated by keeping score and watching others enjoy the games we loved to play. We pull for the kids in high school and Little League games, and we wince when they make a mistake. These games are much less jaded than professional (and college) games, although there are other problems afoot (like hyperactive, pushy parents who scream at kids, coaches and umpires.) Or the parent who is suing her kid’s coach and league for failing to show him how to slide. We watch these kids and recall days spent shagging fly balls, turning double plays and sinking last-second shots in the drive way. Or we played one-on-one wiffle ball, using our fave teams’ lineup and emulating their stances and quirks at the plate (like Joe Morgan’s hitch or Willie Stargell’s looping windup.)

Now, we realize covering high school and recreation teams is just as much fun as covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Florida State. We realize we just love to get out, to be a part of the experience, and to write. Not everybody gets a chance to write for a newspaper, though. Some kids get a chance to do some stringing at the local newspaper, some college students get a chance to work as interns, and some graduates land that first job quickly. Others, especially, younger sports journalists struggle to find a place to practice. Thanks to the Internet, that is possible for everybody. Create a blog.

Then, head out to the local ball fields where you can speak with coaches and players and report on your own web site. You can write stories and columns and gamers. Tell your friends, family and parents about the URL for your blog. After a while, you’ll have readers — and once you do, you’ll realize that’s why we write: for others.

Perhaps, you can even fill a need in your town. Most newspapers (especially bigger ones) do not cover recreation sports or Little League in depth. You can become the main source for this news, offering statistical break down, game stories, team and player notes, and feature stories. Eventually, you will become the expert. And maybe the local newspaper will take notice and hire you to cover these (and other) sports. Some newspapers, like Florida Today, have sites dedicated to Little League (more on that later.)

Finally, ask a local journalist to critique your site, a professional who can offer specific hands-on advice. Plus, read and critique your favorite writers by taking note of story angles, listing words and phrases you like, and analyzing leads. By the end of the summer, you will be better for the effort. Many people say they want to be a sports reporter (colleges are filled with hundreds of grads each year), but not everybody is willing to work to get there. So, if you are not currently working as a sports reporter this summer, start a blog or web page.

If you are covering kids, be gentler in your commentary and game coverage. After all, these are not paid athletes. These kids will make mistakes, just as we all do when we learn something new. Most are playing for the love of the game, just pleased to be out playing on a field or a court. That’s something worth watching (and writing about.)


Young Pence for NL rookie of the year

May 24, 2007

We here at On Sports are throwing our support for Hunter Pence as National League rookie of the year. Why the rush? Part of this is parental gloating. After all, we discovered the Astros’ new phenom, as readers of this blog will recall (“Nothing’s more joyful than spring training.”)

Back in March, we watched Pence drill a double in extra innings that set up a game-winning single that helped the Astros defeat the Phillies in Osceola County Stadium. We liked how Pence pumped his fist as he crossed the plate with the winning run as if it were the final game of the World Series, not just a rest-the-veterans mid-March spring practice. We also pondered how great it would be to see young Pence doing the same thing in the Fall Classic, even though we are Yankees fans (and even though ‘we’ is really just ‘I,’ or ‘me.’)

I’ve been reading about Pence more and more the past several weeks — and tonight I watched him run back to snare a certain extra-base hit near the fence in San Francisco. It’s a helluva run and catch (I hope to see it again later on Baseball Tonight.)

In addition, Pence hit .591 to earn co-player of the week honors last week. Young Pence also slammed several homers to post a 1.091 slugging percentage and a .625 on-base percentage last week. Overall, he’s hitting .329 with four homers, six doubles and three triples in just 24 games. That’s good enough for a .612 slugging percentage and a .978 OPS.

Not bad for a kid whose swing was once called “ungainly” by one scout and who was tagged “a big gangly kid” by Minor League News — and these folks were praising Young Pence, named a Top 50 minor league prospect two seasons ago.

“It’s pretty fulfilling, I guess, to get my first award,” Pence said. “All that it really boils down to is wins. It makes you feel good to see something like that.”

“I was especially inspired by Joe Gisondi’s essay a few months ago,” Pence added. “That showed me that others could see my potential.”

Well, maybe he didn’t say those two last sentences. But he has played exceptionally well so far – so much so that Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice has called for Pence to start hitting leadoff, replacing future Hall of Famer (and On Sports fave) Craig Biggio, whose OBP is under .300. We suspect Biggio will start playing well again soon in his trek for 3,000 hits and Pence will remain in the No. 6 spot in the lineup. We also suspect it was not a mistake the Astros assigned Pence a locker next to Biggio, allowing the young outfielder to watch and listen to how Biggio handles himself on and off the field, and to play the game as it was meant to be played.

So, we’re going to start a Hunter Pence rookie of the year watch (on the right side of this blog), knowing damn well this kid is for real and not a short-term wunderkind. He’s not some Joe Charboneau-come-lately

Right now, the Astros are 6.5 games behind the Brewers (another team worth adopting) so Houston remains in the hunt for the NL Central title. So Pence may have his opportunity to pump that fist in a more meaningful game. In the meantime, we’ll follow his exploits. Please, send us any news you read on our young phenom. Or start a Hunter Pence fan club (sign me up!) Either way, let’s support this hard-working rookie as he plays himself into the NL rookie of the year award.


Here’s how to analyze trends

May 22, 2007

Scott Miller, senior writer for CBS Sportsline, writes a wonderful analysis piece on the state of hitting in the majors. This is the type of story that baseball fanatics (like myself) love, and a story that student-journalists should emulate. In the lead item for his Weekend Buzz, Miller tries to determine why hitters aren’t hitting this season. (It can’t just be a lack of steroids, right?) Scoring and batting averages are at their lowest since 1992, the usually prolific Cardinals can’t hit homers (going 93 innings without one before last Monday), and Darin Erstad is leading the White Sox in hitting at a paltry .258. Geez. That makes the accomplishments of hitters like Derek Lee, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada all the more impressive. Miller breaks down these major-league hitting woes by citing both managers and hitting coaches, and by analyzing statistics. It’s a nice, short piece worth reading (and emulating).

McPhee brings reporting to new level in this classic book

May 21, 2007

John McPhee reveals much about the two protagonists in his book Levels of the Game. McPhee discloses their political beliefs, backgrounds, political opinions and fears. He also shows the reader how the main characters – Arthur Ashe and Chuck Graebner – play a game that has made them well known. But the game of tennis itself also reveals much about these two young players competing in the semifinals of the 1968 U.S. Open championships.

McPhee writes that tennis, like any game, reflects an individual’s personality: “A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play” (McPhee 6). In the course of describing the tennis match, McPhee diverges from game descriptions to offer anecdotes, stories and commentaries about these two men. Sometimes, the diversions roll along for many pages. At other times, they stray for just a few sentences. As illuminating as these digressions are, they pale beside the on-court comments and thoughts of Ashe and Graebner.

There are many levels of thinking in this book. The players think to themselves, think aloud, and speak their thoughts during the lengthy match. Their thoughts are also offered when they speak in lengthy monologues and when others speak about them. The two players mutter, murmur, exclaim and shout their thoughts while on the court. As a result, readers get inside the heads of two prominent players – and other writers can use this book to get inside the head of a writer who not only finds a way to capture the thoughts of his main characters, but who also does an exceptional job inserting them into what is essentially a game story.

A rule of journalism: Don’t read people’s minds. (I knew you would think this is a good rule.) Sports reporters should not tell readers what they are thinking. “It drives some copy editors nuts,” writes Tim Harrower, author of Inside Reporting, “to read sentences like these: ‘Barb Dwyer dreams of being a rodeo clown someday. She feels certain it’s the best career she could choose’” (81). As Harrower points out, how does the reporter know how Barb feels? Reporters cannot observe one’s dreams, nor can they get inside the mind of people like this rodeo clown. Instead, journalists should revise the preceding sentence to read: “Barb Dwyer says she dreams of being a rodeo clown” (Harrower 81).

In journalism, where space is more limited, rules for citing sources are much different than they would be for lengthier novels. Even a relatively short book, like this 150-pager, allows for much more space to expand on ideas. In journalism, for instance, reporters are told they should beware of monologues, especially those that take up two to three pages, as some do in Levels of the Game. Most newspaper stories, even profiles, are fewer than 1,500 words. Allowing someone to speak for 500-plus words does not make sense in these shorter works. McPhee ignores this rule, like so many others. But it is his use of internal thoughts that he does best of all.

McPhee almost certainly spoke with Ashe, Graebner, and many people for this book, otherwise it would have been dismissed years ago. Like most reporters, McPhee must have asked the two tennis players many questions about the match, such as: How did you feel you played? What were your thoughts? What did you think when he served the ace? Unlike most journalists, though, McPhee then inserted these responses as thoughts as another play-by-play element. Readers can see the action taking place. “Left arm up, fish closed, index finger extended, he continues to point at the ball until he has all but caught it. His racquet meanwhile dangles behind his back. Then it whips upward in the same motions as for a serve” (McPhee 13-14).

Readers can also hear what Ashe is thinking here when he slams this lob back at Graebner: “Ashe maintains his cool appearance, but he is thinking, ‘My God, what’s happening? Here he goes. He’s going to get the first set. And if he does, my confidence is going right down the tube. Graebner is a front-runner, very though when he’s ahead. Someday, he’s going to get the lead on me and he’s not going to give it up” (McPhee 14). In the middle of a match people do not think so reflectively, coolly and structured. It is difficult to believe Ashe would think: “Graebner is a front-runner, very though when’s ahead.” That sounds like something said upon reflection, not in the moment. There are many such comments throughout the story. But they are rarely jolting, and nearly always illuminating.

McPhee offers the players’ thoughts in three ways – as an omniscient narrator who taps into the minds of players, as an objective narrator who reports what he sees and hears, and as a more limited omniscient narrator who gets into the minds less intrusively. In some ways, this final approach seems more a hybrid of omniscience and third-person objective than the clearly defined limited omniscience. At times, this presentation is more all-knowing; at others, it is more limited in the sense that the thoughts seemed to have come from some reporting. But, since it does not fall exactly into either of the other narrative points of view, I will refer to it as limited omniscience here. In this manner, McPhee typically introduces the players’ thoughts in something by writing “says to himself” or “tells himself.”

Early in this tennis match, Graebner feels pretty confident, knowing Ashe cannot handle his hard, accurate shots: “Graebner says to himself, ‘Look at him. He’s just slapping at my serves’” (McPhee 22). Later in the set, Graebner believes he might be able to win the match pretty easily: “Graebner is thinking, ‘If I break him now, his morale has had it’” (McPhee 34). But Graebner starts to struggle both physically and mentally, something Ashe realizes. The reader realizes this through Ashe’s thoughts. These two players, who are friends, know each very well. The see things in one another’s game that fans in the stands would never know. That’s why McPhee spent time getting to know these players and asking about their ideas and thoughts. Ashe, for example, knew that Graebner relied on his wife for support during matches, that he looked at her in stands, especially when he was struggling. After Graebner double faults, he does just this. “Ashe is thinking, ‘Graebner just looked at his wife.’ And behind Arthur’s impassive face – behind the enigmatic glasses, the lifted chin, the first-mate-on-the-bridge look – there seems to be a smile” (McPhee 50). This thought (and that Ashe knows his opponent so well) reveals much more than exposition or quotes could – even if the thought is not precisely how Ashe considered it during the match.

McPhee also taps into the characters’ minds omnisciently, where he has total knowledge of all characters’ thoughts. The author does not merely report what the characters think; instead, McPhee states the thoughts more authoritatively and knowledgeably. There is no “he thought” in the sentences. Sometimes, McPhee mixes in thoughts with game description, which allows the reader to understand what how the thoughts connect to the actions. In addition, this mixture helps propel the story forward. All reporters should play with narrative point of view. Try to get inside the minds of those you cover — a difficult and time-consuming task, for sure. That means you had better spend much time with this person and you must speak with others about this person in addition to other research. But this approach works well, when done right. Try this for a feature. Give yourself some time (and some space to write it.)

“Now the thought crosses Graebner’s mind that Ashe has not missed a service return in this game. The thought unnerves him a little. He hits a big one four feet too deep, then bloops his second serve with terrible placement right into the center of the service court. He now becomes the mouse, Ashe the cat. With soft, perfectly placed shots, Ashe jerks him around the forecourt, then closes off the point with a shot to remember. It is a forehand, with top spin, sent cross court so lightly that the ball appears to be flung rather than hit. Its angle to the o net is less than ten degrees – a difficult brilliant stroke, and Ashe hit it with such nonchalance that he appeared to be thinking of something else. Graebner feels the implications of this. Ashe is now obviously loose. Loose equals dangerous. When a player is loose, he serves and volleys at his best level. His general shotmaking ability is optimum. He will try anything. ‘Look at the way he hit that ball, gave it the casual play,’ Graebner says to himself. ‘Instead of trying a silly shot and missing it, he tries the silly shot and makes it’” (McPhee 82-83).

At other times, McPhee offers thoughts like extended interior monologues, allowing the characters to describe plays or to comment on ideas that extend outside the lines of the match for several pages at a time. McPhee also captures how these two players observe: “Ashe lifts the ball, hits, and the twist falls exactly where Graebner had imagined it would” (McPhee 120). Each approach allows the reader to learn much about the players and the match.

McPhee also reveals the characters’ thoughts through verbalized comments that nobody probably heard except, perhaps, a linesman or an umpire. McPhee would have relied on reporting after the match to learn the words spoken during an outburst or to hear the thoughts and mutterings of a frustrated or angry player in the middle of a heated match. McPhee inserts them into his play by play as if he heard the comments in the moment. Perhaps, McPhee heard the following comment spoken during a break when Ashe stood by the umpire’s chair: “’Thank God I never have trouble with the handle [of his racquet],’ Ashe remarks and return to the court” (McPhee 105). It is unlikely McPhee heard this since even reporters and fans are usually too far away to hear anything but loud exclamations and grunts. At another point, Ashe wins four straight points that include a loose, liberal shot that barely makes it over the net for a point, something that infuriates Graebner, who ‘mutters:’ “Arthur, you lucky bastard. How can you hit that shot?” (McPhee 114). A little later in the match, Graebner speaks angrily – something that reads much more like post-game commentary than a thought considered in the heat of the moment: “ ‘Wouldn’t you know at a moment like that Arthur would tear off an all-time winner,’ Graebner murmurs to himself. ‘Arthur’s weakness is his forehand. So I play to it on a big point and he hits a great shot.’ Fifteen-thirty” (McPhee 130). Either way, these comment add depth, offering explanations, commentaries and insights into the actions on the court and about the character of those playing the game.

A writer can’t be everywhere at once. Journalists need to verify all information before adding it to their stories. Sometimes, though, journalists need to trust their sources. But this idea is not comforting to most reporters (and to far fewer editors.) Journalists want to verify that the facts offered by sources are correct.

Once, while covering a story for a magazine, I needed to describe a moment from a football practice that I had never attended. To some in journalism, this is heresy. But the moment helped define a defensive back I had been assigned to profile. So I asked this college player to describe the scene – everything from how the play evolved to the weather and what others were wearing. I then posed some of the same questions to others at the scene to ensure the facts were correct. For example, the defensive back said the temperature was in the low 80s, and another person said it was hot (a much more subjective term.) A check of the national weather service verified the temperature in the area was in the 80s. As a result, I felt confident enough to report this (and several other) facts about the moment. That’s what a writer needs to do. But how do you verify thoughts? A writer can ask others if the source has repeated these comments before or can check letters and other writings to determine if these ideas had been repeated at other times. But, ultimately, one cannot always verify thoughts. Reporters do use this in stories, but on a more superficial scale. For example, a sports reporter might ask a batter what he was thinking right before he hit the game-winning double, but who’s to know if those were the batters’ actual thoughts. Journalists, though, usually feel much more uncomfortable digging into thoughts in much more depth and length to report stories in newspapers (and, to a lesser degree, in some magazines).

Writers like John McPhee, Truman Capote and Gay Talese seem less disinclined to report thoughts as facts. Perhaps, that is where creative non-fiction writers diverge from journalists. Even if these are not the exact words, unverified comments and thoughts can offer wonderful insights about people and events. So there is value in this. And readers appear to accept such offering more easily in a novel or essay than they would in a newspaper article. Thus, creative non-fiction writers can take more license and chances in their writings. So while the New York Times feels quotes should be cited without any alterations (“We regard quotations as absolutely sacrosanct. If there is any reason at all to be tempted to change them, then you take the quotation marks off and paraphrase it”), journalists like former Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich says one needs to be able to interpret what sources tell us (“The cruelest thing you can do to anybody is to quote him literally.”)

This is a major difference between creative non-fiction writers and journalists, but one that should not cause a chasm between the genres. Reporters regularly change and correct grammar and syntax, among other things, in quotes. People say what they mean but they do not always say it the way the mean. But, in the end, all we can do is trust that what sources say about their thoughts is true. After all, we’re not mind readers.


You can help some kids get a field for their dreams

May 19, 2007

Just read through some of the essays on a website, where kids explained why their towns need money to build a new field — or to fix one up. Coaches across the country are spending countless hours raking fields, putting in fences, and painting dugouts so some young kids can learn about sport (and themselves.) Wish they all could get money for their fields.

My girls just helped inaugurate two softball fields in our east central Illinois town, something that took about 10 years to complete. Some city parents spent a great deal of time in raising the money, building fences, doing carpentry and electrical work, and painting. The first pitch this morning brought a tear to one of the fathers who started this work. His kids are out of school now, but he is excited that other kids will get the chance to play on this field. That’s why I was out there raking the field between games — and will go back and do some more later this afternoon. (To pay back those who spent much more time in making this dream come alive for our town’s girls.) And that’s why many of us might jump in and help raise the additional money so the other two fields can be built.

Now, you can help some other folks earn money to put up a fence, fix a dugout or fill in major holes on a field. Click here to read the short essays and to vote.


A class act

May 16, 2007

Some nights, I really miss playing baseball. Like last Friday night when I sat along the third-base line, leaning on the fence and talking with some youth league coaches and parents about the pending game. A soft breeze blew over the freshly mown field in east central Illinois, whose sweet smell reminded me of days spent roaming across such fields back in New Jersey. I loved nights like this, as much for the beauty of the moment as for the competition. I miss the joy of playing.

But on this night, I was able to see the next best thing – my daughters were set to play the first game of a weekend softball tournament for a travel team filled with small, thin but fast and determined young girls, a team that has improved dramatically since last fall. And they were set to play a powerhouse Shelbyville team, a squad that had just knocked off two of the best teams in the state of Illinois.

Publicly, we told the girls any team is beatable. Privately, we hoped the game would just be close. As I worked with the girls on their swings before the game, the kids seemed looser than normal, something the head coach worried about, believing his girls were not concentrating. But he is a gentle coach, so he did not yell or scream.

By the second inning, we trailed by four. By the third inning, we were deadlocked. Our girls hit like never before, ripping shots all over the field. My oldest daughter drilled a two-run single up the middle and then scored. Our shortstop snagged a pop up and threw a bullet to first to double off a runner. Our third baseman snagged a liner and tagged a runner off that base for another double play an inning later. The girls played the game of their lives, applying lessons taught by their coaches and showing determination and confidence that they could win. A few more late-inning hits and some solid defensive plays later, the girls did just that, leaping in the air as if they had won the World Series. Our girls had played the perfect game. The girls could barely contain themselves, laughing as they ate burgers and fries at McDonald’s and slurping down shakes at Dairy Queen.

But I was even more amazed the next afternoon. Girls are vastly different than boys (in case you could not tell.) I learn this a little more every day, whether that is as a father of two girls or as a coach of a youth sports team. Girls are cool, man. They play hard, dance in the dugout, and sing songs for nearly everything from foul balls to a batter’s stance. Boys are awkward and duller. Girls sometimes cry when they make a mistake, but they do not give up and have much more fun.

Our team lost in the morning but rebounded to win an afternoon game by about 10 runs. As our team walked off the field, the Shelbyville players stood in two lines in front of the dugout, formed an arch with their arms, and yelled “WE are proud of you! We ARE proud of you!” A class act from a class team. (Which usually comes from a class coach.) And that is exactly how I would characterize the Shelbyville coach, a man who appears to be a calm teacher who cares for his players. I enjoy talking with him. Like our coaches, he is clearly set on teaching life lessons as well. That’s something we all need to consider when we watch our kids compete as parents and when we watch teams play as sports journalists.

There are way too many coaches who mistake screeching for teaching. There’s nothing wrong with raising one’s voice and yelling instructions, but screaming and deriding and attacking is another manner. (Like the coach who growled at his 10-year-old catcher: “Use your head! It’s not there just to hold up your mask!”) Winning is great, but not if it means enduring jerks like this guy. Shelbyville’s coach proves nice guys can finish first. Thanks for the great lesson for my girls.


Crafting profiles when the main character won’t speak

May 16, 2007

Joe DiMaggio stood alone in his restaurant, staring out a bay window at the San Francisco wharf where tourists watched the fishermen repair their nets. One pretty blue-eyed blonde brushed her hair back and took some photos. DiMaggio, holding a cigarette, followed her with his gaze as she walked down the street before returning to his table where he finished his tea. DiMaggio, at age fifty-one, no longer played before fifty-thousand fans at Yankee Stadium, but people still flocked to see him. Only DiMaggio never felt comfortable talking with people, least of all a writer who wanted to delve into his private life, something he guarded at all costs. DiMaggio sneaked into a back room when the writer entered the restaurant, spoiling any chance for an interview.

Gay Talese never had a chance to interview DiMaggio, but that did not stop him from writing a profile that has set the standard for all others. In fact, “The Silent Season of a Hero,” was named the greatest sports article of the Twentieth Century by David Halberstam and Glenn Stout, editors of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century.

I’ve read way too many profiles where the only person interviewed was the person featured. That’s a terrible approach. The person profiled should be the last person you speak with. Instead, gather stories from others who are less guarded in offering information and insights. Friends and family are usually more than willing to gab about one another — even if the stories are embarrassing. (And embarrassing stories can reveal much about a person, just as stories that show the bad side of someone yield much. Remember, nobody is all good or all bad, so do not create a person who is so one-dimensional. You might, though, if you only speak with the person interviewed.) More than a few years ago, I read a wonderful profile on Patrick Ewing that did not include a single quote from the Knicks all-star center. I believe the great Gary Smith wrote that piece for Sports Illustrated. (I’m about to start Beyond The Game, a collection of Smith’s wonderful stories through the years.)

In the piece on DiMaggio, Talese found a way to write about his subject in ways that, ultimately, proved superior to the traditional manner in which so many reporters approach profile stories. (He also wrote a tremendous profile on Frank Sinatra, another person who refused to speak with him, that is featured in The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters, a book that offers many lessons in how to write a profile story. One should observe, research and interview. That Talese did not interview the protagonists of these stories does not matter. (In fact, this is a strength of these pieces. Who cares what Sinatra and DiMaggio say about themselves? What insights can they offer that hasn’t been stated before? Plus, can we really believe what they say? Their disdain and distance makes these stories all the more appealing and intriguing.) Talese interviewed countless others who know these men instead.

Talese is a keen observer, taking in details others might have missed, like DiMaggio lighting up his fifth cigarette in the past half hour. In addition, Talese clearly researched these people, as any good reporter, by reading what others had reported on these two men. These other articles and interviews help inform the main story, supplying insights into how these men had acted in the past. Finally, though, it is the writing style that sets these stories apart. Talese tells the stories through the eyes of others, shifting the mind’s eye from fishermen to waiters to fetching middle-aged women to press agents.

Talese researches well. He find stories that essentially fill in the blanks, that help to explain and convey ideas and points. So when Talese talks about Sinatra’s personal touch with friends, readers can see Sinatra in action. Talese could have stopped after the first sentence; instead, Talese finds examples to illustrate his point:

“Sinatra does things personally. At Christmastime, he will personally pick dozens of presents for his close friends and family, remembering the type of jewelry they like, their favorite colors, the sizes of their shirts and dresses. When a musician friend’s house was destroyed and his wife was killed in a Los Angeles mud slide a little more than a year ago, Sinatra personally came to his aid, finding the musician a new home, paying whatever hospital bills were left unpaid by the insurance, then personally supervising the furnishing of the new home down to the replacing of silverware, the linen, the purchase of new clothing” (Talese 24-25).

Talese does not always cite his sources, but it is clear that he speaks to many people, everyone from friends of those profiled to those who are more distant, like an acquaintance or a golf club manager. In “The Silent Season of a Hero,” for example, Talese writes that DiMaggio works hard to keep in shape. Talese shows this through the eyes of others.

“He tried hard to remain as he was – he diets, he takes steam baths, he is careful; and flabby men in the locker rooms of golf clubs sometimes steal peeks at him when he steps out of the shower, observing the tight muscles across his chest, the flat stomach, the long sinewy legs” (Talese 109).

Had Talese stated these facts himself, the story would have been far less interesting. The fact that others see DiMaggio in this manner (especially that they steal peaks in the shower) shows how DiMaggio looks in a more fascinating manner. Talese does not rely on his own point of view when creating these portraits (not that he remains silent. He invokes the first person a few times in both pieces), telling the reader how to think. Instead, Talese shows. He shows DiMaggio through the eyes of the fishermen on the famous San Francisco wharf. He also shows Sinatra through the eyes of his agent. And he even shows what New York is really like through the eyes of a popular masseuse and a cop talking a potential jumper from the George Washington Bridge in another story, “New York is a City of Things Unnoticed.”

Talese feels comfortable hanging out and revealing what he sees. He is also skilled in doing the leg work that reveals so much back story. And he also seems at ease allowing others to tell some of these stories. Talese does not need to speak with those he profiles. Instead, he can talk to those who really know the score.


Send me your questions

May 15, 2007

Have a question about sports reporting (or sports coverage in general)? Send me a note. I’d be glad to help out. You can send them to jgisondi@gmail, which is also listed in my profile. As always, please post comments below my postings to add additional insights, ask questions or just start a dialogue with others. Hope you all are doing well with your summer sports assignments.


KO the acronyms, OK?

May 11, 2007

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is leaving DEI.

No, not Directed Electronics Inc., which is the largest supplier of home theater loudspeakers and remote auto start systems.

And not Design Engineering Inc., the self-proclaimed “proud supporter” of several auto-racing teams.

NASCAR fans are shaking their heads, knowing Earnhardt is leaving his father’s auto racing team, aptly named ‘Dale Earnhardt Inc.’ after Dale’s dad who died in a car crash at Daytona about six years ago. Dale Jr. has worked to extend his father’s auto-racing legacy, but, apparently, he does not get along so well with his mother-in-law, Teresa, whom he blames for the team’s woes the past several years. I’ll leave the deeper analysis to the experts who cover auto racing.

I’m more interested in why we love acronyms. ‘DEI’ was tossed around by broadcasters and analysts on ESPN’s SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption (that’s ‘PTI’ to my street sports homeys) last night as easily as if they were saying ‘NFL’ or ‘NBA.’

Our job as journalists is to communicate – to all, not just insiders. Acronyms are certainly easier to say and take up less room on a page, but they often confuse readers. If you use an acronym, spell it out in first reference, something most broadcasters on ESPN did. Unlike in print, though, a first reference on television is gone the moment the air is expended to say ‘Dale Earnhardt Incorporated,’ meaning viewers who tune in even a few seconds later may be confused by the ensuing references to ‘DEI.’ (Thinking, perhaps, that Dale Earnhardt has left <a href=”
“>‘dei’, or God!)

So, as a rule, spell out all acronyms, even the ones the AP Stylebook approves like ‘FBI.’ You’ll probably get some testy style debates in the newsroom, but at least more readers will understand what you are writing. Every day, someone new starts reading the sports pages. Write for those newer readers and kids as well.

If not, a reader might think you mean NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations system) when you state NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). And who the heck knows what they’ll think when you start popping the pill with the old horsehide until someone laces a dong.


Stats (and why we love sports)

May 7, 2007

Stats are just one means for evaluating a player’s success. But they are interesting and compelling, nonetheless. Brad Schultz offers some great resources for finding and evaluating stats in baseball, football, hockey and basketball in a posting at the Journal of Sports Media.

Disclosure (and shameless plug): As many of you might know I also blog for this site. I commented on some reasons stats are just one means for evaluating success — a point my daughter drove home last week.

Plus, Angela K. Renkoski discusses the death of Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock and why these events matter to those more emotionally invested in sports. She writes: “We watch on the promise that we might see something we’ve never seen before, and sports delivers this just often enough to keep us satisfied.” Check it out.