Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rick Reilly's Fastball Still Hums

I'll be honest: there are very few people in this business who I truly respect for their writing abilities; I've dealt with a few nice people and far too many jerks but very, very few people in either category who can really write, who can make words sing and dance off of the page (or computer screen). A real writer sculpts his words like Rodin, paints a verbal picture like Van Gogh, composes his thoughts like Beethoven--but too much of what is being cranked out nowadays reads like it was hacked together by Edward Scissorhands or simply popped out unedited from the uneducated mind of a distracted child. Yeah, I read a lot less than I used to, because writing that truly engages your heart, mind and soul has become an endangered species.

Forgetting the "real world" for a second, in the sports world there used to be high quality writing in Sport, Inside Sports, the Sporting News and SI, plus periodic lengthy features in mags like Esquire and GQ. The first two of those no longer exist and the others are empty husks compared to their glory years. If you grab an old enough back issue of any of those titles, you can find work that stands the test of time. When was the last time you saved a sports mag because the writing was just so great?

A lot of the people whose writing I respect the most are, sadly, no longer with us.

Dick Schaap.

David Halberstam.

Ralph Wiley.

Read some of their writing and compare it to most of what is out there now and you want to cry. Seriously. Billy Joel was right:

Michael Hutchence's succinct take comes to mind, too: "You can stop the world and let off all the fools." Of course, the world keeps right on spinning and, last I checked, none of the fools have volunteered to leave.

I've heard some chatter that Rick Reilly--formerly of SI, now with ESPN--has lost some MPH off of his literary fastball. I'll admit that I cringe at some of the dog and pony garbage that ESPN has him doing. The sports' Mt. Rushmore? You hire a guy who basically retired the Sportswriter of the Year award--he only owns as many of them as Bill Russell has NBA championship rings--and that is the best forum you can create to showcase his talents? Really? Of course, they previously turned Tony Kornheiser--a truly top notch sportswriter in the 1970s and 1980s, one of my favorites--into a caricature on PTI and MNF, so I'm not really surprised. It's not like I'm crying crocodile tears for those guys, either; ESPN has helped make them as rich as Croesus, while I'm sitting here...just sitting here, definitely not rich as Croesus.

Anyway, if you bought into the fiction that Reilly's heater only hits about 85 on the gun now, then take a couple minutes and check this out:

Hey, pro, don't want to be a role model? It's not your choice.

Yes, Rick Reilly's fastball still hums. Hopefully, ESPN will let him throw it more often instead of using him in the equivalent of slow pitch celebrity softball.

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