Sports Writing as good as the Watching
There’s a current sports columnist whose prose harken back to the glorious baseball writings of Roger Angell, whose work I hadn’t known until my wife purchased a book called Game Time: A Baseball Companion – a fine, fine read if you like baseball history – and in our current environment of immediacy and “just the facts, Ma’am,” it’s easy to overlook quality work that sometimes appears on the web. Two weeks ago the Cubs and Nationals engaged in an epic battle for game 5 of the NLDS, and Yahoo sportswriter Jeff Passan published a piece with as much beauty, poetry and gravitas as the game itself. The Cubs didn’t clinch the series until 1:15 AM Eastern Time, and Passan published his piece less than four hours later. It would have taken me weeks to produce something as good, and even then it would probably fall short. This guy can write well and write fast.
And I know, this is what great journalists have been doing for decades, but in a world when news is published as it happens, one revelation at a time, full of errors and retractions, typos and grammatical mistakes, it’s refreshing to know that a guy like Passan can pull off a feat that few are willing to pay for these days. Kudos to Yahoo Sports for shelling out some cash for quality.
I happened upon Passan’s essay by chance after the Cubs victory, but now I seek out his material, and this morning I was yet again rewarded after last night’s incredible Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, an 11-inning victory for the Astros – their first World Series win in franchise history – and among the best baseball games I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.
Baseball lends itself to grandiose writing, perhaps more than other sports – something about the pacing of the game, with pauses between each pitch – and it would be easy to overdo it with the writing equivalent of John Facenda’s deep baritone voice narrating an NFL film, and although Passan occasionally dips his toes in the waters of grandiloquent prose (comparing October baseball to a “feral animal best left to carve whatever circuitous path it pleases”), most of the time he just writes really good sentences – nothing flashy, but more than “just the facts, ma’am.” Consider the following:
The fortuity that favored the Dodgers in the third inning, when Bregman’s RBI single bounced off the brim of Taylor’s cap in center and caromed to Pederson instead of scooting by, had evened out by the grace of Diaz being in the right place at the right time.
Nice. Yes, the facts are there, but they’re there in a way that’s pleasant to read.
During the last week I’ve had the pleasure of watching two of the greatest endings to sports games I’ve even seen. One was last night. The other was last Thursday, when the Raiders had two game-winning touchdowns called back in the final seconds, only to score another one – this time official – to win 31–30. Unfortunately, Jeff Passan doesn’t write for football, and nothing I found on-line stood out as anything more than a decent summary of the game. Perhaps good writers gravitate toward America’s Pastime the way good musicians do Bach, but I have to think that any sport can lead to writing that warrants our attention.
In the meantime, I’m going to tune into the remaining World Series games when I’m able to, and to Jeff Passan's writing either way.