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Ten Great Pieces of Sports Writing

By Brian Lutz On July - 6 - 2009

For all those bored at work today—whatever day “today” might be—I’m here to help.

 

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the 10 great sports books, and it got some pretty good feedback. This week, I’m trying something a little similar—10 great pieces of sports writing.

 

Here are a couple of disclaimers before I start the list:

 

—This was originally going to be a slideshow, but for some reason, I was unable to put links on slideshows (or just unable to figure out how to do it). I wanted to provide links to all these articles so people could just click them and read.

 

—I am only using articles that are online. There were some very good articles I was unable to find anywhere on the Internet, such as Myron Cope’s 1963 essay on a 20-year-old Cassius Clay, or Al Stump’s 1961 article about a dying Ty Cobb. Therefore, I made heavy use of the SI Vault (which is amazing) and the ESPN archives.

 

—Much like last time, these are not the ten greatest sports articles ever created, nor are they my top ten favorite articles. They are just ten really good pieces of writing, in no particular order.

I tried to make the list as diverse as I could—long and short articles, old and new, covering a range of sports. 

 

Anyway, here it is…enjoy.

 

 

Laughing on the Outside, by John Schulian (2000)

 

This is one of my all-time favorites—a lyrical portrait of the life of mythical Negro League star Josh Gibson. It’s almost impossible to separate the fact from fiction in Gibson’s life, and he endures as one of the most fascinating professional athletes of the 20th century.

 

How did he die at age 35?  No one really knows. How many home runs did he hit? Some say over 1,000, some say much less (his Hall of Fame plaque says “over 800”).  Was he the best player who never played in the major leagues?  Some say he’s the best player, period.

 

 

Cut Off From the Herd, by S.L. Price (1997)

 

A downright fascinating profile of Randy Moss when he was at Marshall. This is probably the best article I read in all my teenage years.

 

 

Eat, Drink, and Be Scary, by Wright Thompson (2008)

 

Thompson has done a bunch of great stuff at ESPN, including many of the longer “E-Ticket” features, but this is my favorite article from him.

 

Here’s the premise: the writer spends a day with George Selvie, a defensive end who plays for South Florida. Selvie is undersized and needs to put on weight, so he eats as much as he can every day. Thompson tries to keep up with him, eating everything he does, for one day.

 

 

A Rough Time on the Road, by Stan Fischler (1964)

 

This article has another fabulous premise: Hockey player misses team train, has to travel alone from Boston to Montreal, in a blinding snowstorm, in time for a game the following night, so he doesn’t get fined. Great stuff.

 

 

Seeing Red After All These Years, by Bill Simmons (2002)

 

A young Bill Simmons interviews an old Red Auerbach at his office in D.C.  It’s an anomaly in Simmons’ canon of articles in that a) he left his home to write it, and b) it includes quotes from a real, live person, rather than an announcer or a decades-old movie. The results are very good, and I wish he would do stuff like this more often.

 

 

Jordan’s Moment, by David Halberstam (1998)

 

Longtime journalist and sportswriter Halberstam wrote this incredible article for the New Yorker, just around the time he released a book about Jordan

 

The article focuses mainly on Jordan’s final days with the Chicago Bulls, including a superb breakdown of the 1998 NBA Finals. It’s a must-read, if there ever was one.

 

 

Heaven Help Marge Schott, by Rick Reilly (1996)

 

Reilly has been somewhat of a mixed bag since he moved from the back page of Sports Illustrated to the back page of ESPN, but he was once one of the best at writing longer features such as this one. 

 

Marge Schott was never liked much by other owners, and this shows many of the reasons why. Although, the craziest part of this story may be that the most expensive seat in Riverfront stadium in 1996 was $11.50. Yes, I said most expensive.

 

 

What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? by Richard Ben Cramer (1986)

 

This is considered by many to be the best piece of sports journalism ever, or at least one of the best. It’s a vivid portrayal of the aging superstar, who at the time was living in Florida and doing nothing much really, except fishing. And yelling.

 

If anyone out there doesn’t like Teddy’s ball game, read this and it will change your mind. 

 

(By the way, this was the hardest article to find online, and it was also the inspiration for the title of my earlier article on Ben Roethlisberger.)

 

 

The Four Horsemen, by Grantland Rice (1924)

 

This is considered by most to begin with the most famous introduction in all of sports journalism. “Outlined against a blue-grey October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again…”

 

The article basically immortalized the 1924 National Champion Notre Dame team, and also Grantland Rice himself. One interesting thing you’ll notice if you pay attention is that  this entire recap doesn’t include a single quote from anyone involved in the game.

 

 

The Legend of Bo, by Joe Posnanski (2007)

 

This article is about Bo Jackson, the most legendary athlete of a generation, as done by Joe Posnanski (pictured at top). Don’t miss this one.

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