Thursday, September 29, 2011

Game 162 of the MLB 2011 Season & Great Writing on the Night

Stunning, crazy, epic, redonkulous... all words that apply to last night's events in the final game of the MLB regular season. I suppose one could make the point that once the playoffs start it doesn't matter how a team got there, but sports fan me would respectively disagree.

Yes, the players are the ones competing and they've all got their own motivations (including of course the paycheck variety), but the fans are by and large in it for the entertainment value provided. To that point, last night's Red Sox-Orioles and Yankees-Rays games were each remarkably entertaining in it's own right, but the two games viewed together as they should be... yep, redonkulous (this doesn't even consider the National League games yesterday).

I fully expected to find some great writing on the events transpired and (not surprisingly) the best I've seen today has been in pieces for the Sports Illustrated website from Tom Verducci and Joe Posnanski respectively.

Verducci wrote the illustratively-titled Drama of Game 162 never seen before and likely never will again and spent more time chronicling the events of the games than Posnaski did in his Baseball Night in America. While I found both works to be exceptionally solid (and Verducci's had the timeline of events), the piece by Posnanski really did it for me with it's vivid descriptions of what makes baseball so great for those who follow it.

Going back in time a bit this idea of baseball fandom was eloquently laid out by Kevin Van Valkenburg in A funny thing happened on the way to Camden Yards for the Baltimore Sun.

Very cool writing from all three guys on a sport that (as Posnanski says) can be boring, but also can be so very much more to it's fans.


Postscript - The text above was the original post done yesterday, but in the "too good to not include here" category was Six minutes that shook baseball history and put the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL playoffs from Michael Kruse and Ben Montgomery. Written for the St. Petersburg Times, it's got the same timeline approach that Tom Verducci provided, but also provides content around individual Rays fans and how they followed and reacted to the madness. Great human-element writing...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Those Guys Have All the Fun" by James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales

Just finished reading Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. It did drag on at times in it's 750 odd pages, but was a worthwhile read for anyone interested in sports… and particularly sports journalism.

Here’s what stuck with me from it…

Style of the Book

It was written as an oral history with segments of interviews done with people in the business or related in some way to ESPN (both within and outside the company). Some 500+ interviews by Shales and Miller went into this effort and there’s frequently interspersed text from the authors linking together the interview segments. At first I thought the book would lack in narrative flow, but I’d say it worked fairly well as an approach.

That said, I did have jump out to me one interview segment given in two different places in the book (ESPN exec John Skipper about personality Tony Kornheiser on page 677 as well as 610). Maybe this was done intentionally rather than being a mistake in construction then overlooked in the editing process, but I found it pretty jarring as a reader.

ESPN Business Early On

It was pretty interesting reading how the idea for ESPN began with the intention of showing local Connecticut sports, but then the realization that it cost no more to send a signal nationally. Shortly after this was made what turned out to be the brilliant decision to buy a satellite transponder for broadcasts when it was still relatively inexpensive as cable was a new thing. These early years were pretty fast and loose (with Stuart Evey as the Getty Oil money guy helping lead the party charge), but the business took hold… in large part due to the dual revenue stream of both advertising dollars and cable operators paying to run the channel.

Content on the ESPN Networks

It came across in the book that the deals with various sports properties drove the company forward (with the NFL being by far the most important partner), but also there was significant mention of key non-game broadcast content provided via various platforms (with the non-TV platforms obviously being more recent).

ESPN the Magazine was created to slap back at Sports Illustrated and their CNNSI sports network and (while I personally find the graphic-intensive delivery to be annoying) established a new way to reach the audience. Additionally, programs such as SportsCentury (produced by wunderkind and future exec Mark Shapiro) established ESPN as a credible news outlet and source for documentary filmmaking. Non-game content discussed at length in the book were successful programs like Pardon the Interruption with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser and College Gameday.

Perhaps successful from a ratings perspective, but not critical view was the LeBron James spectacle “The Decision”... which showed the ongoing tightrope that ESPN had and continues to have to walk between journalism/reporting and game broadcasting/league partner.

Journalists at ESPN

In the beginning, ESPN put a focus on showing a professional production on screen and worked to have solid on-air talent. Among early hires were current notables like Chris Berman and Bob Ley. As time went on, there continued to be very interesting stories around the anchors and broadcasters, with Keith Olbermann and his acerbic brilliance often in conflict with management.

The closer to present-day stories about the writers for ESPN might have been the most compelling part of the book for me (with the following people featured)…

Buster Olney – excellent baseball writer and someone who puts incredibly long hours into the job.

Bill Simmons – created his Boston Sports Guy blog in 2001 and got noticed with a scathing review of that year’s ESPY Awards. Writes an enormous number of words and comes across as a bit of an ESPN outsider… and who runs the ESPN writing website Grantland.

Dan Patrick – one of the early stars at ESPN… left fairly recently and now does a weekly column for Sports Illustrated.

Rick Reilly – a former Sports Illustrated star writer (one of the only ones in the sports writing world)… came not long ago to ESPN and it’s various platforms (including of course, The Magazine).

Wright Thompson – excellent young writer for the ESPN website and it’s E:60 investigative journalism. Also does great content for Grantland.


The book could have I think been a bit shorter, but there was definitely solid content on an interesting and powerful (and with only around 6,000 employees worldwide) company.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tennis Writing on Roger Federer

Lately have come across some very interesting writing on tennis star Roger Federer. The work is from a variety of different sources over a pretty wide timeframe, but a constant is there's something about the guy and his game that lends itself towards great copy.

In 2009 I posted and linked to writing about the Federer-Nadal rivalry with this review of an L. Jon Wertheim book as well as this blog post on an S.L. Price story for Sports Illustrated. More recently I had recommended to me the Michael Kimmelman New York Times column "Where They Paint the Lines With Topspin." It's really solid prose that features a short description of Federer as tennis virtuoso.


With the US Open tournament played out over the past few weeks, there's been a raft of interesting tennis writing (perhaps because of the individual rather than team sport competition)... and writing on and related to Federer being some of the best.

For, Jeff MacGregor did the column "U.S. Open: Beginnings and endings." It's solid and lyrical writing with the subtitle "The constant of Roger Federer's grace seems to soothe a volatile sport in transition."

Posted on Grantland a few days later was the piece "Director's Cut: Federer as Religious Experience". Director's Cut is a recurring Grantland feature with writer Michael MacCambridge detailing background on well known writing and providing his take on what makes a piece good... in addition to providing the original writing.

In this case, "Federer as Religious Experience" was on the 2006 profile of Federer by the late David Foster Wallace for the New York Times magazine, Play. The Wallace piece is remarkable writing with it's description and use of language and MacCambridge provides really interesting content around the story and process of it.

As an aside and not to say that it's done as well on this blog as by MacCambridge in his "Director's Cut" features, but what he does in linking to great work and noting what makes it stand out is much the exact same intent of what's posted here.


Wrapping up this dissertation on Federer and Federer writing was another Grantland piece. This one by Brian Phillips, "Novak Djokovic: The Shot and The Confrontation" was posted the day after Djokovic fought off two match points to win the semifinal matchup between the two star players.

The writing was certainly solid, but what struck me was the actual play sequence described... where another Federer triumph could have wrapped itself up, but was instead completely turned around in a stranger than fiction shot and Djokovic reaction.

Also interesting from the piece was the description of Federer's post-match reaction to Djokovic's shot. Some may view it as dig against Djokovic, but when you're a player of Federer's stature and have hit against you on match point the shot that Djokovic unleashed probably really truly does seem a matter of a "lucky shot." It doesn't in any way make the win by Djokovic any less impressive, but does perhaps make sense in the context of the person he hit the shot and got the win against.

This remarkable shot then turned into a remarkable championship win by Djokovic and capped off probably one of the more remarkable individual year's in modern tennis. So, acclaim deservedly due to Djokovic, but that Federer sure plays an amazing brand of tennis... which in turn has spawned some great writing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/11 10th Anniversary Writing

Really remarkable commemorative issue of Time Magazine this past week.

The special edition was published without advertising and much of the content was a "Portraits of Resilience" gallery with individual people's stories. Leading things off was a short piece by photojournalist James Nachtwey on his experience in New York that day and accompanying the writing was a series of images he took at and around Ground Zero.

From Nachtwey's work, the picture below made me think of the Tommy Tomlinson piece for the Charlotte Observer "Tribute and renewal in a New York moment" with it's reference to St. Paul's Chapel by the Trade Center site.

Another thing that struck me from the Tomlinson story was his closing paragraph about life in the City continuing on... which was very much in line with the sentiment expressed by Scott Raab in "The Memorial" for Esquire (which I posted on here). In this same life moving forward view, one vignette from this Time issue that stood out was the profile on Lyzbeth Glick Best which included significant mention of the 10 years since losing her husband in the Shanksville, PA crash of United 93.

Really powerful stories on Best and by Nachtwey, Tomlinson and Raab... and excellent work overall by Time Magazine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"The Greater Journey" by David McCullough

Just finished reading The Greater Journey by David McCullough... didn't finish the book, just finished reading close to half-way through.

I had high hopes for it after enjoying a great deal John Adams, Truman and 1776, but never found myself captivated in the same way by McCullough's latest effort. The experience of reading was similar to that I had with the Bill Bryson book At Home... really good author with a new book I was looking forward to reading, and then never could get into. Actually, an even closer comparison would be to another McCullough book that I didn't make it through, The Johnston Flood.

This notion of liking an author, but not having the same level of enthrall with everything they write was something I wrote about in a blog post in relation to a J.R. Moehringer GQ piece. For a reader to really get into a book or story, there has to be a combination of both interesting topic and good writing... with that writing then needing to hit the always elusive balance between sentiment, entertainment and information providing. It's a tough nut to try to crack and even the best writers don't do so every time for every reader... which is ok.

Keeping in mind that again... McCullough is a good writer and my not being into The Greater Journey doesn't make it a bad read, the New York Times book review by Stacy Schiff was a generally positive one (and I probably would have stuck with McCullough's book to conclusion were it not for so many others I want to read).

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Inc. Magazine Speaker Event

Recently attended a speaker panel put on by Inc. Magazine here in San Jose and found it to be pretty thought provoking. The event was titled "Helping Businesses Grow Healthy" and put on by Inc. in conjunction with United Healthcare.

Information on the event from the Inc. website:

"Building a healthy workplace is a tough job. Leaders that promote and support wellness in the work environment reap the benefits of loyal employees and gain a competitive advantage. Hear from a panel of entrepreneurs that are implementing new workplace initiatives and have been recognized for their winning culture. Even if you aren't in a position to execute ideas at once, you'll learn about the small steps that make a difference for your employees and for the health of your company."

Moderator Kyra Cavanaugh, President and Founder of LifeMeetsWork
Tania Binder, Senior VP of Global Sales of TRX
Chris Mittelstaedt, Founder and CEO of The FruitGuys
Eric Ryan, Chief Brand Architect & Co-founder of Method; Co-author of The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn an Industry Upside Down

My thoughts on the event:

1. The invite was very much appreciated and while I don't imagine running these events is a profit center for Inc., having them is probably very much in line with the message and value-add of the magazine.

2. It of course relates to the "Healthy Workplace" theme, but there seemed to be such an emphasis by the panel speakers on employee culture. This manifested itself in things from the the hiring process (was interesting to hear of the difficulty in hiring good people) to how employees are treated. Ranging from things like encouraging healthy living to asking workers what matters to them, this concept of employee treatment was a big deal to the panelists. Pay value of that to the company would be to both keep attrition low and have employees be more productive and better ambassadors for the business if they feel treated well and buy in to the company mission.

3. I found myself wondering how much harder it must be for leadership of a public company to have this same focus on employee culture. The long term benefit of a positive work experience is of course there for both public and private companies, but a publicly traded business is more beholden to shareholders and short term results. That whole mandate for officers of a public company to increase shareholder value... it can be a nebulous charter.

4. Was very impressed by the panelists from the perspective they each had an idea that they made into something. Eric Ryan from Method probably has achieved the most success so far, but all had interesting stories to tell.

My take away from their accomplishments was whether it be for a product, a company or a person in the workforce… an offering or value add can be a powerful thing and shouldn't be discounted. If someone has said offering, the goal then should be to find a place for that thing rather than simply trying to sledgehammer a product, service or candidacy as an employee into an existing slot that may not jibe with or appreciate it fully.

True, this may or may not be what the panelists were really trying to communicate (and it's presumed wisdom that trends towards the squishy), but anyone having taken the time to attend the event should take from it what makes sense to them.

Back to the statement made at the beginning of this post... thought-provoking stuff that I'm glad Inc. put together and extended the invitation for.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Esquire Writing - Scott Raab on WTC Memorial & C.J. Chivers "What I've Learned" Feature

September 2011 issue of Esquire contained exceptional writing by Scott Raab... as well as an interesting one page piece of musings from C.J. Chivers.

The Raab story is "The Memorial" and the seventh installment in his "The Rebuilding" series about the World Trade Center since 9/11. In October of last year I read part six "Good Days at Ground Zero" and his work is both emotional and conveys an extremely real view of the people working at the WTC site.

Pulled out of the latest story and put as a heading is this from Raab...

"People talk a lot about the "healing process." Well, this is New York. In the aftermath of a tragedy of monumental proportions, the healing process has been noisy and rude, with elbows out, redolent of greed, power, and the darker forces that drive human existence. And most of the shouting has been about how to make a fitting monument to what happened here. But in a hundred years, all the shouting and all the politics will be forgotten. What will be remembered is what is built here, now, on these sixteen acres."


Also in this issue of Esquire was the "What I've Learned" installment featuring war reporter C.J. Chivers. I'm drawn to anything resembling wisdom from a writer, but also to someone willing to put themselves in dangerous situations to write about a conflict (with Sebastian Junger being another guy who does this).

Tommy Tomlinson Writing - for ESPN, GoodCall and Personal Blog

In a veritable onslaught of Tommy Tomlinson content, today there was a piece of his posted at and interview with him on a new sports website.

Now, lest this onslaught comment be seen as sarcastic, it really did seem remarkable to see tonight via twitter links to a Tomlinson ESPN story and interview about another he did for Sports Illustrated. Pretty heady publications for a guy who is an excellent writer that seems to just now have his work getting national publication.

Tomlinson penned for ESPN "How we find healing through sports" on sports and what games mean and can provide. The commentary revolves around 9/11 and the upcoming 10 year anniversary and really does a good job conveying the impact of sports as well as where that impact stops in a larger context. It's really well done and insightful work... profound, but with that profundity not oversold.

The interview on a new website was done by Brandon Sneed for GoodCall and centers on the piece "Something Went Very Wrong At Toomer's Corner" that Tomlinson did for Sports Illustrated. It was a tremendously interesting interview that covered not only how the story was written, but how the assignment (his first for SI) came about. Sneed obviously shared the same curiosity I did after reading what was an excellent piece... I'm just thankful that he and Tomlinson got the story out (you know, on the Interweb Superhighway Tubes).

While on this whole Tommy Tomlison kick (if posting on and linking to a piece by and interview with him is a kick), it seemed apropos to note to a very cool (and short) blog post by him from last month. "Waaaaaaaay Overdue" was on an overdue library book, but (not surprisingly given how boring that sounds) also much more. Routines, habits, intertia, breaking out of a seemingly intractable state... these are the themes covered well by Tomlison here. True, it's easier said that done, but as they say... "if it was easy, everyone would do it."

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Time Magazine Writing - Joe Klein on Veterans, Mehmet Oz on food & Barton Gellman on Dick Cheney

Some solid pieces from Time lately... two of them cover stories and another within the latest issue (and all of them requiring a magazine subscription to be viewed online.

From the August 29 edition came "The New Greatest Generation" by Joe Klein.

It's a pretty lengthy feature on the contributions back here at home of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and has some impressive stories within. There's leadership, teamwork, a dedication towards helping others... a lot of actions being done in the U.S. by people who recently served their country overseas. Klein also notes as a big part of the story how the roles and contributions of these returning veterans will continue to grow over time.


The September 12 edition of Time had another cover story with interesting content and then a second feature that stood out as a compelling read.

Cover story was "The Oz Diet" and while this piece from Dr. Mehmet Oz was a bit of a slog at times, it was on the important topic of food and included mention of what foods he eats for and their health benefits.

Piece from this same issue that was terribly fascinating was by Barton Gellman on Dick Cheney. "The Power and the Zealotry" looks at the memoir "In My Time" by the former Vice President and is a pretty scathing rebuke of Cheney. From what he did to the way he went about it and then how it's described in the book, Gellman's impression is definitely not a positive one. Remarkable content in this piece about a guy who wielded an immense amount of power (and saw that power then diminish) in the George Bush White House.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Sports Illustrated Writing: Lee Jenkins & Joe Posnanski

Couple of entertaining works lately from Sports Illustrated writers... one written for the magazine and one the website.

Cover story for the August 29 issue was by "Strange Brew (but It's Working)" on the first place team.

Written by Lee Jenkins, the writing is solid, but more than that... it's just fun. The team comes across as a personification of the little engine that could just trucking towards a playoff showdown (or for Milwaukee fans, hopefully three showdowns) against better know and bigger market teams. Heavily featured in the piece was sparkplug outfielder Nyjer Morgan and while reading about him didn't necessarily make me love the guy, it did make me want to watch... and after all, the point of being a sports fan is to be entertained.


From the Sports Illustrated website yesterday was "My Favorite Year" by the excellent and prolific writer Joe Posnanski. It's a long piece (did I mention he's prolific?) on the sports stories that struck him from 1986. Included in the story (which had more beyond this) was the Chicago Bears Super Bowl team, Bo Jackson taking baseball by storm, Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at 46, the death of Len Bias and the MLB playoffs featuring Bill Buckner and the much sadder tale of Donnie Moore.

It's really entertaining reading made all the much more so by the links and videos that Posnanski embeds (highly recommend the Bo video of an outfield wall catch and then strike to first base).

Finally, he does that thing that much of his best blog writing features where he includes personal anecdotes along with stories of the athletes and their accomplishments. A big part of this was commentary about 1986 being a pivotal one in the beginning of his writing career... and linked to was a profile of Jim Murray by Rick Reilly, and noted by Posnanski as being "probably the best story ever written about a sportswriter."

Businessweek Pieces: Double Eagle Coin, HP, Apple, Salesforce & Rachel Ray

Some interesting pieces from the August 29 issue of Businessweek...

I find BW often has interesting features and with this edition being no exception, "Gold Coins: The Mystery of the Double Eagle" was written by Susan Berfield. The story looks at the exceedingly rare 1933 Double Eagle gold $20 coin and the layers of intrigue and drama surrounding it's collection.

As Berfield details, 500,000 of them were made, but then to have been destroyed prior to being issued. However, not all were... with what was billed as the only one remaining auctioned off for $6.8 million in 2002. Back to the whole intrigue and drama thing, another 10 coins then were discovered in 2004 to still exist. As might be expected, this led to a courtroom dispute that's still only sort of settled. Pretty fascinating read...


In addition to this feature, there was a number of smaller stories from this issue that stood out...

- "Rachael Ray on Catching Her Big Break" on the now talk-show host and how she was discovered for television (and what she did leading up to that).

- "How Salesforce Tames Twitter for Big Business" on Social Media tools offered to clients by the company.

- "Is It Time for Hewlett-Packard to Go Back to the Garage?" featuring the sub-headline "Once an icon of stability, HP is in chaos under CEO Léo Apotheker."

- "Steve Jobs: ‘Unfortunately, That Day Has Come’" about Tim Cook taking over for the visionary CEO at Apple.