“Roger Ebert … knows things we don’t know.”

Last week, I drove through the Midwest on a college basketball road trip with three friends from the Post-Gazette. We stopped in for a game at all of our alma maters — Notre Dame, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois — plus Butler for good measure. Obviously, it was awesome. We rented a brand new mini-van that had a TV. We ate whatever we wanted, drank whatever we wanted, said whatever we wanted, sang whatever we wanted.

During our last stop, in Champaign, Ill., I met a couple of young journalists at the Daily Illini. I was detailing to them some of the greats who came before me at the Michigan Daily, and so naturally asked them who the big DI alums were. They immediately mentioned Will Leitch, the founder of Deadspin, and Roger Ebert, the esteemed film critic. Apparently, Leitch and Ebert, despite being decades apart at the DI, had formed a relationship — one that was severed when Leitch, early in his career, wrote a scathing critique of Ebert.

After I got back to civilization here in Pittsburgh this week, I pulled up a post Leitch had written about Ebert for Deadspin (click here), which linked to a profile written by Esquire’s Chris Jones about Ebert (click here), which linked to Ebert’s response to Jones’ piece (click here).

I am a smarter journalist for having read all three, which is no surprise considering the accomplishments of the authors. I’d heard about Jones having written on Ebert in the Twitterverse, where Jones (@MySecondEmpire) had admitted he was crushed that his Ebert story wasn’t a National Magazine Award finalist.

I totally understand the disappointment of thinking a piece is worthy of an award and not getting one. Of course, I have never written something on the level of what Chris Jones wrote about Roger Ebert. Hopefully someday I will.


“This is Sandy Koufax”

In every great story, there are lessons tucked away for people aspire to write great stories. Here is one from David Finkel, who wrote a profile of Larry King in The Washington Post back in 1991. He observes King telling a story to a group of admirers that relates how he and the great southpaw pitcher Sandy Koufax were childhood friends in Brooklyn. Finkel doesn’t take this at face value, which is the lesson, and a hard one to learn, no matter how many times you hear it.

If you’re like me, you are a trusting person. You want to believe that people are telling the truth. So when Larry King tells you that he was friends with Sandy Koufax, you want to believe it. David Finkel checked it out anyway, as part of the correct process for writing a true story about Larry King.

The revelation in that phone call to Sandy Koufax is the one that made Finkel’s story — “Is He Happy? Is He All Right?” — a memorable one.

Getting to know Ted Williams

When Ted Williams was chasing .400 in the summer of 1941, my grandfather was 22 years old and just out of college at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La. He was studying to be an accountant, and he loved baseball because, to him, it was “the thinking man’s game.” He’d say that phrase to me often as he brought me up to love glove, ball and bat, and he’d tell me about the “Splendid Splinter,” No. 9, Ted Williams.

imagesWilliams was the best hitter who ever lived, and this idea of who Williams must have been stuck with me, and it would manifest itself in odd ways. At the craps table, I liked to have my chips placed on 9. And when I’d hold the dice in my sweaty hands, I’d think to myself “Ted Williams.” It seemed to me, whether it was true or not, that I was more lucky when my money was riding on 9. Anyway, Ted Williams has always been mythic to me, and I never took the time to really find out much about the guy, which was nice, given that today you can’t help but find out about what athletes are really like. I knew Wade Boggs, my true childhood idol, was an alcoholic who was known for his drinking exploits on airplanes. I knew Roger Clemens, another idol, was an accused steroids user who cared so much about his reputation that he was willing to drag his family through years and years of public embarrassment as he fought the allegations. But all I knew about Ted Williams, other than a few things like that he was always in battles with the Boston media, was that he could hit the cover off the ball and that he made my grandfather get really excited.

Granddaddy, as he tracked Williams’ pursuit of .400, didn’t get to do much else other than check the box scores in the newspaper. Ted went 3-of-4 today. Oh, well he only was 2-for-5 yesterday. He didn’t know that Williams was obsessed with being the greatest of all time to the point of near madness, and maybe that was better. I often battle with the question of whether we know too much today, or whether this sporting life without so many heroes strikes the right tone.

All of this leads to last week, when writer Richard Ben Cramer died. Through Twitter, I was introduced to one of his seminal works, a profile of Ted Williams, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now,” in Esquire. Cramer tracks down Williams in his 70s, in the Florida Keys, and one of the most enriching profiles I’ve read ensues.

Now, I feel like I know Ted Williams. I sent a link to my grandfather, who is 94 and uses e-mail regularly. I am not surprised, for a variety of reasons, that I have not heard back about the story.

I’d love to know what you think.


So, I’ve never been much of a blogger. My editors at The Kansas City Star would confirm that for you. But I’m going to give it a try. Don’t expect too much. I’m much more comfortable writing when I have about 50 pages of notes and an outline that tells me exactly where I’m going.

I want this site to be a place where I can post links to great stories written by others and also post my best work and possibly explain some of the reporting that went into a story.

Every once in a while, I might rant about Michigan sports or some other topic that moves the meter in my brain.

Please let me know what you think of the site!