Yeah, sports again

An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir by Robert Lipsyte I’ll say it once again: I am no sports fan. But sports writing sometimes just gets to me. It’s often just so beautiful. So the title of this book kind of grabbed me, and then I saw something in a review about the book’s description of an “encounter” with Mickey Mantle. So it was no longer a choice—I had to place a hold. And, like the best books, the thing I went in for wasn’t even the very best it had to offer. It has descriptions of covering Muhammad Ali back when he was still Cassius Clay—when Clay beat Sonny Liston, here’s Lipsyte: “I began thinking of a lede. Then Liston sat down on his stool and wouldn’t get up, and it was over. Clay capered on the ring apron, yelling at the press, ‘Eat your words!’ And then it was my turn, minutes to deadline, banging out a paragraph on my little Olivetti, ripping out the page, handing it to the telegrapher at my side…” (p. 67) Man, that’s exciting. (I’m a total sucker for stories of journalists under tight deadline.) In between the anecdotes, there’s also a very real, very personal analysis of what it means to be a sportswriter. It’s more complex and interesting than it appears at first glance. For example, was Lipsyte right or wrong to point out—right after Mickey Mantle’s death—that Mantle probably jumped ahead in line for a new kidney, even though he was dying of cancer and should not have received a kidney at all? People want to think well of their heroes, but what if their heroes are doing crappy things? What’s a sportswriter to do? So this is a fine memoir. It’s personal in the best ways—Lipsyte’s describing his own journey, and it includes some great moments.One of my favorite parts was when he was assigned to cover NASCAR for the New York Times. All it took was a ride around the track with Mark Martin, and Lipsyte was hooked. He became a NASCAR junkie, and he wanted to drive one of them cars. So it got all arranged so he could drive a Petty car around the track a few times. It’s perfectly wonderful to read how the staid sportswriter turned into an animal behind the wheel. He writes that as he drove his rental car later that evening, he was feeling calm. “… I felt amused at and offended by road hogs, ragers, and show-offs. They couldn’t get to me anymore. I had driven at speed.” (pp. 193-194) That just makes me smile.So I love the deadpan wording, and I also love the way he describes how he learned that driving a race car is not as simple as pressing your foot to the floor and turning left. The book’s final chapter, about his dad, is re-readable. This is just a lovely book. When I read the last page, I stood up and just tried not to cry.

2 thoughts on “Yeah, sports again

  1. I'm racking my brain…I know there is a book that he wrote that's on my wishlist…maybe about Babe Ruth? I'll settle for this memoir, though. Sounds great.

  2. Bybee — Just had a librarian moment — someone alluded to a possible question, so I had to find the answer! It looks like Lipsyte wrote a book called "Heroes of Baseball" that has a big picture of Ruth on the cover. I wonder if that's the one?

    At any rate, he's a lovely writer.

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