If I was going to list the books that were most influential in my career and my life, I think a rather obscure one would top the list: "A Year in the Sun" by George Vecsey. A week ago, if you had asked me that question, I would have answered "Sports Guy," Charles Pierce's anthology of sports writing, because it showed me the kind of writer I wanted to be. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it's Vecsey's book.
My mom got it for me when I was in high school at one of those bulk book sales. It's a diary of sorts of Vecsey's 1986, his travels, his writings, kind of a behind-the-scenes look at his life as a New York Times' columnist.
Even before I wanted to be a sports writer, that book influenced me and gave me my first look at life in sports media. Now, all these years later, I'm not a reporter anymore. But if I trace my interest in researching journalists' routines, this book - with its explanations of how Vecsey conceived, reported and wrote his columns - has to be at the root of it.
As wonderful a columnist as he was, he was a classier man. I e-mailed him not long after I got hired in Binghamton to thank him for the book, which led me into journalism. He responded immediately with extraordinarily kind and friendly note, inviting me to stop by and say hi if we shared a press box some day.
I never had the honor. And he is retiring now.
This week, he gave an interview to the The Morning Delivery. It's made some waves because he says, among other things, "There may not be much future for the kind of sports column I did" and that aspiring sports journalists should "minor in something else." (He also makes an unfortunate "bloggers-as-guys-in-their-underwear." At least he had them writing in their dens, not their mothers' basement).
Now, this is nothing new. In fact, in Vecsey's book, he writes that he would tell journalism students to try to find a non-newspaper job. This was in the mid-1980s. Way before the internet. Old reporters are always telling young people to stay out of the business, especially now. Let's be honest, a.) they want to keep their jobs and b.) being a sports reporter/columnist can be a brutal job. It can be the best job in the world - you are being paid to cover sports - but the hours are long and hard, the travel can be tiring and keep you away from your family, nowadays you're under the constant threat of layoffs and furloughs and pay cuts and getting beat by some guy on Twitter with a hunch and a faster internet connection.
But the naive, idealistic part of me thinks that there may be room for the kind of sports column Vecsey did. I believe in a large marketplace of ideas. I think that assuming "readers" are a one-size-fits-all group is dangerous and wrong. I think people can like different things on different days. I think there is enough room for Deadspin, Kissing Suzy Kolber, The New York Times and The Post. What makes the internet such a strong news source is that there is room for everyone.
I hope there's still a place in our sports culture for the thoughtful, measured commentary and storytelling that Vecsey brought.
I truly hope there's still a place for someone with his class, his thoughtfulness, his kindness.
The day that's the case is a truly sad day for our business.