What Makes a Great Sports Writer?
On May 20, 1927, a fight was held at Yankee Stadium. Jack Sharkey vs. Jack Dempsey. Joe Humphreys, the ring announcer, came to the center of the ring and asked for silence.
He had no megaphone, and no microphone, but he screamed at the audience to quiet down.
“May I have your attention? Silence please! Silence please!”
After a few more times, the audience finally quieted down.
“Ladies and gentlemen, young Charles Lindbergh is in the air. May God save him for a safe flight. Bow your head in prayer.”
After a moment of silence, the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium said, in unison, “Amen.”
I first heard this rather unique story told by Bert Randolph Sugar, a renowned sports historian, writer, author, journalist, and analyst. Sunday evening ESPN reported Sugar, 75, passed away from cardiac arrest and heart complications.
The news of Sugar’s passing in a lot of ways shook me up. He was a colorful reporter, and a well-spoken individual. Sugar’s forte, or his passion if you will, was boxing. Typically seen with his trademark cigar, he was probably the best writer ever when it came to reporting on action inside the squared circle, as evidenced by his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.
But writing and reporting about boxing wasn’t all he could do from a sports journalism standpoint. Sugar had such range, being able to talk about and analyze sports other than boxing.
As a matter of fact, Sugar wrote a baseball book and even co-authored a book about pro wrestling. A wealth of sports knowledge and a well-respected historian, Sugar will be sorely missed.
There were just so many things that made him an elite, top-notch sports writer.
As a young journalist, cutting my teeth into the business, Sugar has left me a wonderful example of what a sports writer should be. The ability to story-tell, range, and knowledge are three essential skills that are basically must-haves for all sports writers, and there’s no question Sugar possessed each of them.
The media studies department at my alma mater, Mercy College, holds an award ceremony called the Quill Awards at the end of every academic year. Typically at the Quills, a Mercy alumnus is given an award, a journalist in the field receives a special recognition, and students in the department are rewarded for their hard work throughout the school year.
I served two years as sports editor of The Impact, Mercy’s student newspaper. Because of that service, I received the Quill for sports reporting in 2009 and the year I graduated, 2010.
The second time I was given the award (which also happened to be about a month before I graduated) for my work as far as sports reporting, it felt good to hear my journalism professor acknowledge my dedication. He announced to everyone in attendance at the ceremony that I would be “a sports writer you will be hearing about.”
And in a sense, I have gotten my name out there. At least a little bit.
ESPN has featured my insight on their “Baseball Tonight” show multiple times, the YES Network has put some of my thoughts on their “Extra Innings” postgame show, and even MLB has showcased Yankee Yapping on its main page.
I had the chance to interview former baseball coach Rick Wolff, who is the son of former Yankee announcer Bob Wolff – the famed announcer who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In fact, it was Mr. Wolff that encouraged me to start my own blog, putting the idea of Yankee Yapping in my head.
Recently, I had the chance to cover a high school basketball game sitting next to Yankee legend Bernie Williams – and got to chit-chat with him watching his daughter play ball.
If I had to sum it all up in one word, to this point: blessed. I personally know sports writers who have graduated from college that are struggling greatly to kick-start their careers, so taking into consideration everything I have accomplished thus far, I truly believe “blessed” is the correct word to use.
Either “blessed” or maybe just “lucky.”
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said, “The front page chronicles man’s defeats. The sports page chronicles man’s triumphs.”
Sugar made his whole life chronicling man’s triumphs – which is why I think I love the sports writing business so much. I take so much pride in attending games and writing about the swagger of individual players and teams.
I’ve had quite a few people use certain adjectives to describe my writing. An old friend once called it “amazing” and “incredible.”
As nice as that is to hear, I look at Sugar’s work and a lot of the other writers out there, and the same logic repeats in my mind:
“I may be good, but it’s going to be awhile before I get up to that level.”
And it is my hope that one day I am at the level of a Bert Sugar, because when it was all said and done for him, he was one of the most respected, renowned, and well-loved sports pundits in the world. For his intelligence and wide array of sports knowledge, he will never be forgotten – at least not in this writer’s mind.
Rest in Peace Bert Randolph Sugar (1937-2012)