Here at Awful Announcing, and across the sports media world, we spent a lot of time talking about TV. And while TV is a fun and dynamic medium (and, more importantly, pays the bills) we sometimes forget the less-heralded heroes of sports media: the writers. So with that in mind, we launched a feature in which we recap the highlights of the past month in of sportswriting, including some recommendations for stories you may have missed.
Quick disclaimer: Obviously I have not read all sportswriting of the past month or even all notable sportswriting. If I were to read every piece that was recommended in my Twitter feed, I’d never sleep, so it’s not only possible but also likely that I’m missing some really good stuff. With that in mind, don’t treat this feature as a comprehensive documentation of the month’s sportswriting. Think of it as a series of recommendations from a regular guy who likes to read.
If you’re interested in finding the best writing on a week-to-week basis (on sports and non-sports topics), stop what you’re doing and subscribe to the Sunday Long Read, a newsletter compiled by Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman. I also get great recommendations from Jared Diamond and Mike Vorkunov’s weekly newsletter and from Richard Deitsch’s weekly column on SI.com.
OK, with that out of the way, let’s recap May in sportswriting.
Sportswriters of the Month: The Sports Illustrated MLB team
Maybe giving this (highly prestigious) award to a group instead of an individual is a cop-out, but Sports Illustrated’s baseball-writing operation deserves it.
In May, SI published an almost overwhelming amount of great MLB content. There was Ben Reiter’s surprisingly tender profile of Kyle Schwarber and the scout who helped drafted him. There was Stephanie Apstein’s entertaining and creative look at Jon Lester’s yips problem, as well as her breezy profile of Aaron Judge. And there was Tom Verducci’s insightful cover story on the proliferation of the curveball in Major League Baseball. That’s a whole lot of good writing about one sport in one month from one publication.
Shout-out to editor Emma Span and the whole SI MLB team.
Column of the Month: PITCHf/ox; by Meg Rowley, Baseball Prospectus
Fox’s Pitch wasn’t the greatest television show in the world, but it meant a lot to baseball fans—especially, as Meg Rowley writes, female baseball fans who enjoyed seeing a woman at the center of a smart and nuanced story about the game they love.
This column explains the importance of Pitch in a way that’s both emotional and levelheaded. It’s less a reflection on a canceled TV show and more a treatise on the importance of representation, complete with references to Michel Foucault and Hanna Pitkin.
Rowley’s piece is a great read, even for people who never watched a moment of Pitch.
Blog post of the Month: The Boston Celtics have a moral obligation to get the fuck out; by Albert Burneko, Deadspin
Righteous fury is fun when it’s directed toward a cause we can all get behind:
All of this is to say, it has been a shitty go-round for the NBA. This season has sucked! Unless the Finals deliver something truly special, it will have been one of the shittier seasons in memory, just a great big ol’ null in the history of the sport. And in order for the Finals to rescue us from this dismal trajectory, the Boston Celtics will have to get the fuck out of my fucking face already.
The month in sportswriting news:
- First of all, RIP to Frank Deford, who was truly one of the greatest sportswriters of all-time. Alexander Wolff’s obituary is worth the read.
- Bad news: Sports Illustrated had a round of layoffs.
- So did the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- And Yahoo Sports.
- Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Michael Bennett was not happy with a Seattle Times column (the writer later apologized). He also was not happy with an ESPN feature (more on that soon).
- Craig Custance, one of ESPN’s last hockey writers, is leaving the company.
- The Denver Post fired sportswriter Terry Frei after he posted an offensive tweet about a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500.
- The Ringer is shifting publishing platforms from Medium to Vox in an attempt to increase traffic.
- NHL writer Scott Burnside, laid off by ESPN in April, has a new job with the Dallas Stars, the latest sign of increasing gray area between journalism and PR.
Stories of the Month:
Mike Trout: Baseball’s best, without a brand; by Tyler Kepner, New York Times
Many writers have profiled Mike Trout, juxtaposing his incredible on-field ability with his average-guy off-field normalcy, but no one has done so better than Tyler Kepner here.
City on Fire; by Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated
This story offers a cool history lesson on the last time Cleveland sports were good. The accompanying murder-mystery intrigue gives the piece some life.
South Sudanese, Seeking to Fit In, Stand Out in Australian Basketball; by Damien Cave, New York Times
You may or may not have noticed the influx of basketball players from the Sudan via Australia, but this piece powerfully explains the fascinating pipeline.
Cavs-Warriors III and the allure of a sports trilogy; by Justin Tinsley, The Undefeated
This piece spins an NBA Finals preview into a full-on history of sports trilogies, complete with a fascinating Ali-Frazier recap and a rundown of every three-match (can we say that?) in modern sports history.
Forget velocity, the curveball’s resurgence is changing modern pitching; by Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated
No sportswriter can flip the switch from literary to analytical mid-story quite like Tom Verducci. You’re not going to find a trend piece much better written, better researched and better reported than this one.
Jon Lester didn’t just beat the yips, he improved once the secret was out; by Stepanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated
Jon Lester did not agree to share the secrets of is yips, but Stephanie Apstein discovered them anyway. A cool piece about Lester and the eternally mysterious syndrome he suffers from.
Why Richard Sherman can’t let go of Seattle’s Super Bowl loss; by Seth Wickersham, ESPN
Rarely can a reporter pull off an honest behind-the-scenes glimpse at a team’s culture—warts and all—but Seth Wickersham seems to have done so here.
The Slugger & The Scout: How Kyle Schwarber became the consummate Chicago Cub; by Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated
This isn’t just a well-done profile of Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber. It’s also the story of a touching scout-player relationship—with a sad twist at the end.
How Lonzo and LaVar Ball figured out how to get – and keep – our attention; by Ramona Shelburne, ESPN
I know, I know. LaVar Ball is way over-exposed and you’d rather read about toenail clippings than about him. And yet… this piece is pretty great.
And my three favorite pieces of sportswriting from the month of May…
Tupac, Glocks and In-N-Out: A Football Team’s Run-in with the Rapper, Revealed; by Jeff Pearlman, Bleacher Report
Jeff Pearlman describes Tupac’s run-in with a high school football team at an In-N-Out, only hours before he was murdered. The big question here is, how the hell did he find this story, more than two decades later?
The bloodlines of America run through the Kentucky Derby; by Charlotte Wilder, SB Nation
This piece, in which a Northeasterner parachutes into Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, could have so, so easily been tacky or condescending. Instead it’s a thoughtful and incisive commentary on class in America, told through the many gates of Churchill Downs.
The dictator’s team; by Steve Fainaru, ESPN
This is a deep and hard-hitting piece about how the Syrian national soccer team has come to symbolize Bashar Al-Assad’s tyrannical regime and the dilemma faced by the nation’s soccer players. There aren’t many sports stories like this.