Sports Scribe: 'Gee Whiz' versus 'Aw, Nuts'

Article excerpt

Let's get right to point, since that's what famed baseball writer Jerome Holtzman does in the very first line of his new book. So who was -- or is -- the best sportswriter ever?

Jimmy Cannon, he writes in Jerome Holtzman On Baseball: A History of Baseball Scribes. The columnist for the old New York City Hearst papers edges out, in Holtzman's opinion, the more honored Red Smith, who came to fame at the New York Herald Tribune. Both lead a field of great sportswriters that includes Grantland Rice, Shirley Povich, John Tunis, Jim Murray, John Carmichael, and Melvin Durslag.

In a conversation from his Evanston, Ill., home, Holtzman says no one was more influential on sportswriting than Cannon, and that's why he must be considered the best: "Most working sportswriters agree with me, but the people who are not working sportswriters, but literary sportswriters, they don't agree. They like Red Smith."

Many a Chicago reader, of course, might include Holtzman himself on their lists of the best baseball writer. He spent 38 years writing about America's pastime for the Chicago Sun-Times, then moved to the Chicago Tribune for another 18 years before retiring in 1999. He was inducted into the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1990, and nine years later named the first-ever official historian for Major League Baseball.

Holtzman is the author of the classic work of sports journalism No Cheering in the Press Box. He says he had a modest goal in writing this new book, published by SportsPublishing LLC: "I just thought there were some things that I knew about sportswriting and sportswriters that should be recorded for the next generation. …