Six years ago, I had dinner with the late Vic Ziegel at Liebmann's Deli in the Bronx. We'd been introduced through a mutual friend and I wanted to chat with him about his career and the history of sports writing. He was funny in a skeptical, weathered, manner you'd expect from a career newspaperman. I asked him who the best sports writers were and he told me,"We all had nights when we were the greatest."
Then I asked him about the most literary sports writers and he looked at me like I was mo mo. "There is no such thing as a literary sports writer," he said. "Not when you are working on deadline, even if I spent most of my time working for an afternoon paper."
Vic was no a journalist. He was a newspaperman.
Check out this nice piece by Vic about the joys of being a sportswriter:
When I covered baseball for the New York Post, the real New York Post, it was especially important that I finish in good time. Before the bars closed. The Lion's Head was my bar of choice. If I got there at a decent hour, there was a great chance that Len Shecter, my friend, my idol, would be at the corner of the bar. He was the champ, tough, outrageous, funny, shrewd, fearless, acerbic, but don't get me started. I wanted to write like Lenny – as they say in TV, the same but different – and on my best nights I came close.
He covered the Yankees when they won the pennant twice a year. When their clubhouse was colder than Greenland. Mickey Mantle was probably the main perp. It was no easy thing to be tough, outrageous, shrewd, etc. Lenny always got there. A few minutes after he left the baseball beat, Mantle told him, for his ears only, "I always thought you had a lot of guts."
Lenny did a lousy thing to those nights at the Lion's Head. He died. To this day, when I write a line I like, I tell my friend, "I did good, Lenny."