Curmudgeons: sportswriting’s got ‘em. How this became such a popular sportswriting identity — the wryly peevish, perpetually disappointed-by-everyone’s-fecklessness and/or haplessness young-old dude — is the stuff of a long, speculative post that I won’t write (but absolutely could imagine myself writing). But there are good and bad ways to be curmudgeonly. T.J. Simers at least tries to be funny; Phil Mushnick generally just trusts his righteous-indignation stuff, and follows his peeves about the very existence of the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones deep into unintentional-comedy territory. But there was a generation before all this: the crusty old fucks who started it all.
Gary Cartwright (above), a veteran Texas sportswriter, is a curmudgeon of the paleolithic school. He wrote an article called “Confessions of a Washed-Up Sportswriter” for Harper’s in 1968. So it’s a minor miracle that the guy is still writing, let alone still gives a shit enough to call out names on the cynics who’ve replaced his beloved skeptics and get himself all exercised about the phoner-inners and vendetta-stoking goofs who start arguments in print as a means to the end an “Around the Horn” guest spot. It’s amazing to me that he can still care about all this — I’m somewhere between 50 and 110 years younger than him, and I can’t even give a shit most days — but Cartwright lets loose in the most recent Texas Monthly, pitching an old-dude bitch that I found surprisingly enjoyable. Earned curmudgeonhood (and some real writing craft) turns out to be kind of workable. I honestly didn’t know.
A mere fifty years after the golden age of sportswriting in Texas there is not a newspaperman in sight who can write a decent three-martini sports column. These sorts of entertainments were a staple in the late fifties, when I was starting out. ou read them in Fort Worth and Dallas under the bylines of chaps like Sherrod, Dan Jenkins, and Bud Shrake and in Houston from the desk of Mickey Herskowitz. The subject could be football, golf, bocce ball, snake charming, lizard racing”weirder was always better…
In the footprints of these giants we now find ants. The greats of yesteryear have been replaced by dabblers, hacks, and homers, glorified fans with press credentials that permit them to leech onto some sports outfit, usually their hometown team, and bray or bitch about its wonders or shortcomings in the dead language of statistics to audiences who wouldn™t know an original sentence if one crawled up their nose with a firecracker. The prose styles of these modern knights of the locker room are as bloodless and colorless as old cardboard. They lack entirely the fundamental understanding that if you write about events that repeat themselves into infinity, you must first acquaint yourself with literature.
I was reminded of this sorry state of affairs by a column I recently read in my local paper, the Austin American-Statesman. The author was Cedric Golden; the subject was the wealth of talent in the Texas Longhorns™ defensive backfield. Golden went into mind-numbing detail without addressing the central question: Why can™t they stop third-and-long? The problem with guys like Golden is they don™t seem to have fun anymore. They can be absolutely giddy in the presence of bad puns and double entendres, but irony stops them cold. I wonder if they ever tie the editor™s shoelaces together?
Sure, sportswriters still belly up to the bar and the buffet table and accept the comforts of the press box, and they™re still the most likely people on any newspaper™s staff to show up for work with a hangover. But they don™t talk about books they™re going to write or mountains they intend to climb or the useful idiots they are obliged to engage in the course of their daily ordeals. Frankly, I don™t know what they talk about. Mowing lawns would be my guess.
So maybe in 40 years, Phil Mushnick will actually be readable? Either that or he’ll be writing articles about how they “make juice too strong these days” and how Mets games should start at 3pm, because who can stay up until 10, really?