Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top 5: Pearls of wisdom

Jeff Pearlman's new gig fairly demands some sort of tribute, since he's one of those sportswriters you wish you could touch with a 39½-foot pole.

For his and our sake, Sports Illustrated better figure out how to put Pearlman front and centre.
"This is just my take, but it seems the network/website/magazine became obsessed with adding every big journalism name out there. So it started unloading tons and tons of money on the Rick Reillys and Howard Bryants of the business. Those guys are, of course, wonderful talents. But at some point, ESPN seemed to be hiring for the sake of hiring. They treated journalists in the way sports organizations treat players — gobbling up 'free agents' without much thought. Now, they’re loaded with big names, but is the finished product that much better? Probably not."
Along with his biography of Barry Bonds bio and thumping good reads about the 1986 New York Mets (The Bad Guys Won) and 1990s Dallas Cowboys (Boys Will Be Boys), Pearlman has produced some first-rate stuff for ESPN.com. His stuff speaks for itself, but it's like he's able to bring the point home that a sports figure does not cease to be interesting once he or she is no longer playing, without hitting people over the head with by being overly obvious.

Assuming Mr. Pearlman wouldn't mind, here's five gems among many from his body of work:
  1. Fifth and Jackson (September 2008)— A retrospective on the slain California Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock, 30 years after he was shot to death.

  2. From a Benz to a bike; the rise and fall of Clayton Holmes (January 2008) — It's a big myth that journalism leads to public good, but after Pearlman's empathetic profile of former Dallas Cowboy Clayton Holmes, the former Super Bowl-champion cornerback made an effort to get his life turned around. Of course, only Holmes could rescue himself, but who knows if he got a nudge from someone taking an interest in his life.

  3. Joe Kennedy is gone, but not forgotten (March 2008) — A look at the widow of former Blue Jays pitcher Joe Kennedy and the support network she found through people in baseball.

  4. Turning a critical eye to the ol' alma mater (August 2007) — One of the more welcome trends in sports media is that writers who don't claim to have all the answers and work through their own blind spots. Pearlman turned the focus on himself, questioning why in a decade of inveighing against Native American team nicknames, he'd never objected to his old high school being the Indians.

    In hindsight, this one resonates. My old high school's sports teams are the Ernestown Eagles. In Don Marks' book They Call Me Chief: Warriors On Ice, he talks about how there was a large dispute in the mid-1990s when a reserve-based Junior A hockey team in Lebret, Sask., opted to call itself the Lebret Eagles. The use of bird imagery is a very sensitive issue among aboriginals. It was not surprising, yet still embarrassing to have gone through 30-plus years not knowing this. It doesn't mean ESS should change its name, but just as it's good to know the Kingston Frontenacs' historical namesake had a tie to slavery, it's good to be aware.

  5. Nothing meek about Meek's game (June 2007) — Remember Chaminique Holdsclaw, who was supposed to turn women's basketball on its ear in the late '90s? She had a couple good seasons and pretty much faded away, as she dealt with clinical depression. People don't forget.
Pearlman also believes Tim Raines should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hopefully, all of this speaks to the man's ability to get people to use their heads in ways they didn't know they had. Reading Pearlman at SI.com will be a treat.

Goodbye, ESPN.com; hello, SI.com (Jeff Pearlman.com)

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