I got to blabbing on Twitter a week or so ago about sports writing and what it takes to be different and good and all that jazz. And then I got to thinking, who are my Top 5 sports writers. So I wrote this up and then slept on it. I didn’t want to put this up without actually being sure I felt this way about these writers. And I’m glad I did, because I switched it up.
Here’s the kicker, I don’t think anybody can take away from any one particular writer I didn’t choose either. There’s a number of fellas (and ladies) I read but I’d never put on this list because I don’t agree with their viewpoints. Or, in some rare cases, I think they’re too big for their britches. Pretty much, they’re assholes. It’s unfortunate but we have a lot of those guys in our business. Some of the guys below, I’ve never met before. Some, I have. I’m not sure if that matters.
1) Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News — His Talking Points blog is probably my most read sports website outside of my Boston.com/ESPN/Yahoo peripherals. He hits on all of the important topics in the Bay, including the never-ending quarterback drama with the 49ers, the dysfunctional nature of the Oakland Raiders and the surprising but not so surprising rise of the San Francisco Giants. He conveniently ignores the San Jose Sharks and Oakland A’s. Rightfully so.
(Readers may also note that it was Kawakami who was the source of outrage for an Oakland Raiders executive whom threatened him with bodily harm in the Lane Kiffin days. Oh, those were the good days.)
2) Ray Ratto, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area / CBS Sportsline — In the Bay Area, Ray Ratto has the reputation of being a hit man. His columns often hammer sports figures. But his wit is unmatchable in the San Francisco sports scene. He’s much more of a reflective humorist, which is in great contrast with Kawakami who is issue-oriented. It was sad to see Ratto leave the San Francisco Chronicle, but I imagine Comcast is giving him opportunities he never had to begin with. Note: I don’t read him on Sportsline.
3) Bill Simmons, ESPN.com — Where do I start? Before I came to Boston, before I worked in Boston media and before I ever cared to read one story about the Red Sox, the Patriots and the Bruins, I read the Sports Guy. Not for any of the aforementioned, but because of everything else. I actually enjoy his fanaticism, his often extended parenthetical side notes, and, yes, his references to Teen Wolf. He’s enjoyable and his humor is expressed well in writing.
4) Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe — Great originality from Dan in each and every column. Besides being one of the local guys for me now in Boston, I was pleasantly surprised by his forcefulness on issues and his gumption. He doesn’t hold punches when he sees fit and he pretty much epitomizes Boston sports media. There’s not much to dislike about him.
(Also, it’s kind of weird how Boston sports fans are split up 50/50 on liking Shaughnessy. There isn’t a better example of a lightning rod than Dan. That paradox humors me as well.)
5) Tony Massarrotti, Boston.com — Now probably known more for his radio show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Tony Massarrotti is an absolutely excellent writer. I can only imagine what he could bring to the table if he zoned in on national topics more so than the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. But I also believe it’s his undeniably deep knowledge of the Sox that makes him a must read. Going through his archives is a good way to pick up on all trends for the laundry. Note: He doesn’t write for the pink hats.
There was a time when I used to turn to ESPN’s Scoop Jackson for a fix, crave for the professionalism and care from Fanhouse’s David Steele (also formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle), and L-O-L along with the L.A. Times’ TJ Simers. (He’s certainly on a number of “dead to me” lists.) I just don’t read those guys that much anymore. Victims of a busy reading/writing schedule. There are others the pique my interest, Michael Wilbon for one, but I truly do believe in local writers over national guys. And seeing how I’ve never lived in DC, I didn’t give the superbly talented Wilbon much of my time. But I’m sure I would if I did live there. DC folks are lucky. As are New Yorkers with Mike Lupica, and Michiganders with Mitch Albom. I never read these guys, but I respect the influence they have.
At home, I have Jim Murray’s book, “The Last of the Best.” It’s an anthology of his columns for the L.A. Times. When I was in college, I took part in the L.A. Times’ Jim Murray Sports Journalism workshop, where I met a number of individuals who are now reporting across the country. But it was also my chance to meet Bill Dwyre, Dave Morgan (now at Yahoo), Simers, Bill Plaschke, Mike Brennan and get exposed to Murray’s work. It’s one of the few sports books I go back to because of great shtick Murray was able to churn out. He had the humor column down to a science. I see Bill Simmons when I re-read Murray’s columns. But I also see a bit of prose that is often overlooked and often underutilized. Short sentences. Clear language. Anecdotes. Life lessons.
The best sports writing, in my mind, encompasses all of Murray’s characteristics. That’s easy to say, hard to repeat.
Who is on your list?