Great journalists are praised at the wake but forgotten after the grave. Mike Royko lives on mostly in the memories of his contemporaries. Roger Ebert still casts a mighty shadow, but as the years roll on, his also will fade.
Few have broken the mold. H.L. Mencken did. So has Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith, perhaps the greatest sportswriter of them all.
The esteemed Library of America's new American Pastime: The Very Best of Red Smith (hardcover $30, Kindle ebook $14.99) is now taking me back to the days when anybody who could read eagerly devoured the daily 800 words Smith wrote, mostly for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times.
The book was edited by Daniel Okrent, himself a journalistic heavyweight, and its 150-odd columns are a national treasure, as was their creator.
I cannot bear to read Smith's piece on the death of Seabiscuit, but I am drawn to it again and again. It's not just his inimitably sharp wit and graceful prose that so mesmerizes me—it's also his deep humanity and wisdom.
Smith loved most sports, especially baseball, but he knew he was essentially addressing children's games writ large. (This was in the 1940s to 1970s, before they became enormous corporate creatures.)
Enough. Now back to the Kindle for a little more joy.