Dave Anderson's columns graced The New York Times sports pages.
Like his former Times colleague Red Smith, Anderson wrote about sports with elegance and care for the English language. The last sportswriter to leave the Ebbets Field press box when the Dodgers fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles, Anderson wrote with a deep sense of history and tradition.
Anderson's death Thursday at age 89 brought home the decline of the Times' sportswriting in recent years. Along with Anderson, the newspaper once published insightful and eloquent columnists like George Vescey and William Rhoden. Vescey came out of retirement Friday to warmly remember Anderson, whose newspaper career included stints at the old Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Journal-American.
Following Smith, Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980, recognized for unmasking the callousness of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The Times Friday reprinted Anderson's column detailing how Steinbrenner disparaged Jackson, known as Mr. October, for falling short in the Yankees' American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals. A striking fact in the column: Steinbrenner was reluctant to give Jackson a $1 million annual contract rather than the $650,000 he was currently making. These days, Jackson likely would draw $30 million a year.
Anderson was one of the last links to a golden age of American sportswriting that included star columnists like Smith, the Los Angeles Times' Jim Murray, the Washington Post's Shirley Povich and The Atlanta Journal's Furman Bisher. As Vescey pointed out in his eulogy for Anderson, these writers wrote nearly everyday, their wit and eloquence rarely flagging. Roger Kahn, chronicler of the Brooklyn Dodgers in "The Boys of Summer," and Dan Jenkins remain.
They chronicled a different sports landscape, when boxing and horse racing were bigger than the NBA. Baseball rather than pro football was the undisputed top sport. The newspaper scribes also covered golf, making the Masters a major event when they stopped off in Augusta on their way back north from spring training in Florida. Their work reflected the rise of the NFL, although they remained lukewarm to pro basketball.
These gentlemen kings of the keyboard showed up at major events, pounding out their columns on typewriters and sending them to their newsrooms through Western Union. The World Series, the Super Bowl, the British Open, the U.S. Open, the Kentucky Derby - they witnessed it all. Victory and defeat. Heartbreaking injuries and thrilling plays. Young stars growing old. The shifts in American culture reflected through sports.
Their medium was newspapers. They gave their rough first drafts of history permanent appeal.