“Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”
“In my later years I have sought to become simpler, straighter and purer in my handling of the language. I’ve had many writing heroes, writers who have influenced me. Of the ones still alive, I can think of E.B. White. I certainly admire the pure, crystal stream of his prose.”
Yesterday, October 3, was the anniversary of the day that Bobby Thomson smashed a three-run homer for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers that’s widely considered the most famous home run in baseball history. It came in the bottom of the ninth inning in the third game of a three-game play off on October 3, 1951. “I kept
telling myself: ‘Wait and watch. Give yourself a chance to hit,’ ” Thomson recalled.
A legendary hit! But in sports writing, October 4 is also an anniversary: On October 4, 1951, Red Smith wrote a story for the New York Herald Tribune called “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff,” that’s legendary in its own right.*
Red Smith is lauded as a “writing hero” by his peers — one who transcended his genre and transformed sports writing into literature. “It’s the same reason Shakespeare ages well,” Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist observed. “He wrote beautifully. It’s as simple as that.”
Here is opening of “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” by Red:
“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.
“Down on the green and white and earth-brown geometry of the playing field, a drunk tries to break through the ranks of ushers marshalled along the foul lines to keep profane feet off the diamond. The ushers thrust him back and he lunges at them, struggling in the clutch of two or three men. He breaks free and four or five tackle him. He shakes them off, bursts through the line, runs head on into a special park cop who brings him down with a flying tackle.
“Here comes a whole platoon of ushers. They lift the man and haul him, twisting and kicking, back across the first-base line. Again he shakes loose and crashes the line. He is away, weaving out toward center field where cheering thousands are jammed beneath the windows of the Giants’ clubhouse.
“At heart, our man is a Giant, too. He never gave up.”
“From center field comes burst upon burst of cheering. Pennants are waving, uplifted fists are brandished, hats are flying. Again and again, the dark clubhouse windows blaze with the light of photographers’ flash bulbs.”
What crystal clear prose! How visual! Red puts us right in the middle of the action.
*This October 4 story comes to us via my friend and mentor, Coach Mike Tully. He and I are having loads of fun collaborating on a book called: Write to Win: What Elite Athletes Can Teach Authors About Going for the Gold. Stay tuned — and write on!