Sports of the Other Times

I was saddened indeed to read that the New York Times is closing its sports department. They bought an internet sports site called The Athletic a while back, and they're going to rely on that outfit's sports stories from here on out. The 35 or so in-house sports reporters and editors at the Times are being reassigned to other duties. I'm sure a lot of them will walk before long.

In part, it sounds like a union-busting move. I believe most of the in-house Times people belong to a union; none of the writers at The Athletic do. And partly it's the suits at the Times trying to figure out a way to get The Athletic to make money, or at least stop burning through money so visibly. In its current configuration, the A loses millions every year.

The Times sports department has produced some of best journalism anywhere over its history of nearly 100 years. The columnists there have won numerous Pulitzers and imparted a sensibility to sports that no one else ever managed to bring. The kids at The Athletic have some gigantic shoes to fill.

But let's face it, the sports section of a newspaper no longer resembles what us boomers grew up with, and it hasn't for a long time. Back in the day, we picked it up first and foremost to see who won yesterday, and what the day's results meant to the standings of the teams. 

The sports pages were filled with small-type tables of statistics – agate, I believe the fine print was called – and we studied them religiously for clues as to the futures of our favorite teams. All of that's been gone from print journalism for decades now. The box scores and standings are updated in real time, by ESPN, or Google, or somebody, and we all carry the names and numbers around in our pockets on our phones at all hours. But they hardly seem to matter as much these days. They meant more when you had to wait until the next morning to see them.

Most of us old guys can still name the sports reporters from our local newspapers when we were kids. These writers, all of them men in the olden times, not only covered the individual games but also sought to make sense of them over the long run. As a grade schooler, for me it was Jerry Izenberg at the Newark Star-Ledger. Then in high school and college, a guy named Caz Rakowski at the Jersey Journal. The sports editor there, a sweet old character named Jack Powers, also handicapped the horse races. I had the pleasure of working on the same floor as Caz and Jack for three years.

In law school, I don't remember the San Francisco Chronicle guys much, but I'll never forget that the sports section was printed every morning on green paper. Then up here in Oregon, we had the Godfather, Dwight Jaynes, and later John Canzano.

I'm sure that when I was a little kid, the newspaper sports departments fretted that television would put them out of business. It didn't turn out that way, but they were no match for the internet. It took 30 years, but here we are, and there they go. They'll be missed, at least by some of us.


  1. His name came right to me.

  2. Pasero in the Journal, Murray in the Times and the green pages of the Chronicle were the best times for sports journalism. Journalism seems to have disappeared from the sports page. It’s mostly just rewrites of PR releases and puff pieces.

  3. Meanwhile, McClatchy has terminated Jack Ohman as editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee, according to his own Facebook posts. Local journalism -- and journalism in general -- seems to be in self-destruct mode.

  4. I love to go over box scores. The best part of sports is there is no ambiguity- somebody wins, somebody loses.

    1. I remember walking into the office break room 30 or so years ago. An older colleague was leaning over the table perusing the sports pages. He looked up at me with a serious expression and said “quantifiable information”. I nodded back, and turned away.


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