George Vecsey has worn many hats during his long career with The New York Times. Most recent fans might not be aware he was a general reporter who also wrote about politics and religion before turning to the sports pages full time in 1980. Two years later, he was called on to fill the void left after the death of Red Smith, and Vecsey has done so admirably.
He has also written or co-authored more than a dozen books, including the best-selling Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter. His sports titles include Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Ballplayer’s Battle With Alcoholism, pitcher Bob Welch’s memoir and probably one of the first to deal with the subject of alcoholism/substance abuse in sports, and Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game (Modern Library Chronicles), the first sports book to be included in the Modern Library series.
This remains one of my all-time favorite Vecsey colums, which considers sportsmanship among college competitors and. The story made the rounds across the country at the time:
Still brings a lump to my throat.
Vescey “officially” stepped down from the Times in December, but he still contributes an occasional column, fortunately for his readers.
His most recent book — Stan Musial: An American Life — takes a look at one of the underrated stars of the game. Musial played during what some considered a “Golden Age” of the game, featuring stars like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays, among others, but “Stan the Man” didn’t seem to get the same amount of notoriety as his contemporaries, and situation Vecsey sought to correct.
The book is more about more than just anecdotes and statistics from the ballfield. Vecsey uses Musial’s family as representative of life in a Depression-era America, as well as the ballplayer’s role — however the reader chooses to interpret it — in the desegregation of organized baseball. He presents Musial — an admitted favorite of his — as a family man and regular Joe, despite his fame — an icon of the Ozzie and Harriet generation (kids, ask your grand/parents).
(I listened to the audio version of the book, read by Scott Brick, and highly recommend it. Brick presents the author’s words in an engaging but subtle manner, expressive but not over-the-top, appropriate for the simple nature of the subject.)
I spoke with George Vecsey recently about his latest project and how the creative process has changed over his long career.