RED: A Biography of Red Smith by Ira Berkow
Kirkus Star

RED: A Biography of Red Smith

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The journey began in Milwaukee as a $20-a-week reporter. It ended in grand fashion at The New York Times with four columns a week. In between, Smith set the standard, slowly bringing sports reporting out of the just-tell-the-score school to an arena where writing, style, sentiment and a feel for the person as well as the end result were what mattered. And now Berkow, himself a columnist at the Times, tells us the bows and whys of his story. The fact that both men worked for the Times and that the publisher of this biography is also a Times company would not lead the reader to expect an exposÉ on the life of Walter Wellesley (Red) Smith. Instead, it's much more a tribute, one filled with respect, sometimes awe, always admiration, from one writer to another. Smith wrote with a rare gift, one filled with simplicity, on any number of sporting subjects: from the rise and decline of Muhammad Ali, to the emergence and maturation of Tom Seaver, to the beauty of the Kentucky Derby and the lure of a placid trout stream. A product of the Midwest, he began his career at a time when ballplayers earned less than sportswriters and left during the era of the million-dollar contract to the mediocre. His columns never ran more than 900 words, he worked at his craft for 55 years, he developed friendships with Hemingway and Runyon, and he changed the way sports were written in this country, and, perhaps, what sports mean to us. Considering the fullness of the life, the book moves along at a much slower pace than expected. Berkow, it seems, had a difficult time separating himself from his subject and along the way the critical eye is lost. So Red Smith, father, husband, co-worker, friend, all take a back spot to Red Smith, writer. But beyond the adoring approach, the book remains the first detailed look at a man who altered his profession. Jimmy Breslin once said that Jimmy Cannon influenced half the young writers in America, Red Smith the other half. Here, you'll wind up wondering why Smith didn't get them all. A loving biography.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1986
Publisher: Times Books