TO ABSENT FRIENDS by Red Smith

TO ABSENT FRIENDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Only Red Smith, probably, could get a reader to willingly digest 200 sports obituaries. Smith recalls his subjects' strengths and weaknesses even-handedly. Vince Lombardi could be both a saint and a sadist; Connie Mack was ""kind and stubborn and courtly and unreasonable""; Avery Brundage was ""frequently wrong-headed. . . [and] could also be arrogant and condescending."" Babe Ruth? ""Now that the Babe is gone, what's to be said that hasn't been said? Nothing."" Smith seems most moved when saying good-bye to fellow ""members of the lodge""--Stanley Woodward, Grantland Rice. His typewriter also reaches out to ""saloonkeeper"" Toots Shor (""ought to be designated a national landmark""), bartender Leo Corcoran, race horse Count Fleet, and baseball's New York Giants (""Of course it was a wake""). These informal obits tell as much about Smith's values as his subjects'. Though the stories are mostly lighthearted, he emphasizes Babe Ruth's lust for living, Joe McCarthy's drive to win, Joe Louis' dignity, Ford Frick's opposition to Jim Crow, Jake Powell's guts, and John Lardner's humor. When Rocky Marciano is killed, Smith remembers a writer's comment on the death of another fighter: ""Start counting ten over him. He'll get up."" The humor isn't irreverent; to Smith, it was important to laugh at difficult times, ""lest we cry."" In the scheme of things, secondary to The Red Smith Reader (above)--if you have to choose.

Pub Date: July 27th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum