Review by Budd Bailey
Before discussing Steve Simmons’ new anthology, we need to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: the sports column.
Throughout my entire life, the sports column/columnist has been a fixture of newspapers everywhere. He or she is the person that has to come up with a few hundred words, usually on deadline, that make sense and make a point. That’s not easy. It can be done a mediocre or poor way, of course. Writing a column, as the late Red Smith (considered the most literate of sports columnists) famously said, is like sitting down at a typewriter and opening a vein.
But when it’s done well (the writing, not the bleeding), it’s beautiful to watch. The author needs to be knowledgeable as well as opinionated. The stories have to be good enough so that if even you’ve seen the event in person or television, you can’t wait to see what will pop up in the newspaper. A fair and objective viewpoint is a must, of course. As of late, newspapers have been the major source of such viewpoints. Many television announcers these days root far too much for the home team, seemingly unaware they are destroying their own credibility in extreme cases. As for the radio guys, well, there aren’t really many left without ties to a certain team or three that the station broadcasts. The internet features a mixed bag of talents, from solid professionals to people who aren’t worth the time to find – let alone read.
Here in Buffalo, we lost our sports columnists in something of a business decision some years ago. I had left the newspaper at that point, and wasn’t part of the discussion. But I often feel like something’s missing when I read the latest sports section after a Bills’ game.
So if we want to see an actual physical column in a printed newspaper, there’s always Toronto. That’s where you’ll find Simmons, who writes for the Toronto Sun. It looks like this is another pandemic project that is popping up in the bookstores. An enforced break from events sounds like a good time for a sports columnist to review some of his favorite columns and put it into a book form.
Simmons has put in the hours over the years, and this book reflects that. Yes, he’s been to the usual home events over the years – Blue Jays, Raptors, Maple Leafs, etc. Steve also has been at a variety of other events, including several Olympic games and championship fights.They are all covered here, and he conveys his messages quite well.
But it sort of comes with a catch. Simmons mentions that most of these stories were written for the next day’s newspaper, more or less. It’s tough enough to write on deadline for an immediate reaction. It’s even tougher to write for history at the same time, because that’s what a collection of stories for a book is. The best stories in the book are the ones that aren’t on a strict deadline. They are the ones that require more than an interview or two, and a little thought. There’s a section of obituaries in here that qualify nicely.
My guess is that those deadline-produced stories in “A Lucky Life” will work better for those in Southern Ontario, who might have been recollections of the circumstances. Down across the border, the columns and features may not have quite the impact. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to read this without a smile or a nod, and wish we had the equivalent position filled in Buffalo by someone like Simmons.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)