Most of us think of what we do as writing," says senior writer William Nack. "But Leigh Montville sits down and says, 'Why don't I tell you all a story?' "
Storytelling, indeed, is Montville's gift. He peels away the layers of obfuscation, gets straight to the heart of an idea and brings it directly to the reader. In his 21 years with The Boston Globe and his 22 months as a senior writer with SI, Montville has demonstrated a special knack for writing columns, those journalistic hybrids of fact and opinion. That is why his byline has been appearing regularly above our POINT AFTER column, in effect the final word on what the magazine has to say each week.
"My philosophy has always been that sports should be fun—a thing of joy," Montville says. "I don't get up a whole lot of outrage; I'd rather laugh. What I really like to do is take something and stand it on its head, look at it that way, from a different perspective." A case in point was Montville's POINT AFTER on the spring training antics of Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson (SI, March 18). Instead of a screed against selfish ballplayers, it featured Montville as an imaginary Little League manager instilling his charges with a kiss-my-butt attitude.
One of the early influences on Montville's writing style was the sweet prose of Boston Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald, who, during the 1975 World Series, wrote about a conversation he had with the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
"Who's pitching today?" the Monster asked.
"Lee and Billingham."
Wrote Fitzgerald as the voice of the wall: "Oh, yummy."
"That's the sort of style Leigh adopted," says Nack. "Subtle. Colloquial. Twain-like. Like Fitzgerald, he brings real folk wisdom to his columns. You read him and sit back and say, 'Yeah, that's the way it is.' "
Montville also continues to write memorable pieces in the heart of the magazine. Some of the more notable examples are his 1990 Sportsman of the Year profile of Joe Montana (Dec. 24) and his portrait of Nolan Ryan in our 1991 Baseball Issue (April 15).
Another of Montville's assignments came during this year's Super Bowl week, when he was sent to Saudi Arabia to watch the game with U.S. troops stationed there (Super...and Surreal, Feb. 4). Other journalists might have written about the game a little differently. Montville wrote about a pool the GIs had started, to predict the time when Saddam Hussein would send in the first Scud of the day. "The Super Bowl kickoff arrived," wrote Montville. "The first loser was eliminated from the pool. No Scud."
Montville says he has always known he would be a sportswriter. "As a kid, I delivered newspapers every day at 6 a.m. When I was finished, I'd pull out the sports page and read it. I decided then that's what I wanted to do."
Montville muses over how to tell another SI story.