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Eyewitness to History


When Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech in 1939, Shirley Povich covered it for The Washington Post. No surprise there: Povich, who wrote for the paper from 1924 until his death in 1998, attended many of the signature moments in 20th-century sports. He was there for the Dempsey-Tunney Long Count fight, Babe Ruth's mythical called shot, Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard Round the World, Don Larsen's perfect game, Johnny Unitas's 1958 NFL title-game heroics and the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle. Among others. Which is what makes All Those Mornings ... At the Post (PublicAffairs, $27.50, 464 pages), a collection of 120 of Povich's columns, so rewarding. Where else can a reader find eight decades of sports history distilled through the eyes of a single witness? And Povich was more than just a guy with a great seat. In a 1939 column he ripped baseball owners for barring black players. During World War II he dropped sports to report from the Pacific. At the 1972 Munich Olympics the 67-year-old Povich sneaked around security to report on the murder of Israeli athletes.

Povich had a gift for direct expression, but his deadline prose doesn't always sing across the decades. He also has a couple of spectacular misses: In his otherwise stellar Gehrig farewell story ("I saw strong men weep this afternoon, expressionless umpires swallow hard.... ") he somehow botches the "luckiest man" quote, recording Gehrig as saying, "I have been a lucky guy." And in 1964 Povich sized up Muhammad Ali as a "crashing bore." But the book still fascinates. You see why Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, as they watched Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Gehrig's consecutive-games record in 1995, took seats next to Povich in the press box. What better reference to have when witnessing history? --B.S.