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Original Issue

Varsity Letters Man

David Halberstam's love of sports shines on

DAVID HALBERSTAM approached sportswriting with what he called his "backup catcher theory." While most writers focused on big-name stars, Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize--winning author and journalist who died last year at age 73, sought out the little guys in locker rooms. "You probably learn more from the backup catcher ... than from the star," Halberstam once told Salon. "He's into the game, he always has to be ready, and when it's all over, 20 years later, he has a lot of time to talk because not a lot of people come to see him."

Which is not to say that Halberstam didn't have his brushes with athletic greatness. In addition to 21 books on various topics (politics, the Vietnam War, the 1949 AL pennant race and Patriots coach Bill Belichick), he wrote scores of sports pieces for magazines, newspapers and websites, including a 1991 profile of Michael Jordan and an essay on the 1987 NBA Finals for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. They are included in Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam, a new collection edited by Glenn Stout. The anthology captures Halberstam's love and appreciation of sports, both as a watcher and a doer. In My Dinner with Theodore, written in 1990, Halberstam meets Ted Williams, whom he admired from afar for decades; Halberstam says it is "one of the happiest days in my life." Ten years later, in Why I Fish, Halberstam explains that angling's allure has little to do with how they're biting: "These trips are the only all-male things that any of us do ... and the conversation, particularly for men who are in general loath to reveal their inner feelings, is often surprisingly intimate."

Everything They Had shows that Halberstam understood that games can be vehicles for social change and diversions from the weightier matters of life. Halberstam, who was working on a book about the 1958 NFL Championship when he died, called his sportswriting a "pleasant respite from my other seemingly more serious work." This collection is a bittersweet reminder of how thoroughly he had mastered his craft.

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