22 December 2012

Ode to The Sporting News

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

One summer when I was 10 or 11, my grandfather offered me a choice. He’d come for his weekly visit, and on the way had stopped by a convenience store to pick up copies of the latest issues of various sports publications. I know he had copies of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, and I believe there might have been a copy of SPORT in there, too.

The choice I was being offered was to pick which publication I liked the best, and Grandpa would give me a year’s subscription. My birthday is in June, and I’m thinking the offer must have been connected to that. I was choosing my birthday gift.

I remember taking a lot of time with the decision, perhaps a whole week until his next visit. SPORT seemed like it was mostly pictures and it might have been a monthly. And Sports Illustrated had these long features about people or sports I wasn’t really into at the time. Both felt like magazines I’d probably be done with in an hour or two.

Meanwhile The Sporting News seemed more focused on straightforward reporting from the week’s games, with lots of team-based reports, cool-looking stat-filled sidebars, and a busy classified section that further intrigued my childhood self.

The fact that it was printed as a thick newspaper rather than a glossy magazine appealed to me as well. It just seemed like there was more stuff there to occupy me for a whole week until the next issue came. And it all seemed more serious, too. Sort of like the difference between The Wall Street Journal and People or Time, if that makes sense.

But it was one other distinguishing factor that really sealed the decision for me. The box scores. TSN ran box scores of every baseball game played during the previous week. And I loved baseball and numbers and all that one could find hidden in baseball’s box scores, even then when really all there was from each batter was “AB R H BI” and each pitcher “IP H R ER BB SO.”

So I chose TSN. And when the issues started to arrive, I knew I’d made the right choice. Kept on getting it for the next several years, even after the point where my interest in baseball began to wane somewhat thanks to various factors (the explosion of free agency, the completion of puberty, etc.). I also would order copies of the Baseball Register and Baseball Guide several times out of the back, as well as some of the other annual publications TSN put out that provided still more opportunities to pore over numbers as one followed a given sport.

Can’t say I’d really paid much attention to The Sporting News over the last couple of decades, although I would pick up a special preview issue for college basketball or baseball every now and then. I did notice the change from newspaper to a glossy magazine format a few years back. In 2006 it was bought by a company based here in Charlotte, actually, and soon thereafter publication went from weekly to bi-weekly (in 2008), then just once a month (in 2011).

About a week ago came the news that TSN was stopping its print publication altogether, following the path of other longtime newsstand staples like Newsweek to go entirely digital. There will still be a few of those sport-specific preview issues on the stands here and there, but essentially the end has arrived for the print version of the 126-year-old publication.

Hearing the news about The Sporting News inspired me to think about my experience with -- and love of -- the publication many years ago. Looking back, I’ll admit that I was probably initially swayed by what appeared to be a greater quantity of information provided by TSN, not really considering (or being able to judge) the quality of the reporting and how it compared to that of other publications. Today I understand that in fact many highly regarded sportswriters were part of the rotating cast who helped fill the pages of TSN over the years, and that for much of the 20th century it genuinely earned its title of “The Bible of Baseball” -- i.e., an absolute must-read for anyone who followed the game.

My grandfather was pleased with my having selected TSN, I think, in part because it was the only one of the choices that he, too, had spent any significant time with back when he was a young man.

The memory of those many hours I spent with those issues of The Sporting News is quite dim, I’m afraid. I can’t really point to particular writers or articles to single out for praise, although I can offer a general appreciation for what TSN provided me -- a means to understand and appreciate sports in a deeper, more meaningful way, including introducing to me the whole idea of using statistics to augment one’s analysis of what happens between the lines.

Today when it comes to sports we have all the quantity we could possibly desire. Those wanting up-to-the-second stats and reporting on our favorite sports literally have it all at our fingertips, just a smartphone swipe and tap away. But some of us recall a time when we had to wait a little longer to be provided such information and entertainment. We also took more time perusing it all. And perhaps the impression left had more depth and greater significance, too.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.

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