Monday, April 23rd, 2007

RIP David Halberstam

D-Hal Doing What He Did

This morning, while browsing through Moe’s, I finally got myself a copy of that classic baseball book Summer of ’49, about the famous pennant run involving Dimaggio vs. Williams. I had missed David Halberstam’s visit to Cal this past weekend when I was giving a talk up at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle.

But his epic nonfiction books, works of patient reporting and rich detail like The Best and the Brightest (a book that both described the Vietnam War and, in its small way, also helped end it) and The Children (about the young Black activists of the Civil Rights movement), have been an inspiration for a self-taught journalist like me.

Halberstam always wrote plainly about topics large and small. He was less a stylist than a storyteller of breadth and depth. When I found out I shared his birthday, I was even more determined that I would somehow find the time to catch up on his work, especially The Powers That Be, about the rise of modern print media, Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, and the recent War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals.

So it was with great sadness that I learned he passed away this same morning, in a car crash in Menlo Park.

He leaves behind a huge body of work, and this great journalistic advice:

I have what I call the backup catcher theory. Most other people doing a book want the top guy. My belief is, you probably learn more from the backup catcher on a baseball team than from the star. Because the backup catcher’s smart: He watches the game, 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. When I did ‘Summer of ’49,’ about Williams and DiMaggio on those two great teams, the Red Sox and the Yankees, no one was more fun to talk to than a guy named Matt Batts, a former Red Sox catcher down in Baton Rouge, La. He had nothing but great anecdotes.

Enjoy all the backup catchers in heaven.

UPDATE 4/25:: Halberstam on surviving as a journalist

posted by @ 8:13 pm | 2 Comments

2 Responses to “RIP David Halberstam”

  1. ryuta says:

    hi jeff! i came across your site while trying to promote a new collective project i am working on with other Asian American graduate students from around the country. please check out our blog when you have a chance and help spread the word!!

  2. Weegee says:

    Man, didn’t he make our profession seem like fun? I will miss him.

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