David Halberstam was killed on Monday in a car accident in the San Francisco Bay Area, only a few miles from the headquarters of the Bleacher Report.
It was a terrible tragedy. Lovers of great journalism, including sports journalism, will miss Halberstam greatly.
Count me as one of them.
Many people considered Halberstam the best journalist of his generation. I'm certain he was the best sports journalist I have ever read.
Halberstam graduated from Harvard in the mid-1950s and was probably the most famous journalist to cover the early years of the Vietnam War. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the war at the age of 30, and went on to write many books about Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and American politics.
In the past 15 years, however, Halberstam alternated his serious history with short, beautifully written books about sports. They are riveting, fun—absolute gems. It was almost as if after spending years researching and writing an 800-page book about civil rights, the historian could only relax by writing a 200-page book about one of his sports heroes.
As a lifelong Boston fan, he had many icons to choose from. Here are a few highlights:
- His book on Bill Belichick, The Education of a Coach, explains more lucidly than any other football book how great head coaches—Belichick, Bill Parcells, and the like—out think their opponents year after year...and continue to field top teams without the benefit of top draft choices.
- His book about Ted Williams, The Teammates, is lyrical in its ability to evoke both Williams' majesty as a hitter and what it was like to be a Red Sox fan in the 1940s, when baseball was the only professional sport that really mattered.
- The Summer of '49, about the season-long dogfight between the Yankees and the Red Sox, is probably the single best book about a pennant race you'll ever find.
- And finally, his book The Amateurs, about four rowers hoping to win a medal in the 1984 Olympics—for pride and honor, in a sport in which they had no hope of ever earning a dime professionally—is the single best sports book I've ever read (and I've read it at least five times).
David Halberstam was only 73 years old. He was a master of his craft, and I will miss him. I highly recommend the books above to all true sports fans.