Leigh Montville Tidbits

This post is part of the effort to select The Best All-Time Boston Sports Columnists

Browsing the Sports Illustrated Vault, I noted a couple of publisher’s notes from the magazine which give us a glimpse into the writer that Leigh Montville is.

From the April 20, 1987 issue:

Eighteen years of writing for the Boston globe and living in Newton, Mass., has given columnist Leigh Montville a special perspective on the Boston Marathon. Not only has he written about Heartbreak Hill, he has frequently driven over and around it. So when the idea came up to have him describe the residents and merchants along the storied marathon course (page 94), he had an assignment close to both heart and home.

“Most of the people I talked to have the feeling they’re involved in something special,” says Montville, 43. “Each of the places I went, people didn’t have to think very deeply for stories.”

In addition to writing for us—his two previous contributions were stories on the Boston Garden (May 19, 1986) and the inventor of the Zamboni machine (March 30, 1987)—and for other magazines, he turns out four sports columns a week and the random essay for the Globe’s Sunday magazine. Seeking inspiration, he often turns to a mystical—to him—rubber-coated baseball the late Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald also favored. “Ray developed the notion that if he held on to the ball, War and Peace would come into his head,” Montville says. “Michael Madden, his successor, uses it, too. It’s surprising how many times you need it.”

Montville’s stories generally reflect a fresh point of view. “Everyone else looks at things from the ground floor,” says SI senior writer Peter Gammons, a former Globe colleague. “Leigh writes like he’s got his own hot-air balloon.” Globe sports editor Vince Doria says, “Leigh’s not a hard-opinion guy. He sees a lot of gray in everything.” And it’s usually funny. To which Montville says, “I think that’s one part of writing columns they don’t mention in journalism school—entertainment. There’s as much Woody Allen in it as Woodward and Bernstein.”

Montville is easy to spot in a press box. He’s the rumpled guy with a toothpick in his mouth and a Coke in his hand. When he isn’t working, he reads Anne Tyler and John Gregory Dunne, vacations in Maine, goes full court at the Newton Y and slugs down junk food.

And then the September 25, 1989 issue:

The first time Leigh Montville entered the time-life Building in New York City, in 1965, he was a callow youth newly graduated from the University of Connecticut. His objective then was to be what he is today—an SI writer. But perhaps he was a tad naive.

“I put on my little suit and gathered my little college newspaper clips and showed up unannounced at the personnel office, where there were two other guys—who were waiting to interview for a maintenance job—and me,” says Montville. “We all saw the same woman and we all heard the same speech, ‘Get some experience and then come see us again.’ ”

Montville has been collecting experience bulk rate ever since. He took a job at his hometown paper, the New Haven Journal-Courier, and three years later moved on to The Boston Globe, where he became a columnist in 1970. Several thousand deadline stories later, he longed for the luxury of time to reflect on his stories. “Doing a daily column is usually more typing than it is writing,” he says. “It’s like being a contestant on Beat the Clock.” That was why when SI asked him to do a piece on the Boston Garden, in ’86, his first question was, “When’s the deadline?” Told it was in four weeks, he accepted the assignment with relish.

Be sure to check out this 1986 SI column by Montville on the old Boston Garden: And They All Say, ‘this Is It?’

Help Select The Best All-Time Boston Sports Columnists

I need your help. Again.

Especially you old-timers.

I’d like to create a list of the best all-time sports columnists here in Boston. The list of potential names is impressive, but who is the best of the best? Who represents the pantheon of Boston sports columnists?

Some potential names you might consider…and this is by no means a complete list. I really need more suggestions, in fact.

  • Clif Keane – Boston Globe
  • Larry Claflin – Boston Record/American/Herald
  • Harold Kaese – Boston Transcript
  • Austen ‘‘Duke’’ Lake – Boston American
  • Bob Ryan – Boston Globe
  • Will McDonough – Boston Globe
  • Tim Horgan – Boston Herald
  • Dave Egan – Boston Record
  • Dan Shaughnessy – Boston Globe
  • Ray Fitzgerald – Boston Globe
  • Leigh Montville – Boston Globe
  • Joe Haggerty – Woburn Daily Times

The list is sort of subjective, so I didn’t include Peter Gammons, as I think of him more as a baseball writer than a general columnist, while Will McDonough did mainly focus on football, but wrote columns about all sports as well, so he’s on the list. Maybe you have your reasons for putting Gammons on the list. Maybe Tim Horgan doesn’t deserve to be considered, so don’t include him, there are no rules here other than they need to be the best.

What I’d like you do is place a comment below in which you list your top three Boston sports columnists of all-time. I’ll use that feedback to compile another list, from which we’ll vote on the all-time best.

Here’s my list, which are all guys I’ve actually read: Fitzgerald (You need this book.) Montville and Ryan.

Feel free to include any stories or reasons why you feel the way you do about your list.

I’ll also have a prize for a random commenter in this list, but I haven’t picked out what it will be yet. (Businesses: Want to donate a prize and get mentioned? Send me an email.)

BSMW Opinion Poll – Who is the Best Sports Columnist?

For this week’s poll, we’re going to select the best general sports columnist currently writing for a newspaper in New England.

This particular poll is for columnists whose work appears in print. I figured we needed to crank this one out in case the Boston Globe does stop printing, and before Lenny Megliola’s time at the Metrowest Daily News comes to an end. (It’s been reported that Megliola will be part of a layoff at Gatehouse media.)

In fact, it’s possible that this could be the last-ever print columnist poll of this type on BSMW. Future editions might be on-line only. Unlikely? Maybe, but certainly not impossible.

We will have an online columnist poll coming up, for writers like Tony Massarotti, Michael Felger, Chad Finn, etc.

{democracy:84}

Add your thoughts in the comment section…