Pete Gammons is the Man

Read this.

Gammons is what I wish our political reporting elite were like.*  He is absolutely committed to knowing both the horserace/gossip stuff — and to understanding what’s going on within and to the game that is his passion.

He’s also just a good guy, a mensch.** I have only met him once, back when I worked as a producer for the NOVA series at WGBH.  He had come by the station to do some kind of satellite uplink, probably for ESPN, and I and a truly baseball/Red Sox-mad post production buddy of mine happened to be walking down the hall as he crossed our path to the exit to head on back to his real job.

We said, more or less in unison, “Peter Gammons!” and he stopped and said hi, and then answered first one question — about the Sox — and then another, and then started talking to us about some bigger issues in baseball. (I vaguely recall asking him what he thought about the then-new tools of analysis that that guy named James had pioneered, that went under the ugly-sounding name of sabermetrics — but that could be a false memory.)

He stood there in a bare hallway, in the middle of a working day, talking to two young strangers about baseball, and he kept going — twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.  He clearly just loved talking the sport, was happy to teach anyone willing to listen, and was a master of what I heard E. O. Wilson once describe as the essence of instruction:  treating your (his) students as colleagues with less knowledge.

After that half hour our private Gammons-led seminar was over, and the three of us split down three different paths.  I’m sure he remembers nothing of  this one conversation about baseball among thousands.  But I do — the kindness and generosity more than any specific thing that he said.   And for sure, his is the kind of mind and heart you want covering something important in the world.

The good news, from my point of view, is that Gammons is leaving ESPN, but  not New England — so those of us in range of the local sports net will still get to drink from that particular fount.

*And science for that matter.  One of the things that I and my colleagues at the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing try to emphasize is that we are not translators.  The job isn’t to tell the public what any given scientist or “science” in general thinks that audience should know.  Our job is to make sense of both the results of scientific inquiry, and of the enterprise that produces such outcomes.  It’s harder than it looks…believe me.

**Someone near and dear to me was recently on a tenure and/or hiring committee at a prestigious local institution.  A letter in support of a candidacy she was required to assess referred to the candidate as a mensch.  She, not versed in Yiddish, did not know the word, and told me that she thought it inappropriate in such a venue, which I guess it is; the formal and fraught world of jobs and promotion in the academy is nothing to play games with, linguistic or otherwise.

But here?  Gammons is nothing so much as a mensch in all the full idiomatic glory of the word.  So say I, and as its my blog, so it goes.

Image:  D. Buchner & Company, Baseball Card of John Cahill, Indianapolis Right Fielder, 1887.

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2 Comments on “Pete Gammons is the Man”

  1. ross k. Says:

    Tom, first, love your writing. Second, think you may check out the M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference? So far I have mostly heard about basketball analysis, but I’m sure there will be a lot of sabermetrics, as well. There was an article recently in the NYTimes about it, though I first became aware of it from Bill Simmons. Take care and thanks for your writing!

  2. Funny, I was just comparing sports reporting to political reporting last night. Larry Fitzgerald was hurt and by damn Michele Tafoya was going to find out details. Our political reporters might try caring as much about facts as the score. Hell, even the play-by-play guys try to analyze what happened, not just incessantly report the score.

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