Sports colum­nist Dave An­der­son was sim­ply the best of the best

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOHN FE­IN­STEIN Wash­ing­ton Post

The first time I re­mem­ber see­ing Dave An­der­son in ac­tion was af­ter Game 1 of the 1985 World Se­ries be­tween the St. Louis Car­di­nals and Kan­sas City Roy­als.

Ce­sar Ce­deno, who the Car­di­nals had traded for on Aug. 29, had driven in the win­ning run. He had hit .434 for the Car­di­nals in Septem­ber and was clearly a per­fect sub­ject for a late night col­umn – or, in my case, side­bar.

Stand­ing at his locker, Ce­deno told the story about how Jim Kaat, then the pitch­ing coach for the Cincin­nati Reds, had sug­gested to Car­di­nals man­ager Whitey Her­zog over break­fast one morn­ing in late Au­gust that he trade for Ce­deno to re­place the in­jured Jack Clark.

As soon as Ce­deno wrapped up, I fol­lowed An­der­son into Her­zog’s of­fice. I’d dealt with Her­zog a fair bit dur­ing pen­nant races in Septem­ber and knew he blew hot and cold a lot. Even af­ter a win, he might be snap­pish. But I also knew that no one ever snapped at Dave An­der­son.

It wasn’t just that he was the rarest of the rare – a sports­writer with a Pulitzer Prize on his ré­sumé – or that he’d been writ­ing thought­ful, in­sight­ful and smart columns in the New York Times for al­most 20 years.

No, it was this: No one dis­liked Dave. He was warm and gen­uine and had a self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of hu­mor. No one would snap at Dave, es­pe­cially at mid­night, on dead­line.

I was wrong. An­der­son po­litely asked Her­zog if he could de- scribe the break­fast with Kaat that had led to the Ce­deno trade.

“Why the [ex­ple­tive] would I do that?” Her­zog said. “You want me to write your (ex­ple­tive) col­umn for you?”

I was about to walk out – it was al­ready mid­night and clearly this was a cold Her­zog night. Be­fore I got out the door I heard Dave’s voice again, calm as can be – a lot calmer than mine would have been.

“Whitey, I’d love it if you’d write my col­umn for me,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately, I’ve got to do it my­self. Would you please do me a fa­vor and an­swer the ques­tion. I’m not as good at what I do as you are, so I need all the help I can get.”

Her­zog smiled, and laughed, shak­ing his head. “Dammit, Dave, why can’t I ever say no to you?” Then he told the story. An­der­son, who died Thurs­day at the age of 89, was bet­ter than the rest of us. He made a job that drives a lot of men and women to drink – among other things – look easy. He never felt the need to tell any­one how good he was or how many awards he’d won (in­clud­ing the Pulitzer, which came in 1981) or that he’d known most of the im­por­tant peo­ple in sports dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury and the start of the 21st cen­tury.

There was a sweet­ness to him that was sub­tle. I was lucky enough to sit with him in var­i­ous press boxes and me­dia cen­ters; dine with him and oc­ca­sion­ally play golf with him.

Dave loved to play golf. He was never a great player, but a rea­son­able one. His gift though was in al­ways find­ing a way to en­joy play­ing the game – re­gard­less of how he played. Some of us can’t have fun on a golf course un­less we’re play­ing well. Dave al­ways had fun on a golf course – re­gard­less of weather, tee time, paceof-play or his score. Which, of course, made it im­pos­si­ble not to en­joy play­ing with him.

Dave was a great re­porter. Peo­ple talked to him, trusted him, told him things they weren’t apt to tell other peo­ple. He also knew a story when he saw one.

I re­mem­ber walk­ing onto the 17th tee at Bal­tus­rol Golf Club in Spring­field, New Jersey, dur­ing the sec­ond round of the 1993 U.S. Open. It was about a mil­lion de­grees out, but there sat Dave, look­ing cool as could be.

“Why are you out here?” I asked.

“I think (John) Daly can hit this green in two,” he said. “No one’s ever done it. Might make a col­umn.”

Daly hit the green in two – mak­ing his­tory. I was only out there be­cause Payne Stew­art was a shot out of the lead. Dave not only wrote a won­der­ful col­umn, but dragged a great quote from Stew­art: “Did he hit the green in two? I wasn’t pay­ing any at­ten­tion.”

Dave al­ways paid at­ten­tion. He taught me one of the first im­por­tant lessons of sportswrit­ing: You’re al­ways al­lowed to root for your­self. As in: Root for the story, not nec­es­sar­ily for a team or an in­di­vid­ual.

Be­yond all that, one thing set Dave apart from the rest of us: I never heard him com­plain.

Dave al­ways did his job qui­etly, with­out call­ing at­ten­tion to him­self. He had zero in­ter­est in tak­ing bows for all he had ac­com­plished.

Ev­ery year, the New York-area Met­ro­pol­i­tan Golf Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion gives an award to a writer who has cov­ered golf for a long time with dis­tinc­tion. Dave won the award in 1996 – the only ques­tion be­ing what the heck took so long.

Sev­eral years ago, Bruce Beck, pres­i­dent of the MGWA, ap­proached An­der­son with an idea brought to him by many past win­ners: They wanted to name the award for Dave. It would, Beck said, give it grav­i­tas to have his name on it.

Dave told Beck he was flat­tered and hon­ored that his col­leagues would want to do some­thing like that. But he asked Bruce not to do it be­cause he didn’t want the at­ten­tion or the adu­la­tion.

“I’ve got­ten enough of that in my life al­ready,” he told Beck. “More than I de­serve.”

For once, Dave had it wrong.

He de­served ev­ery bit of the at­ten­tion and adu­la­tion he re­ceived – and more. He was, quite sim­ply, the best of the best.

BAR­TON SIL­VER­MAN NYT

Dave An­der­son talks about the 10th hole at the Black Course at Beth­page, home of the 2002 U.S. Open. The leg­endary New York Times sports colum­nist, who died Oct. 4 at the age of 89, loved cov­er­ing and play­ing the game.

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