Sports columnist Dave Anderson was simply the best of the best
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.
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.