Column: Remembering David Halberstam 4/10/34 to 4/23/07

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2007

By Jon Laging, Talking Sports

David Halberstam died about a month ago, but like Mark Twain, I see him being revered in the future. He wrote not what we expected to hear or what the government wished him to write, but rather what was.

In a column a few weeks ago I listed sports books that I had enjoyed and mentioned my favorite author David Halberstam. He was recently killed in an auto accident on his way to interview Y. A. Tittle, legendary New York Giants quarterback. Halberstam was 73 years old and still on top of his game. That gives us old guys hope for the future.

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He had the ability to take us away from the violence and death of Iraq, climate changes and our uncertain future. Many people turn from the reality and discouraging events of our daily news and look to sports for relief. Halberstam embodied that reasoning in his well written and contemporary books. He talked about life and people as they lived each day whether they were holding a rifle, a bat or basketball.

I&8217;ve been accused of optimism by my wife and friends, but so too was David Halberstam. He wrote with optimism from his beginning until his death. He was able to take the American society and find hope for the future and the reasons for that hope. He felt hope because of the continuing fairness of our citizens in recognizing the country&8217;s inequities. He knew that we as a nation had continued to get better. Halberstam could put it better than I, but he looked at our racial problems and knew we were getting better by the improved status of blacks in our society. And he&8217;s right, we still have a ways to go, but now we&8217;re talking about the lack of blacks in baseball, not whether they should play. But perhaps the most telling is that the Democratic Party may well have a woman for its presidential nominee in Hillary Clinton and a black vice-presidential nominee, Barrack Obama. All that changed during Halberstam&8217;s lifetime. He contributed to the change.

He wrote about the Vietnam war, &8220;The Best and Brightest,&8221; receiving the Pulitzer Prize Halberstam went on to compose commentaries on wars, political events, and perhaps most telling, lengthy books detailing sports and those involved. He wrote about topics that were serious and far reaching, but he also wrote about humanness, our feelings for each other, none more so than his baseball books. Particularly his last baseball book &8220;Teammates,&8221; in which he reflects on the friendships of three baseball players. He is my favorite baseball author and there have been a lot of good ones. Roger Kahn and Roger Angell to name two. Critics felt his best sports book was Season on the Brink, about pro basketball, but I didn&8217;t like it as well as his baseball books. That&8217;s my problem.

It is a pleasure to be a sports writer. Sports allow you to take many views, even on the same issue. Political parties like to trumpet how they can fit many beliefs under their umbrella. That may be somewhat true, but pales in comparison when you look at a sports team that fits many people with many philosophies under the same roof. Look at George Will, a conservative columnist of the first order, who shares his love of baseball with many people that dont agree with his political leanings. But those disagreements become less important when we put aside our differences and come together for our team or for the betterment of our nation. David Halberstam knew that a baseball team is sometimes a microcosm of life with its trials and tribulations. And like our nation, it strives to come together.

Jon Laging writes a regional sports column from his home in Preston.