By Dan Shanoff
I enjoyed putting together the year-end “best of” sportswriting list for Quickish last year so much that I had to do it again this year. As with last year’s edition, winnowing the “top” list of 12 wasn’t nearly as fun as curating the slightly larger list of “Also Receiving Votes,” any one of which qualify for a “best of” short list. (Of course, by definition, they all did.)
Each piece within the group resonated -- obviously, it resonated with readers and, in many cases, it reverberated much more widely, driving the discussion for a day or week or longer. (Thought exercise: Of all the sportswriting you read this year, what’s the first piece you think of?)
Check out the list here, but I wanted to add a few assorted liner notes:
*The overindexing of certain outlets is a signal that the sites with sights set on best-around writing hit plenty of high notes, most notably Grantland as it rounded out its first full year. (The overindexing of the ESPN network is, of course, affirmation of its deep resources and equally deep collection of talent, led by Van Valkenburg, in his first year at ESPN -- and in his first year making the Quickish list.)
*Long lead times to report and write isn’t a prerequisite for “best." That is the marvel of the column Dan Wetzel produced in the hours after the Super Bowl or Spencer Hall’s obituary for Joe Paterno.
*Writing long isn’t a prerequisite for “best,” either. If anything, there is a void of brilliant “short reads.” The beauty of a 500-word laser (say, Craggs on Eli Manning) is precisely because it takes no more than 2 minutes to read, yet packs a wallop often more memorable than the long(er) stuff that can often get lost in the Instapaper/Pocket queue for weeks.
*Lucid wonkery has become a full-fledged genre in sportswriting, and Chris Brown is among its leading practitioners.
*Pieces on the list I fully expect to have their movie rights optioned: Curtis on the Piggyback Bandit, Mooney’s “Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever,” Ballard’s “Man in Full,” Conn’s profile of Mo Isom.
*As with 2011’s debut of Grantland, 2012 was a good year for full-time fully formed destinations for long- (and longish-) form sportswriting. Welcome to Sports On Earth, represented by Chuck Culpepper, Joe Posnanski and Tommy Tomlinson. Welcome to SB Nation’s “longform” initiative, represented by Alex Belth.
*A plea to my friends in editorial management at Sports Illustrated (including ‘11 list member Jon Wertheim, now SI Executive Editor): Reconsider your mid-year decision to embargo online versions of your best mag pieces until a week after publication. I know you think the links cannibalized the experience for your print subscribers, but what it really did was ensure your best pieces each week created as much cultural currency as possible -- something only available when the pieces were accessible to be shared in full online, through Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere (yes, including Quickish). By taking them out of the social flow, you diminish the power of the pieces -- and the resonance of the SI brand.
*Repeats from 2011: Baker, Ballard, Curtis, Hall, Hruby, Kang, Lake, Leitch, Merrill, Phillips, Thompson, Tomlinson, Weinreb, Wetzel.
*New in 2012: Abrams, Alipour, Belth, Brown, Craggs, Culpepper, Drehs, Fehrman, French/Kahn, George, Malinowski, McDougall, McKenna, Miller, Moehringer, Mooney, Passan, Paulas, Schwartz, Scocca, Sheehan, Siebert, Simmons, Singer, Sullivan, Ufford, Van Natta, Van Valkenburg, Whitaker.
If I lament anything, it is the dearth of women on the list. Grantland’s Katie Baker and ESPN.com’s Liz Merrill -- both consistently exceptional throughout the year -- both made the list for a second straight year. Making the jump from the Orlando Sentinel to USA TODAY Sports this year, Rachel George debuted on the list. To the detriment of readers and media outlets alike, women are underrepresented in the kind of marquee sportswriting roles and opportunities that produce pieces that hit the “end-of-year” radar. That said: Any oversights from the past year are mine, and please email me (dshanoff-at-gmail-dot-com) with glaring omissions, particularly of women writers -- it is a backfill I gladly produced last year and will again this year.
Two brief thank-yous: Thank you to everyone who takes the time and commitment to strive to produce great sportswriting -- for any outlet, at any length and on any topic. And thank you to the readers who have stuck with Quickish throughout the past year of excitement, including the company’s acquisition by Gannett and USA TODAY Sports.
Here’s to more great things to come -- for writers and readers alike -- in 2013.
By Dan Shanoff