Montville on writing a column again: ‘Houses are same, but all neighbors are different’

Wouldn’t it be great to see Michael Jordan return and dump 35 on the Knicks? Or see Wayne Gretzky pull on the sweater and record two goals and two assists against the Flyers?

It can’t happen in sports. However, it can happen for sportswriters. Age won’t preclude a comeback in our game as long as the mind is sharp and the spirit is willing.

Witness Leigh Montville. At 69, he is writing  columns again for the first time since leaving the Boston Globe in 1989.

Montville is churning out a column or two a week for the Sports on Earth site. As they say, the guy still has his fastball.

Note this passage in a column on Bill Belichick:

The 60-year-old coach walked off the elevator at the red press box level of Gillette Stadium, accompanied by the team’s public relations man, continued to a podium in front of a screen that advertised Dunkin Donuts, maybe took a small breath, maybe not, and started talking. There was no preface, no ‘hey, how’re you doing,’ no first-name repartee about the warmish January weather with any of the assembled writers and broadcasters in front of him.

Some of these people have sat in these same metal chairs for every press conference in every week of the 16-game regular season. Some have sat there for every press conference in every one of the 13 seasons Belichick has been in charge of the team. Not one hello, not one first name. There was not a wink in eye contact. There definitely was not a smile.

It’s not as if Montville has been on the sidelines. He’s been pumping out best-selling sports books on Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Dale Earnhardt, Evel Knievel, among others during the past decade. However, the problem with books is that you have to wait a year or two before the next one hits the shelves.

Now with Sports on Earth, readers can enjoy Montville on a more frequent basis. A win for all of us. And let’s not forget Dave Kindred, another all-time favorite who is writing for Sports on Earth.

I plan to catch up with Kindred soon. Here’s my Q/A with Montville on writing a column again and his next book project.

How did you happen to land at Sports on Earth?

I’ve been out of the daily game for quite a while. I went to Sports Illustrated in 1989. I hadn’t written a column since then.

I haven’t been going to a lot of games. Still, I thought it might be fun to go cover some games and write some stuff. I ran into Joe Posnanski (last summer) and he told me about what he was doing with Sports on Earth. I said I would be interested in that. It went from there.

What has it been like to write again?

It’s interesting. It’s like going back where you used to live. The houses are the same, but the neighbors are all different. It’s a whole different approach.

There aren’t any real deadlines. It’s when you’re done, you’re done. I’ve found myself going home to write. By the time you get home, all the interviews are on the Internet. You can go crazy looking up all the interviews while you’re trying to write your story. It’s a little counterproductive. You want to do your own stuff, but you want to make sure you’re not missing anything.

But nobody misses anything. Everything is recorded and the PR people put it all out there.

What have you noticed regarding access? Is there a greater divide between the media and athletes?

The access is very hard. It’s all these guys standing up on little pedestals talking with everyone recording what he had to say. And when the athlete is done, they’re done.

I imagine if you cover (a team) every day, you’d figure things out. Maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet. All I know I know is that people who are out there every day complain about access. There are a lot of cameras, but not as many reporters.

What’s your latest book project?

It’s Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America. It’s mostly about that four-year stretch when he was banned from boxing until the Supreme Court let him off the hook. I’m reading a lot of books. There’s a lot more to read than for Babe Ruth or Ted Williams.

What do you enjoy about writing the books?

You are your own boss. You’re left to your own devices. The books aren’t edited that much. What you write, you write.

It’s nice to get inside and know somebody. With columns, you’d write about people and things and not always know the real story. You’re trading on cliches. ‘That so-and-so is such-and-such. He’s a bad guy and everyone knows he’s a bad guy.’ And you wouldn’t know if he’s a bad guy, because you never talk to him. That happens a lot, especially in the blog world right now.

With a book, if you’ve read five books (about the subject) and talked to 200 people, you have a real feeling what the person is like.




2 thoughts on “Montville on writing a column again: ‘Houses are same, but all neighbors are different’

  1. I’m confused –I guess it’s tougher to tell given Sports Illustrated’s format, but wasn’t he writing columns there after leaving the Globe? He used to have a weekly presence on the website.

    I grew up in New England in the 1970s/80s — the Globe had a killer sports team. Ray Fitzgerald, Montville, Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons, Will McDonough.

  2. Leigh primarily wrote longer feature stories for SI (which is what he wanted when he left the Globe). I remember occasional columns, but not regular ones.

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