Life and times of the Say Hey Kid

Gerald Eskenazi covered sports for the New York Times for almost 50 years. Along the way he wrote biographies of Bill Veeck and Leo Durocher as well as as-told-to autobiographies of Carl Yastrzemski and Phil Esposito, among others. From his perch at the Times Eskenazi covered just about every noteworthy sports story of the 50 years preceding his retirement from the Times.
Following his retirement Eskenazi wrote his very own (!) autobiography, A Sportswriter’s Life: From the Desk of a New York Times Reporter. The book tells the great, all-American story of a second generation American who lived out his wildest adolescent professional dreams.
Eskenazi covered the 1980 Olympics, where he met up with Herb Brooks. When the film “Miracle” was released in 2004, the Wall Street Journal published Eskenazi’s column on his encounter with Brooks. “I met Herb for the first time a few months before the Olympics,” Eskenazi wrote, “and was immediately struck by his hatred of the Soviets and his evangelical belief in an American system that could topple them.” It’s a terrific profile of Brooks.
As for Eskenazi’s memoir, I finished it sick in bed back when it came out, simultaneously laughing, crying, and coughing. In the last chapter Eskenazi discusses his work on Willie Mays’s as-told-to autobiography. Eskenazi recounts that he finished his draft of the autobiography, “about 70,000 words, without ever speaking to Willie.”
After Mays got around to reading Eskenazi’s draft, Eskenazi got a call from Mays’s agent reporting that Mays liked it, but that he wanted the last chapter to show that he’d grown as a person after his playing days. He’d matured. Eskenazi’s meeting with Mays did not exactly prove the point, but they agreed that the the last chapter would detail his road to becoming a person of substance.
Last week the Journal called on Eskenazi to review the substantial new biography of Mays by James Hirsch. The biography is Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend; Eskenazi’s review is “Giant of the Diamond.”


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