There’s a slew of “Best Sportswriting in 2012” compilations out right now that make me feel rather silly about jumping on the dogpile. This morning, a friend of mine said to me, “These other lists do nothing but rehash the best from ESPN, Grantland, YAHOO & Sports illustrated.” Fair point, but there’s some amazing writers at those outlets. Guys like Jonah Keri @ Grantland may be the perfect hybrid of beat writer & sabermatrician, shepherding old-school Baseball fans through the modern elements of statistical analysis. He composed a wonderful piece on Tigers reliever Phil Coke, which was among my top 30 sports articles for 2012. Sadly, this is only a list of 25, but Keri penned another touching piece which made it into my Top 20. Wright Thompson is among the finest writers today; he’s in our Top Five. Bryan Curtis made the list twice. Will Leitch is there as well.
So sure, our list contains many of the usual suspects, but the finer point of our rankings is to showcase the best work from voices you may be reading for the first time. Someone who enjoys breaking down the Xs & Os in the NFL, it’s time to meet Chase Stuart & football-perspective.com. By now everyone has read the comprehensive oral history of the late, great blog Fire Joe Morgan from the theclassical.org, but so many other interesting writers posted championship pieces for them this season; David Roth, Lindsay Gibbs, Aaron Gordon, among others.
2013 is on the clock now, so let's get to it. Here’s the INSTREAM Top 25 M.V.PIECES for 2012:
25) Dan Epstein, "Requiem For A Badass," Bighairplasticgrass.com: Epstein enjoyed a nice season of combining Rock-n-Roll with Baseball for his Rolling Stone column. The MLB Fan Cave could use some lessons in this regard. For his personal blog, he captured the bittersweet ending to the great career of St. Louis Cardinals legend Bob Gibson:
24) Suhrith Parthasarathy "The Toon Army Takes Manhattan," Theclassical.org: This is the first of many mentions for the year-old sports and culture website. Parthasarathy takes us on a very cool crawl through the New York City Soccer Bars community:
23) Bryan Curtis, "Barack/Nixon," Grantland.com: Curtis, a seasoned pro, having written at slate.com for many years, appears twice on this list. Really enjoyed his look at the sporting interests of presidents Barack Obama & Richard Nixon.
21) Jason Smith, "Deano Will Be Dearly Missed," NFL.com: The lead anchor on the NFL Network's Sunday Fantasy program, Smith spent years as the overnight voice on ESPN radio. A fond remembrance of his relationship with popular College Football personality Beano Cook, who passed away this fall.
19) Aaron Gordon, "What Happened To Football's Next Great Stat?" Theclassical.org: A smart look at where ESPN stands with the QBR rating stat, which the boys in Bristol had hoped would emerge as the standard metric at quantifying quarterback performance.
18) Cee Angi, "The (Subjective) Art Of Keeping Score," Baseball-prose.com: Angi’s work is becoming a rather ubiquitous presence among the more popular Baseball sites, right now found mostly at SB Nation. Whenever I read her writing, I get this sense of a compelling duel between the forces of nostalgia and sharp skepticism. Always an interesting take. This piece was wonderful.
17) Will Leitch, "Spike Lee Talks Obama, the End of Mookie’s Brooklyn, and the Hollywood Color Line," New York Magazine: There’s only a sliver of sports in this piece, but Leitch’s conversation with famed Knicks fan Spike Lee is for my money the best Q&A in 2012.
16) Jonah Keri, "R.I.P., Pascual Perez," Grantland.com: Most of us who lived through the '80s recall the fictional Magnum P.I.character as a Tigers fan;we all know Billy Crystal adores the Yankees; that Bill Murray bleeds Cubbie Blue. So it goes that Keri is well-known to be keeping the flame alive for Expos Nation. I’m not certain anyone else could’ve put as much soul into this eulogy piece for former Montreal pitcher Pascual Perez, who was killed back on November 1st. Okay, maybe Delino Deshields.
15) Bryan Grosnick, "Introducing the WAR Index," Beyondtheboxscore.com: There are three major versions that are commonly utilized to measure baseball player value versus the theoretical 25th man on the roster. Possibly four by the end of next season. Some of us have played around with the notion of combining them to create an aggregate creation. Bryan Grosnick took it to the next level in a big way.
14) John Koblin, "How ESPN Ditched Journalism And Followed Skip Bayless To The Bottom," Deadspin.com: I just discovered John Koblin this year – quickly becoming one of my favorites.
13) David Roth, "Goodbye To All That," Theclassical.org: David Roth is one of my favorites and he checks in here with an excellent look back at the career of Boston Globe Industry titan Bob Ryan and the demise of the sportswritng profession.
12) Bill Barnwell, "NFL's Frequent-Flier Phenomenon," Grantland.com: If you could buy stock in emerging star journalists, my portfolio would be heavily weighted in Barnwell, whose exceptional NFL coverage week after week has become one of my go-to football reads.
11) Jack Dickey, "The Second Life of Sheff," Sportsonearth.com: For every ESPN “30 for 30” doc and cynical 800 word op-ed on players that can’t manage their post-career finances, there’s this excellent profile of Gary Sheffield from Jack Dickey, the smart young writer @ Deadspin.
9) Amy K. Nelson, "Every Game, I Used Drugs': The Story Of Willie Mays Aikens," SB Nation: This is when the multi-media platform of SB Nation works best. Amy K. Nelson’s profile of Willie Aikens, the troubled Kansas City Royals first baseman from the early 1980’s, is my favorite piece from the site this year.
7) Wendy Thurm, "Dodgers Send Shock Waves Through Local TV Landscape," Fangraphs.com: The escalating prices for rights to live sporting events became a front page story on the sports section as well as the business page. Thurm, who has also penned pieces for Sports on Earth, brings her A-game here, providing some of the most detailed coverage on the story.
6) Lindsay Gibbs, "Grit and Bear It: Notes From the Pro Tennis Hustle," TheClassical.org: Of all the great pieces from TheClassical.org this season, this one remains my favorite. Lindsay’s personal look at the bottom tier of the Pro Tennis Tour was sensational.
4) Alex Belth, "The Glory Days of 'Jock,'" SportsonEarth.com: While many Oral History pieces have gotten the light shined on them throughout the Internets, this one flew under the radar to some degree. A outstanding look back at the sports publishing industry’s first stab at a Grantland-style publication.
3) Donnell Alexander, "What Dock Ellis Taught Me About Drugs, Spitballs, Hair Curlers, Office Culture, Race, And America," Deadspin.com: Seems toward the end of the summer, you couldn’t throw a baseball and not hit media detailing the life of pitcher Dock Ellis. An upcoming documentary, an ESPN longform piece – this is the one that stood out for me. Dock Ellis begins to cry as he reads a nearly 40-year old letter from Jackie Robinson. Donnell Alexander brings us into that sparse room late in the hurler’s life like no one else can.
2) Bryan Curtis, "No Chattering in the Press Box," Grantland.com: I didn’t love his piece on Jose Canseco this summer; found it to be a little late in the life cycle for the infamous slugger’s narrative journey. Outside of that, Bryan Curtis composed a nearly flawless portfolio this season. In addition to the Obama/Nixon piece mentioned earlier was this longform account of the emerging sportswriters of the 1960’s. Simply exquisite.
1) Jill Lieber Steeg, "Junior Seau: Bitter endgame," UTSandiego.com: This was the most heartbreaking sports story this year or perhaps the saddest involving a former athlete this year. Lieber Steeg’s coverage for the San Diego Union-Tribune, chronicling the chain of events leading to the suicide of the beloved football player, is award-winning in our view and gets the top nod as the finest sports-related article for 2012.
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