Perhaps it only fitting that I learned about it on Twitter, the preferred destination of choice today for breaking sports news and story distribution.
The great and incomparable New York Times sports reporter and event recorder George Vecsey retiring his weekly column.
Say it ain’t so George. Say it ain’t so.
The news felt like a gut punch. An end of an era. The moment conjuring up nostalgia for early years of washing newsprint off my hands. Sundays they were near charcoal.
After taking it in I went down to my local coffee shop, played some Oscar Peterson on my laptop and read through some of Vecsey’s older columns.
Unexpectedly, emails from a few soccer buddies-teammates dribbled in. They wanted to make sure I knew–because of this publication and professed adoration–the Vecsey “news.” They praised his style and memory.
That’s something isn’t it.
Sunday mornings in the Tomaszewicz household were nearly always the same.
Our family would go to Church.
We’d have breakfast and then the weekly fight over who got to read what section of the newspaper.
The following sight is not an uncommon one on a Sunday morning growing up in suburban New York: A father walking with a stack of the days newspapers and perhaps a white rectangular box with candy-cane striped cord that held some pastries. That was a constant in our house on Sundays–one of the few times our family did something together as school, sports and extracurricular activities overtook family time.
The family would move into the living room after eating. My dad would tune the dial to 88.3—a jazz station in the Tri-State area. He’d then fill himself a gargantuan cup of coffee in a 1979 Fireman’s Wetdown Benefit beer stein–he still has that mug; it’s also a classic.
My dad staunchly believed that reading the New York Times, specifically doing the crossword puzzle could improve SAT scores. Maybe it does–I never did it enough to figure it out.
My sister would get a blanket and grab the Science Times from the NYT or the crossword puzzle–she wasn’t in the fight.
My brother and I would engage in a battle over who got to read what sensationalized sports tabloid first before the Times–the Daily News or the New York Post. As the competition got more intense, we’d take turns hiding the newspapers once my dad walked in or hiding one section in another.
After the familial ordering of the sections, the scuffling wasn’t over.
There were times where we nearly came to blows–in fact we might of–because the other person blurted out something they read and of course we wanted to read it for ourselves. That was the enjoyment–reading it for ourselves.
As we got older, our appetite for desert (tabloids) before meat-and-potatoes dinner (the NYT) inverted. In high school and coming home from college, we’d fight over the New York Times Business Section, the Magazine or the New York Times Sports section.
George Vecsey columns were always the same for me. Sitting there as the meat of the sport section themselves surrounded by sugary and less nutritious factoid pieces. When you then read a Vecsey column you always felt two things: 1) that that was the way things happened precisely and 2) it was an objective take.
Over time for me–and specifically as the web age crescendoed with its voluminous opinion, folded into rumors, news and hyperlinks–Vecsey became actually more important for me and I would dare say the soccer and sporting communities. (Was it important that he was one of the only writers covering soccer–both mens and womens–with depth? Of course it was–especially growing up in New York where baseball and basketball largely dominated lunchroom and then bar conversations.)
Amid the cacophony of online squawking, George Vecsey served as something of a centerpoint and a trusted source; metronomic in his ability to delivery balance and weight in virtually every column.
The weight of course was earned the only way it could be, decades in the making by a columnist who shunned self-propagation like the New York Yankees refusing to put names on the back of their uniforms and who shunned hyperbole like Martin Tyler in a World Cup broadcast. It seems oddly perfect that he decided to walk away during the holidays, on a Friday–notoriously slow news days.
Vecsey’s weight and perspective couldn’t and can’t be faked, replicated or fabricated. With limited media distribution now an ancient memory and the newspaper business model completely broken, the development and permanence of a writer like Vecsey will be extremely hard to recreate.
And now The Great Constant is moving on, destined to write with much lower and intermittent frequency. Another brick tumbling off the quality and necessity of the New York Times; his decision casting my soccer and sports centerpoint adrift in the bits, bytes and yes some newsprint of media.
Thanks for the tether Mr. Vecsey. It was well appreciated.
More from soccer journalists and analysts:
• Michael Kammarman, Press Officer, USMNT:
Aside from him being a professional reporter in every sense of the word, working with George is always such a pleasure because he approaches each column with true appreciation for the opportunity to write it.
He has a genuine interest – and often wonder – in the people and subjects that he covers, and always leaves you with the belief he will give you a fair shake whether he agrees with you or not. It is that integrity which convinced so many to trust George with their story. For a columnist of his stature, he remains a class act, a humble reporter and a warm and gracious human being.
• Leander Schaerlaeckens, ESPN:
I didn’t overlap with George for very long, but I was lucky to have at all.
His writing is a paradigm in authority and functional flair, his descriptive narrative masterful.
On a personal level, he always greeted you with a smile, a warm handshake and, if you desired, some encouraging words. I have yet to meet somebody on the soccer beat who isn’t fond of him.
• Jonah Freedman, MLSSoccer.com:
My favorite memory of the man says it all.
Shortly after kickoff between England and Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup, a late-arriving South Korean journalist squeezed in front of us to get to his seat. The split-second he passed in front of George was of course the moment England got its only and decisive goal of the game. As the traveling fans in attendance went nuts, George unleashed an uncharacteristic barrage of obscenities on the poor scribe for blocking his view.
That’s the man in a nutshell – not the temper, mind you (because that certainly *wasn’t* like him), but the underlying need to soak in every single moment he could at all costs and process the living hell out of it.
I’ll miss him in the press box. That poor Korean guy might not.
• Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated:
George has always been the most graceful and empathetic of columnists, and the soccer world is lucky that he loves the sport. I’ll always treasure the moments I’ve shared with George, at World Cups and elsewhere.
He and I sat next to each other at the [2006 World Cup] final in Berlin. It took five minutes after Zidane’s red card for the replay of the headbutt to be shown on the TV screen at our desk. I’ll never forget the look on George’s face when I turned to react. We were both floored.
Word has come today that George Vecsey has started a blog. Fantastic.