My mother cannot quite tell a joke. I think my mother is very funny, and she has a great sense of what is funny, but she cannot quite tell a joke, which is a very different skill. She disagrees, of course, but there is quite a lot of family evidence going back years to the Posnanski famous, “I passed all the cars on the road,” punch-line. She was telling the rather famous joke about the man who is pulled over for speeding and says to the officer: “You think I was speeding? You should have seen the cars I passed.”
My mother’s version was: “You think I was speeding? I passed all the cars on the road.”
In any case, my mother’s favorite joke in my mind involves the correct way to respond when winning awards. That correct way is like so: “I don’t deserve this honor … but who am I to argue?”
In the last few days, I have been getting quite a bit of award consideration, and once again I have to admit I don’t quite know how to handle it. Every instinct in me says to be grateful but quiet about it. What we do as writers is so subjective that awards are pretty silly; the same story that wins an award from one organization can be called the worst story of the year by another. The gap can be, and often is, that wide. Anyway, praise — I believe this wholeheartedly — can be more dangerous than vicious criticism to a writer’s psyche if he or she takes it too much to heart. My awards are in a cupboard under a sink in my basement, and it’s important to me that they stay there. They day I really start believing I’m any good at this stuff, I fear, is the day I stop trying hard enough.
Fortunately, there are always people out there more than happy to tell me I’m no good at this stuff. So I’m good.
Here’s the thing, though: I do realize, that there is another purpose for awards … and that is to shine a light on journalism and writing. The Oscars might be a self-congratulating ego-fest, but because of the Oscars millions more people will see The King’s Speech, and Inside Job, and some of the best work the industry has to offer. The Grammy’s are kind of a joke, but maybe they open up a few more people to Buddy Guy or Arcade Fire or the White Stripes or Danger Mouse.
I believe that we are in a bit of a golden age of writing in America. I would not be able to put that in any great historical context, but I know that there is way too much wonderful longform writing for me to read, and I read a lot. I just listed three Web sites, the first three that came to mind, but there are dozens and dozens and dozens of such Web sites, and the book stores fill with writers like Franzen and Hillenbrand and Eggers and Auster and Maraniss and Roth (still writing at the top of his game) and McDermott and McCarthy, and it’s all too much. There is also incredible sportswriting going on now. This week in Sports Illustrated, if you’re a baseball fan, you will get an all-you-can-eat buffet of greatness, you will get the untouchable Gary Smith on the Philadelphia Phillies rotation and the best baseball writer going today, Tom Verducci, on radar guns. But the beauty of today is you don’t have to only wait for SI to write these stories, you can scan Baseball Think Factory and every day of the year you can find a wonderful story (and a few not so wonderful ones) for inspiration.
And yet … I’m not sure we appreciate how good it is out there because at the same time there’s also more terrible work out there than ever before, or anyway it seems that way. That’s the power of technology — there is just MORE, always, everywhere. It’s hard to keep up, and it’s hard to know which way to turn.
So, in this way, I admire the people who give out awards; I appreciate their quest to find quality. I appreciate groups like the NSSA (for sportswriters and sportscasters) that are working hard to encourage good work. I appreciate groups like the APSE that are trying to identify and reward the best sportswriting in newspapers and on the Web.
A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated for a National Magazine Award for this blog. I’m proud to say that I lost to the excellent Marc Tracy of The Scroll blog. And if you look at the smart and serious topic that leads the page now — What Libya has to do with the Holocaust — you will wonder how in the heck a blog focusing on Snuggies and Yuni Betancourt was ever in contention.
Yesterday, I was told that I won a National Headliners Award for Online Writing. That is given by the Press Club in New Jersey, and it is one of the more prestigious journalism awards in America. This is actually my second one (read Mother’s joke here). Read through the list of winners, if you have a moment, find some of the stories and photos and reporters. There is some amazing work being done.
And this morning I woke up to find that not only did I win the inaugural Baseball Bloggers Alliance writer of the year award but — no, I am not kidding — they are actually NAMING THE AWARD for me next year. The BBA’s awards are now named for Willie Mays, Connie Mack, Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Stan Musial and me. Perfect fit, right?
It’s all humbling and makes me feel uneasy, but against my better judgment I’m writing about it anyway because I want to make you aware of these fine organizations and the fine work they are honoring across the board. And, sure, I want to say how proud I am that they honored me too. I’ll do one more bit of name-dropping and irritating bragging because … well, because I’m this far along anyway so I might as well.
A few years ago, I was named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors for the first time. It was thrilling, of course, because some of my heroes in sportswriting had won the award before me. But it was also disconcerting. I try to hide my insecurities best I can, but people who really know me know that I never, ever like what I do. Those insecurities can blossom and bloom when people start saying really nice things about me, so I often shut down in those situations.
And, so, I kind of shut down when I won that columnist award. And then I got the nicest call from — here comes the name drop — Tom Watson. He called to congratulate me but, more, to tell me that I should take great pride in being honored by my peers and to allow myself a few moments to bask in the sunshine. He said that when he was honored by his fellow golfers, at first he did not quite know how to take it. He felt unworthy. But then he decided that it wasn’t his business to feel unworthy. It was his business to feel grateful and proud and happy.
In other words: I don’t deserve these honors … but who am I to argue? I guess I passed all the cars on the road.