Take Me Out
One of the more critically-successful endeavors was The Main Event, a multi-page, many-thousand word feature story that ran two to three times per week and took on the kind of sports stories that many writers dreamed of writing on a regular basis, but couldn’t, because they had to cover their beat. At the same time The National was getting started, so was a book series called The Best American Sports Writing, published by Houghton Mifflin. The 1991 edition, which contained exemplary sports writing from 1990, included four stories from The National, all of them “Main Events;” but there could have been more. Peter Richmond was a regular writer of the “Main Event” and he got two stories into BASW, which set a record that stands today.
“Peter Richmond did a series that year on ballparks, it was really good and he was very nearly in there three times, and we sort of drew the line. And, in fact, it’s the only time somebody’s been in twice (in the same edition),” said Glenn Stout, who has edited the series since its inception, and feels that the death of The National has certainly made his job harder. “If you talked to anyone who worked for The National, that was dream job stuff. Here was this paper that was all of a sudden there, hiring people to do features, and that was exactly what newspapers were starting to get away from. And a lot of people took advantage of it.”
A commuter boarding a train from
“I always felt, and feel to this day, that there is room, it’s not primary, but every newspaper should have room for long takeouts and long features,” Deford said. “And most people aren’t going to read them, but if you start with the premise that nobody is going to read them, you’re wrong. But if you start with the premise that we can only do things which most people approve of, you’re wrong, too. We felt if it’s only 15-20 percent of the people who really like these things, well, that’s good enough, because we felt that that’s 15-20 percent of the people that are really going to like us, really going to appreciate us. Even Sports Illustrated has cut back on it in recent years, and I think it’s a mistake. I don’t know what the optimum length is, but I think there should be room for those kinds of pieces in all newspapers.
“And, I would go one step further, because sports lends itself to good writing, because you have such vivid characters, and extraordinary experiences, it’s even more to your favor to have good writing, to have simply good storytelling. So, we were never under any illusion that this was going to appeal to everybody. We always felt like the statistics were going to be more important (to most readers) but we always felt this was key to one fifth or one sixth of our potential audience.”
But the statistics were key. The premiere issue had expanded box scores for every NBA and NHL game from January 30, plus smaller score sheets for a number of big college basketball games.
“We had much more innovative box scores,” McKenzie said. “We had the last 10 games. You could see trends and season averages. It was like three box scores in one. With the hockey box score, ours was the first one you could make some sense out of, and nobody ever picked those up.”
The hockey box scores took up as much space as the game recaps, and showed shots, goals, assists, penalties, penalty minutes, goals, points and plus-minus for all skaters, along with shots faced, saves, save percentage, season wins-losses-ties and goals against average for goaltenders. They went on to show goals per period, shots per period, and listed each goal scorer and included a comment for what kind of goal it was, i.e. “power play, drive from point,” “tap in off rebound,” and “one-timed slap shot into slot.”
The basketball box scores were more traditional, but had extra details, such as: offensive-total rebounds, turnovers, steals, personal fouls, blocks and “points per minute.” The notes below the box scores listed lead changes, largest leads for each team and technical fouls. Every box score was a monster.