A sports magazine ahead of its time

Whenever I read something by Alex Belth, I learn something entirely new.

A former New York film editor and SI.com contributor, Belth runs the Bronx Banter blog, which is ostensibly about the Yankees and the arts and culture scene in New York.

But for someone who has no use for the Yankees and doesn’t live in New York, I’ve found his blog to be a gold mine for other reasons.

His category devoted to sports books has been a great recent discovery of mine; it’s such a treasure trove, especially for volumes about baseball. His interview with sports columnist-turned-screenwriter John Schulian is a pure gem.

Belth also penned this fabulous remembrance of the late, great, unforgettable Boston sportswriter George Kimball for Deadspin.

Last week Belth continued his new association with Sports On Earth, USA Today‘s just-launched competitor to Grantland, in another of his signature Q & A interviews. This one was with Mickey Herskowitz, the legendary Houston sports columnist (and for a time George W. Bush ghostwriter) who for a few brief shining issues in 1969 and 1970 edited a monthly called Jock magazine.

The first issue featured the pennant-winning Mets at the dawn of what might be the last glory age of sports in New York.

Not being a native, I had never heard of Jock, but its list of non-sportswriting contributors was impressive: Woody Allen, William F. Buckley Jr., Pete Hamill and others.

As Herskowitz unfolds the story of Jock, it predictably becomes one of massive red ink and the inevitable quick death, after just eight issues.

“Oh, it was a heck of a magazine and a lot of intellectual people loved it, and I only regret that we never got a chance to do our best work. We didn’t have enough time, and we were under a lot of pressure in the time we did have. We had a small staff, but what we did put out we did well. Everything in it is something I can be proud of.”

As general-interest sports magazines continue to decline, it’s interesting to note that long-folded publications are getting a revival on their online successors.

Like The National, a daily sports-only newspaper that existed for too short a time in the early 1990s (also due to a shortage of funds to match its grandiose ambitions), Jock was full of pluck and personality and Herskowitz was always eager to try out new ways to write about sports.

As Charles Pierce pointed out about the place that gave him the job he loved the most:

“The important thing though is not that The National folded. The important thing is that it existed at all, and that there were people willing to take the chance to be part of it. For good and ill, the sports media universe was just starting to explode out of the box of what would become known later as the ‘mainstream media.’ “

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