To his account in this issue of base-stealing Outfielder Tim Raines of the Expos (page 49), staff writer Jim Kaplan brought a genuine appreciation of speed. "In high school I was so slow my nickname was Snowshoes," he says. Kaplan played on the ninth-grade team when he was in the 10th grade, as a substitute. And no one here will forget him churning toward first base at an SI softball game, face flushed and veins bulging. "He looked as if he was running a 9.9 100," recalls a teammate. Except that with Kaplan were his two sons, Benjamin and Matthew, then six and five, tugging at his pants legs and pleading for ice-cream money. And matching him stride for stride.
This is an article from the May 11, 1981 issue
"I've never been an outstanding athlete," says Kaplan, unnecessarily. "My medical sports history is legendary. Bad knee. Can't throw overhand without pain anymore, and I've pretty much given up racquetball and squash. There's no part of my body that hasn't been wrecked."
Fortunately, he has always approached sports cerebrally as well. The son of satirist Felicia Lamport and Harvard law professor emeritus and former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Kaplan, he grew up in the environs of Fenway Park and Cambridge. His SI stories have included erudite analyses of baseball salaries, official scorers and corporate sports sponsorship. "There's a dualistic quality to my writing," he says. "My father is serious and issue-oriented, while my mother writes light verse. I often go from one extreme to the other."
Kaplan is the SI staff authority on minor racquet sports, chess and bridge, and a sports interviewer for National Public Radio in his off-hours. He's in his own league at word games, which he played regularly as a child. "In the academic community, games aren't frowned upon, as long as they're instructive," he says. "On Christmas Eve we used to play charades using really obscure literary quotations. I never had heard of any of them, but I got by by using [tugs at his ear] 'sounds like' for absolutely everything."
He combined sports and words as associate sports editor of the Yale Daily News, and spent his final two college summers as an intern at The Boston Globe. After earning a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern, he spent three years writing sports and book reviews for The Minneapolis Star before coming to SI in 1970. While in Minneapolis he also became engaged in politics, serving the 1968 McCarthy presidential campaign as captain of what he calls "the vertical precinct: one building." In New York he is a member of the Kings County Democratic Central Committee. ("They needed a warm body from my block.")
What piques his baseball interest is "the endless amount of fascinating detail." And he is a student of defense. "I love it for its theater," he says. "Easily the greatest moment of my own unmemorable career occurred when I was playing centerfield in a softball game in Minneapolis. I took off at the crack of the bat, by instinct, and reached up to make a one-handed catch. Everybody stood and cheered."
With no organized kid leagues for Benjamin and Matthew in their Brooklyn neighborhood, Kaplan says, "We play a lot of stoopball." Though the game doesn't require much speed, it has one obvious drawback. "If the ball hits the stoop the right way," he says, "it goes into a garden for a homer. And there's no defense against that."