For more than half a century until his death at 76 in 1982, Red Smith spent several hours of nearly every day alone in front of a typewriter. This poses a considerable problem for anyone writing Smith's biography, as Ira Berkow has in Red (Times Books, $17.95).
It is certainly no knock on Berkow's efforts that the most interesting portions of the book are those in which he quotes, extensively, from Smith's newspaper columns and stories. Also the best written. Smith was without a doubt the most widely admired sportswriter of his time and perhaps the best in newspaper history. The only possible argument is who should be included among his peers. Of his craft Smith said, "I think sports constitute a valid part of our culture, our civilization, and keeping the public informed and, if possible, a little entertained about sports is not an entirely useless thing. I did get a kick out of covering an occasional political convention, but even then my approach to it was as a sportswriter viewing a very popular spectator sport...."
Red was, by the author's admission, a labor of love. He has made excellent use of the family's cooperation and that of Smith's host of devoted friends. There are enough entertaining anecdotes and excerpts from Smith's private papers to keep after-dinner speakers in material for years. And then there are the passages from Smith's columns. These, one hopes, will drive nostalgic readers to bookshops and libraries for the half dozen or so published Smith collections. The latest, edited by Dave Anderson in 1982—The Red Smith Reader (Random House, $15.95)—has a valuable bonus: 14 pages of Smith talking about himself and his work, as taped and edited by sportswriter Jerome Holtzman. Berkow has mined those pages for Red, but there are nuggets left over.
For several decades, millions of Americans turned first to the sports pages and Red Smith every morning. With the reprints and Red on your bookshelf, you can do it again.