October 3, 2012
The Unbearable Blandness of Joe Girardi
There’s a clue to what’s wrong with Gay Talese’s recent New Yorker profile of Yankee manager Joe Girardi in these two very similar anecdotes. According to a 1973 profile of the writer, in the spring of 1950 the 18-year-old Talese went to St. Petersburg, Fla. to watch the Yankees in spring training. A young woman mistook him for the Yankees’ Jerry Coleman. Talese went along with it and, in this pinch-hitting imposture, took her deep that night. (Coleman was told about this later and was apparently livid.)
In his new piece on Girardi, Talese recounts another such story, about a time when he “embarked on a love affair in college with a young woman I had met in French class.” A few years before, Talese had gotten his first autograph from another Yankee, Johnny Lindell, who substituted for Joe DiMaggio while the Yankee Clipper was serving in the Army Air Forces. (“Lindell always posed graciously for snapshots and talked with fans before and after the games,” Talese recalls.)
Ready to round the bases with his college chérie, Talese “booked a room at a motel and, seized with panic, scribbled on the registration form the name of the man I viewed as my protector—Johnny Lindell.”
That’s slightly perverse, but so is Talese. Read that whole 1973 profile in the link above, or check out the twin profiles he himself wrote in 1966 that made him perhaps “the most important nonfiction writer of his generation,” according to David Halberstam.
Halberstam issued his praise of Talese in the introduction to The Best American Sportswriting of the Century, which leads off—quite deliberately—with one of those two famous profiles of 1966: “The Silent Season of a Hero,” Talese’s ambivalent, often unflattering portrait of a 51-year-old DiMaggio. (Here’s a lightly annotated reprint from Grantland.)
Halberstam calls “Silent Season” “the best magazine piece I have ever read” (and this was after a 13-year professional feud between Halberstam and Talese). The Esquire profile was apparently the first depiction of DiMaggio as anything other than saintly, flawless, and charming. Published just two months after Talese’s very similar treatment of Frank Sinatra, another Italian-American icon (Talese shares their heritage; his first name is short for Gaetano) born a year after DiMaggio, “Silent Season” not only established Talese’s preeminence, it also served as a founding document of the school of nonfiction that came to be known as New Journalism.