Berkow, Ira 1940-
Berkow, Ira 1940-
Born January 7, 1940, in Chicago, IL; son of Harold and Shirley Berkow; married three times; divorced twice. Education: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), B.A., 1963; Northwestern University, M.S.J., 1965.
Minneapolis Tribune, Minneapolis, MN, sports reporter and book reviewer, 1965-67; Newspaper Enterprise Association, New York, NY, sports columnist, 1967-76, senior editor, 1974-76; freelance writer, 1976-81; New York Times, New York, NY, sports feature writer and columnist, 1981—, senior writer, 1997—. Appeared as himself on ESPN Sports Century, 2001-03; consultant and interviewer on 1998 film The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.
Authors Guild, Baseball Writers of America, PEN.
Rockin' Steady was named among "best books" by American Library Association, 1974; DuSable Panthers was named among "best books" by New York Public Library, 1977; Cable ACE Award nomination for best sports documentary, 1983, for Champions of American Sports; Edgar Award finalist, 1988, for The Man Who Robbed the Pierre; Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1988, for distinguished commentary; Pulitzer Prize, 2001, for national sports reporting; inductee, International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, 2006.
Oscar Robertson: The Golden Year, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1971.
(With Walt Frazier) Rockin' Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1974.
Beyond the Dream: Occasional Heroes of Sports, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1975.
The DuSable Panthers: The Greatest, Blackest, Saddest Team from the Meanest Street in Chicago, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.
Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Rod Carew) Carew, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1979.
The Man Who Robbed the Pierre: The Story of Bobby Comfort, Lion Books, 1980.
Red: A Biography of Red Smith, Times Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Pitchers Do Get Lonely, and Other Sports Stories, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor and author of introduction) Hank Greenberg, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life, Times Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Hank Greenberg: Hall-of-Fame Slugger, Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1991.
To the Hoop: The Seasons of a Basketball Life, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Court Vision: Unexpected Views on the Lure of Basketball, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
The Minority Quarterback, and Other Lives in Sports, I.R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2002.
The Shakespeare of the Press Box: The Life and Times of Red Smith (play), first performed at Vineyard Playhouse (Vineyard Haven, MA), 2003.
Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life, I.R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2006.
One of Berkow's New York Times columns was included in the anthology Best American Sports Writing of the Century, edited by David Alderstam, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999; contributor to annual anthology Best American Sports Writing from 1969. Scriptwriter for Home Box Office (HBO) special Champions of American Sports; contributor to Jackie Mason's How to Talk Jewish, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991; and author of foreword to Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years, I.R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2000.
The film rights to The Man Who Robbed the Pierre: The Story of Bobby Comfort have been purchased by DreamWorks.
Ira Berkow is a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for the New York Times whose pieces appear under the banner "Sports of the Times." Berkow began his association with the New York Times in March of 1981, overlapping for a few months with his friend and mentor, the notable columnist Red Smith. Like Smith, Berkow infuses his work with humor, as well as with the belief that fundamental truths about life can be found on the basketball court and the baseball diamond. Or, as one Publishers Weekly correspondent put it, Berkow "revels in the chance to make as many connections as possible between the life of the game and the game of life."
Berkow had written half a dozen books before he joined the staff of the New York Times, among them a true crime story titled The Man Who Robbed the Pierre: The Story of Bobby Comfort. Despite the demands of column writing for one of the biggest newspapers in the country, Berkow has continued to publish books in the ensuing decades, beginning with Red: A Biography of Red Smith. Although they only spent a mere nine months working as colleagues at the Times, Berkow and Smith had known one another for years—a casual friendship initiated by Berkow when he was still an aspiring collegian. Some reviewers found Berkow's affection for Smith to be an enriching part of the biography. In the New York Times, for instance, Peter Golenbock declared that Berkow "has, in fact, written a thoroughly enjoyable, lively book…. Through Mr. Berkow's characterization, I came to admire Red, the person. Mr. Berkow showed him to be a gentle man who didn't feel the need to downgrade his competitors to make himself look good." New York Times Book Review correspondent Wilfrid Sheed deemed Red a "skillful biography," in part due to Berkow's understanding of the demands of sportswriting. Sheed concluded: "In a field where two good outings out of three may be considered a hot streak, it may take a peer to appreciate and convey the worth of a man who, in his prime, routinely turned in five, six, seven, if they'd let him, gems a week."
To the Hoop: The Seasons of a Basketball Life is a semi-memoir in which Berkow examines "a lifetime's worth of ball games, teammates … and opponents," to quote Charley Rosen in the New York Times Book Review. Berkow recalls his formative years in Chicago, playing basketball in his neighborhood, and then acquaints the reader with the lessons he has learned from high school, college, and pickup basketball—including games with pro teammates. In his New York Times piece on To the Hoop, Avery Corman suggested that the book itself "has the ramshackle quality of a pickup game, … combining memoir, character sketches, a personal odyssey of family life, and sports reporting." Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky appreciated the manner in which his love of basketball has forced Berkow to confront "the aging process honestly, with humor and grace." Lukowsky styled the work "a fine book by a fine writer and a wise man."
Berkow's Court Vision: Unexpected Views on the Lure of Basketball consists of a series of interviews with celebrities from many walks of life on the subject of basketball. Library Journal correspondent William O. Scheeren lauded the book as "perceptive" and "of interest to all basketball fans," but also added that readers "do not have to be rabid fans to enjoy this work."
Berkow won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for a series of stories on minority football players and their struggles to earn respect and recognition in positions usually reserved for white players. In 2002, he turned this into the book The Minority Quarterback, and Other Lives in Sports, filling out the volume with essays on other athletes who have overcome hardships to succeed in sports. These include profiles of the one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott, among others. Booklist contributor Lukowsky called this "a wonderful collection from the top rung of sports journalism."
In his 2006 memoir, Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life, Berkow "delivers an extra-base hit," according to Booklist contributor Bill Ott. Berkow takes the reader on a voyage through his life, from his working-class youth in Chicago to his teenage love of sports and his early encounter with sportswriter Red Smith who encouraged the young college student to become a sports reporter. Berkow also details personal meetings with such sports greats as Muhammad Ali and Joe DiMaggio in this "understated but thoroughly engaging memoir," as Ott termed it. Other reviewers also had praise for the memoir. A Kirkus Reviews critic called Full Swing "genial" and "leisurely," while a contributor for California Bookwatch found it "a lively survey of a literary life and many achievements." Likewise, Carl Sessions Stepp, writing in the American Journalism Review, felt the memoir was "low-key but absorbing," and Nieman Reports contributor Jim Kaplan concluded: "Berkow's life and times, lessons learned and techniques tried adds up to words well chosen about a journey well worth taking with him."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Berkow, Ira, To the Hoop: The Seasons of a Basketball Life Basic Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Berkow, Ira, Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life, I.R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2006.
American Journalism Review, June-July, 2006, Carl Sessions Stepp, "A Memoir—and a Career Manual," review of Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life, p. 65.
Booklist, April 15, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of To the Hoop: The Seasons of a Basketball Life, p. 1362; May 15, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of Court Vision: Unexpected Views on the Lure of Basketball, p. 1720; February 1, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Minority Quarterback, and Other Lives in Sports, p. 916; March 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Full Swing, p. 47.
California Bookwatch, June, 2006, review of Full Swing.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of Full Swing, p. 167.
Kliatt, July, 2003, review of The Minority Quarterback, and other Lives in Sports, p. 6.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, William O. Scheeren, review of Court Vision, p. 140.
New York Times, May 28, 1986, Peter Golenbock, "Swift of Sports," p. C20; July 29, 1997, Avery Corman, "Shooting and Scoring, Sometimes."
New York Times Book Review, June 8, 1986, Wilfrid Sheed, "A Pretty Nice Way to Make a Living," p. 1; June 8, 1997, Charley Rosen, "The Basketball Diaries," p. 28.
Nieman Reports, fall, 2006, Jim Kaplan, "Lessons of Youth Shape a Writer's Career," p. 88.
Publishers Weekly, April 24, 2000, review of Court Vision, p. 74.
Saturday Evening Post, September-October, 2006, review of Full Swing, p. 24.
International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Web site,http://www.jewishsports.net/ (December 18, 2006), "Ira Berkow."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (December 18, 2006), "Ira Berkow."