Eisenberg, John S. 1956-

views updated

EISENBERG, John S. 1956-


Born September 24, 1956, in Dallas, TX; married Mary Wynne; children: Anna, Wick. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. (English), 1979.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected].


Sportswriter, author. Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, MD, sportswriter.


Recipient of more than twenty awards, including Sportswriter of the Year, National Society of Sportswriters and Broadcasters.


The Longest Shot: Lil E. Tee and the Kentucky Derby, University of Kentucky Press (Lexington, KY), 1996.

Cotton Bowl Days: Growing Up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the 1960s, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles, Contemporary Books (Lincolnwood, IL), 2001.

Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.


John S. Eisenberg has had a long career as a sportswriter with the Baltimore Sun, during which time he has written columns and features and covered a range of sporting events. These include the Super Bowl, World Series, Wimbledon, Final Four, Masters, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, World Cup, and the Olympics in several countries.

Eisenberg's first book, The Longest Shot: Lil E. Tee and the Kentucky Derby, is a study of one of the most extraordinary events in horse racing history: the winning of the 1992 Kentucky Derby run for the roses by an unknown horse named Lil E. Tee, named Lil for his original owner, Lyle Letterman, and E. Tee because as a colt he had an unusual gait and often bellowed for his mother. The horse with the unimpressive pedigree was born on a Pennsylvania farm that raised trotting horses, and he came into the world weak and unable to nurse. Without the benefit of his mother's colostrum, he developed an immune deficiency and was barely saved with injections of antibody-rich blood. He later developed colic and survived stomach surgery that should have meant the end of his career. He was sold several times for sums as low as three thousand dollars and lived in seven states before he turned two.

The plucky horse's future changed under the supervision of owner Cal Partee, trainer Lynn Whiting, and jockey Pat Day. They sensed the potential in the proud animal and found that he possessed lungs and a heart about one third larger than normal. He won the Jim Beam Stakes and finished second in the Arkansas Derby. On the momentous day at Churchill Downs, he faced seventeen other horses, including favorite Arazi, who was compared to the legendary Secretariat, and so he became the seventeen-to-one long shot. But on that Saturday in May, Lil E. Tee showed his stuff and became the one horse out of the 48,000 foals born in 1989 to go on to become one of the approximately one hundred horses to have won the Derby. In all, he ran thirteen races, seven of which he won. In the first year after his win, the horse impregnated fifty mares at $7,500 each, the beginning of his profitable future on a stud farm in Kentucky. Frank Kooistra reviewed The Longest Shot in Aethlon, calling it "an amazing story." And Library Journal contributor David Van de Streek called Eisenberg's account "well-written, enjoyable to read, and guaranteed to move many readers."

Eisenberg's memoir, Cotton Bowl Days: Growing Up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the 1960s, is a history that goes back to the National Football League (NFL) franchise's first decade. The author recalls watching games with his father and the Cowboys' first winning year, in 1966, when Eisenberg was ten. For the book, he interviewed many of the stars of the 1960s and 1970s, including Herb Adderley, Bob Lilly, and Don Perkins, and comments on realities he did not come to understand until he was an adult, such as early racism, low salaries, and the character of coach Tom Landry. He notes, too, how the assassination of President John F. Kennedy changed the city in which he was killed. Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky called the book "a compelling, thoughtful effort that will intrigue even those fans with a marginal interest in the NFL."

Eisenberg turned from football to baseball with From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles, called a "highly readable and anecdotal volume" by Library Journal writers Paul Kaplan and Morey Berger. The seven sections of the book are organized chronologically from November 1953, when the St. Louis Browns were moved to Baltimore, to 2000. The book contains interviews with nearly one hundred players, club owners, executives, and broadcasters. Eisenberg moved to Baltimore in 1984, at the end of the Orioles' glory days, but he captures them by including nearly every living figure connected with the club's history.

Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age is not only the story of a great horse but also an explanation of how the sport of horse racing drew viewers to their television sets during the early days of the medium. Native Dancer was born in 1950 in the stables of millionaire Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. His sire and mare had strong bloodlines, and the young colt was immediately impressive. His color made him stand out from the pack of darker horses, particularly on the black-and-white television screen where he was the star. Native Dancer landed on the cover of Time and was twice named Horse of the Year. He won twenty-one of his twenty-two races, but the race he lost was a heartbreaker. It was the 1953 Kentucky Derby, and "Eisenberg gives this loss—by mere inches—all the drama it must have had in its day," wrote MostlyFiction.com reviewer Mary Whipple. "Having thoroughly researched every conceivable aspect of his story, Eisenberg writes with the journalistic brio of a true lover of horse racing, and makes the horse, his races, and the people surrounding him live again."

Eisenberg also introduces the reader to jockey Eric Guerin, a blacksmith's son who was raised in rural Louisiana, trainer Bill Winfrey, a Texas native who learned his skills during the Depression, black groom Lester Murray, and Vanderbilt, the millionaire who chose horse racing over business and politics. Vanderbilt's son, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, who was born the same year as Native Dancer, reviewed the book in the New York Times. He noted the accomplishments of the descendants of the horse and the fact that, as of his writing, they had "won that last six Kentucky Derbies in a row and eight of the last nine." For example, Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby, is a descendant of Native Dancer, but so were the other fifteen entries that year. Vanderbilt noted that like other horses of his time, Native Dancer averaged more than one race a week; horses are now typically rested for three weeks between races.

Vanderbilt listed the events that led to Native Dancer's loss by a head, reflecting that "if all we gauged of the greatness of horses was a performance in one race—or even in the three great races of the Triple Crown—we would miss the most valuable lesson. They are what we would like to be: beautiful and fast and free."



Eisenberg, John S., Cotton Bowl Days: Growing Up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the 1960s, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.


AB Bookman's Weekly, June 17, 1996, review of The Longest Shot: Lil E. Tee and the Kentucky Derby, pp. 2408-2410.

Aethlon, fall, 1998, Frank Kooistra, review of The Longest Shot, pp. 217-218.

Booklist, March 15, 1996, Dennis Dodge, review of The Longest Shot, p. 1234; September 15, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of Cotton Bowl Days: Growing Up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the 1960s, p. 196; March 1, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles, p. 1217; May 15, 2003, Dennis Dodge, review of Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age, p. 1631.

Boston Globe, July 6, 2003, Bill Littlefield, review of Native Dancer, p. H6.

Dallas Morning News, September 24, 2003, review of Native Dancer.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 11, 2003, review of Native Dancer.

Library Journal, March 15, 1996, David Van de Streek, review of The Longest Shot, p. 75; February 1, 2001, Paul Kaplan, Morey Berger, review of From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, p. 92.

New York Times, June 1, 2003, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, review of Native Dancer, Section 8, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1997, review of Cotton Bowl Days, p. 195; March 5, 2001, review of From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, p. 71; April 28, 2003, review of Native Dancer, p. 61.


Cumberland Times-News Online,http://www.timesnews.com/ (August 22, 2001), Mike Burke, review of From 33rd Street to Camden Yards.

Horse-Races.net,http://www.horse-races.net/ (March 10, 2004), review of Native Dancer.

MostlyFiction.com,http://mostlyfiction.com/ (March 10, 2004), Mary Whipple, review of Native Dancer. *

About this article

Eisenberg, John S. 1956-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article