Q&A with the editor of OUT OF LEFT FIELD

Aram Goudsouzian, the editor and introducer of Out of Left Field: A Sportswriter’s Last Word by Stan Isaacs, answers questions on his new book.

Q: Why did you decide to edit this book?  

While researching my own book about sportswriters and the “Long Sixties,” I read Mitchell Nathanson’s excellent biography, Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original. In the endnotes he referred to an unpublished memoir by Stan Isaacs, a longtime sports columnist for Newsday who died in 2013. Professor Nathanson put me in touch with Stan’s daughter Ellen, who sent me a copy of the manuscript. I found Stan’s story both delightful to read and chock-full of insights into the worlds of sports and journalism. I co-edit the Sports and Society series for U of I Press, so I approached our editor, Danny Nasset, and my series co-editor, Jaime Schultz, to gauge their willingness to publish the book. With their support, as well as the blessing of the Isaacs family, we brought the book to print.  

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and editing this book?  

Stan Isaacs is significant to the history of sports journalism because he was one of the founding members of the “Chipmunks,” an informal fraternity of young sports columnists. In the early 1960s, the Chipmunks tweaked the older writers with their irreverent columns, their aggressive interview styles, and their focus on quirky personalities (like Jim Bouton) rather than star players (like Mickey Mantle). Thanks to Ellen Isaacs, I had scanned copies of just about every column Stan ever wrote over nearly a half-century. What I found most fascinating – especially during Stan’s heyday in the 1960s – was the creativity and energy it took to churn out a near-daily column. He was more than a good writer. He created a print persona that was impish and endearing. That same quality comes across well in his memoir. I never met Stan Isaacs, but I like him very much.    

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn? 

One myth about sports is that it is just a diversion from the big issues in our lives such as political debates, economic well-being, or personal relationships. But sports are wound up in all those issues. To read Out of Left Field is to understand that sports are not a reflection of our society – they are part of our society. This is evident in Stan’s own upbringing, in his liberal crusades as a sportswriter, in his curiosity about the intersections of literature and sports, and in his viewpoint on how sports shapes life. As one example of that last point, he once penned a column that focused entirely on the different ways to throw coins into a tollbooth basket. 

Q: Which part of the publishing process did you find the most interesting?  

Out of Left Field is the second memoir that I have edited – I did it as well for a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, Karnig Panian, in a book entitled Goodbye, Antoura. In both cases, I felt a weight in shaping the language and structure of another person’s writing, especially since that person was no longer alive. There were parts of Stan’s manuscript that were quite polished and needed only the lightest of touches, and there were sections that needed lots of work. I cut superfluous passages. I moved around stories to create more thematic coherence. And as I did so, I felt that burden. But I think that was a good thing – it reminded me to read the words through Stan’s eyes, to stay in Stan’s voice. 

Q: What is your advice to scholars/authors who want to take on a similar project? 

I would encourage anyone to consider it, if presented with the prospect. It can be hard work to bring someone else’s book to life, but it is uniquely rewarding. There are so many sources that are now just sitting in an archive, or on someone’s computer, or somewhere else where the public cannot access it. The more published primary sources, the better!  

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun? 

Well, I recently turned 50, so I often find myself complaining that no one writes good novels anymore, and I don’t like new pop music, and all the TV shows are weirdly dark or intricate. And who has time for all these podcasts? But then I try to stop acting like a cranky middle-aged man, and I remember that I just got sucked into novels by Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta and James McBride, and I love music by Jason Isbell or Taylor Swift just as much as Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson, and one of my favorite rituals is watching a fun series like Scandal or Suits with my family. But I still don’t have time for all these podcasts.

Stan Isaacs (1929–2013) was a sportswriter and pioneering sports media reporter. His longtime column, “Out of Left Field,” appeared in Newsday. He is the author of Ten Moments That Shook the Sports World.

Aram Goudsouzian is the Bizot Family Professor of History at the University of Memphis. He is the author of The Men and the Moment: The Election of 1968 and the Rise of Partisan Politics in America.

About Kristina Stonehill