Joe McGinniss, who died on Monday at 71, wrote about politics and scandal and hypocrisy. In his foray into Italian soccer, he found himself at that very same intersection.
In his 1999 book, “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro,” he was living in a small hill city in the Abruzzo, getting to know the players. Then he watched them blunder away a final game that allowed the team from nearby Bari to advance into Serie A. Soon he accused some of the players of throwing the game, comparing them to the Red Brigade of the ‘70’s.
“Tu non sei costretto a parlare,” one key player said. You don’t have to speak.
This was revolutionary stuff in 1999. Seven years later, the world discovered that major teams in Serie A were leaning on referees and some players were gambling on their sport. Joe was not surprised. By that time, he was back in Massa-chusetts. The beautiful game was much like the rest of life.
We had one thing in common – awe of Roberto Baggio, the wispy pigtailed Buddhist genius, who created beautiful moments, from nothing.
“Other than my sons, he's the only man I've ever truly loved,” McGinniss wrote in an e-mail.
We never met. I remember seeing a very young sportswriter with a lean and hungry look, working for the Bulletin (“In Philadelphia nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.” But not anymore, inasmuch as that paper is long defunct.)
He soon wrote “The Selling of the President,” about the Nixon campaign of 1968, and later “Fatal Vision,” about the conviction of an army doctor for killing his pregnant wife and two children.
Janet Malcolm and others have accused McGinniss of misleading the doctor by professing to believe him to keep his access. I have never fully understood that. As a reporter, I have sat and listened to politicians, business people, sports officials, religious leaders and entertainers tell me all kinds of stupidità, and usually I kept a straight face, The trick is to keep them talking.
McGinniss and I never discussed that, or his time in Alaska, living next door to the Palins. I was jealous that he had lived in the Abruzzo. I’ve got dozens of his e-mails, deploring the gun culture in America or bad soccer on the tube, but he never bemoaned his wretched medical luck – inoperable prostate cancer, 14 months ago.
“Welcome to the Hotel Carcinoma," he wrote last year. He could not hang in there for the World Cup – Pirlo and Buffon and Balotelli in Brazil. I would have loved to hear his critiques.
Buon lavoro. Buona vita. Riposate in pace.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.