Mark’s Picks (September)

My September picks include stories about football, tennis, baseball, baseball cards, basketball and basketball logos. The topics and approaches differ. But for the most part, these stories stand out because of the access acquired by the reporters.

Enjoy some of the best work from the past month.

A day on the bubble with Packers’ Alonzo Harris, by Michael Cohen

Leading up to the moment when NFL teams trimmed rosters to a final 53, Cohen got access to Packers running back Alonzo Harris and his family as they waited in conference room for Harris’ fate. Cohen uses a good mix of information and descriptive scene writing.

Harris, a burly 6 feet 1 inch and 235 pounds, with an inviting smile and laid-back personality reflective of his Alabama roots, is uncharacteristically fidgety, anxious. His tongue flicks back and forth on a series of mint candies. His eyes, glassy and low, suggest a lack of sleep even before Harris admits he went to bed around 4 a.m., a mere 60 minutes from his typical waking hour during training camp.

The definitive NBA logo rankings, by Zach Lowe

You’ve seen this type of “journalism” everywhere: a writer ranks the 30 logos of NBA teams. The Bulls’ logo is the best. The Thunder’s is the worst. But what did we learn?

Actually, in this piece, a lot. Instead of producing a lazy clickbait slideshow, Lowe researches each logo and includes expertise from various designers. Sure the rankings are subjective, but they’re also informational and thought-provoking.

In one inning, Nationals’ bullpen delivers a tough truth and tougher consequences, by Barry Svrluga

Savvy deadline writing from Barry Svrluga, especially considering this game changed so drastically in the late innings (when the Nationals blew a 7-1 lead in the seventh). The story puts entire season in perspective after a game that served as a microcosm. And that was even before the team’s closer choked its superstar outfielder.

The engineering of 15-year-old Josh McKenzie, by Matthew Stanmyre

Matthew Stanmyre followed a 15-year-old super-athlete for more than a year to see how his circle has groomed him to eventually become a professional. The top football player and wrestler in his age group, this teen appears worthy of the hype, but Stanmyre isn’t blind to the perils of big expectations for a kid with such preternatural abilities and maturity.

What the world got wrong about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, by Jay Caspian Kang

Jay Caspian King probably knew he’d get little few quote-worthy sound bites from interviewing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s notoriously closed off to the media. So he did extensive research, spent a day with his subject and didn’t use a quote from Abdul-Jabbar until the final six paragraphs of this entertaining magazine story. Abdul-Jabbar is a well-documented character, and this piece still reveals new information about the basketball legend.

Tim Wallach fan has a real house of cards, by Zach Helfand

This is the type of absurd story that’s fun to read no matter your sports allegiances. There exists a Tim Wallach baseball card collector — somebody who worships a career .257 and is trying to do what he knows is impossible: collect every card ever printed of Tim Wallach. The writer, Zach Helfand doesn’t have to take the story too seriously because the collector and his wife don’t really, either.

The night Kansas City baseball came back to life, by Andy McCullough

Andy McCullough relives the Royals’ wild-card playoff win from last year. Waiting a year and allowing the dust to settle provides an opportunity for key sources to speak with perspective. Any Royals fan will read this story, considering all the happy memories it brings back.

For Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo, a moving goodbye, by Gordon Edes

In a Red Sox season that’s long been over, the most important story Sunday wasn’t the game. ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes instead tailed play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo, whose station controversially released him, effective the end of this season. It’s a day in the life of Orsillo —  a very special day.

Rocky Perone’s quest to play pro ball was just the start of his wild tale, by Chris Ballard

This story is, as the writer describes it, “part Sidd Finch and part Catch Me if You Can.”

It begins mysteriously and reveals just enough to keep the on the edge. Eventually, we learn of a complex baseball man who’d do anything to stay in the game.

The audacity of Peyton Manning, by Kevin Van Valkenburg

What haven’t reporters written about Peyton Manning? Kevin Van Valkenburg finds something — the painful process of the 39-year-old quarterback removing his equipment after a game. The lede works because its so visual with adjectives and verbs: “His socks come off after several violent tugs, revealing toes that are twisted and bent into obtuse angles.” Much of the story covers topics often discussed about Manning, but the imagery at the top makes this piece memorable.

See a story you love in October? Let me know at


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