Class of 1959
Of all the City College graduates who ever went to work for The New York Times — and there were many over the years — sportswriter Jerry Eskenazi might well be the most prolific. In a Times career that began in 1959, he amassed almost 8,000 bylines, the second-highest number in the history of that newspaper. Although Eskenazi officially retired in January 2000, he was a Times contract writer for another six years. In addition, he has somehow found the time to write at least 17 books, and has taught journalism at St. John’s University and Adelphi University.
|Taking notes while covering
Muhammad Ali, 1966
Eskenazi was given the Barney Kremenko Award by the Nassau County Sports Commission as Sportswriter of the Year in 1999. He was honored by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, from which he received a “Good Guy” award in 2002. That is fitting because two years earlier, his colleagues who also covered the New York Jets football team created something called the Eskenazi Good Guy Award, to be presented annually to the Jets player deemed most cooperative with the media. The award, given initially to a lineman named Pete Kendall, came as a total surprise to Eskenazi. He was honored 10 times by The Times for his articles. In addition, he has received national recognition from the Deadline Club for a series on college recruiting. In 2013, he was honored by the College with a Townsend Harris Medal.
Born in Manhattan in 1936, Eskenazi was raised in the East New York section of Brooklyn and attended Thomas Jefferson High School. When he entered City College, majoring in English literature, he joined the staff of Observation Post and became its editor. His first full-time job after graduation was as a copy boy at the now defunct New York Daily Mirror. Two weeks later, he was offered a similar position at The Times. It paid $38 a week and Eskenazi grabbed it. He eventually became part of the sports department and was there for more than four decades, He has covered everything from pro football to darts, and he’s chronicled the exploits of such legendary athletes as Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali and Willie Mays, but he has also written extensively on food, wine and travel in publications such as Cigar Aficionado, New York magazine, The Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Observer, Cosmopolitan and Reader’s Digest.
His books primarily focus on sports, but he’s written about other subjects as well. “I Hid It Under the Sheets: Growing Up With Radio,” is a 2005 memoir about old-time radio and the impact it had on Eskenazi’s childhood growing up in Brooklyn. His 17th book also hearkens back to those days. It will be called “Class of 1950,” a reminiscence of his time as junior high school student.
Eskenazi’s sports books range from biographies of teams (“Gang Green: An Irreverent Look Behind the Scenes at Thirty-Eight (Well, Thirty-Seven) Seasons of New York Jets Football Futility”; “There Were Giants in Those Days: The New York Giants Dynasty 1954-1963”) to biographies of individuals (“The Lip: A Biography of Leo Durocher”; “The Derek Sanderson Nobody Knows: At 26 the World’s Highest Paid Athlete”; “Bill Veeck: A Baseball Legend”). He has also written about his own professional career: “A Sportswriter’s Life: From the Desk of a New York Times Reporter.”
In his post-retirement life, Eskenazi is a popular lecturer at schools and on cruise ships. On a recent visit to City College, he told students that the most memorable sports event he ever covered was the “Miracle on Ice” hockey match at Lake Placid, N.Y., during the 1980 Olympics, when the United States defeated a heavily favored Russian team, 4 to 3, and went on to win a gold medal.
“They called it the sports event of the 20th century for a reason,” he said.