I’ve known Phil Taylor for a long time. Not all that closely, mind you. We worked together at Sports Illustrated throughout my time at the magazine, but on opposite coasts. Probably, oh, twice a year we’d run into each other at different sporting events or at the magazine’s year-end, fly-the-writers-to-New York holiday gala (man, time$ have changed).
Anyhow, Phil has always been wonderful to me. A fun, decent, humble human being.
He also happens to be insanely talented.
In the days, weeks and months after Rick Reilly left SI for ESPN, there seemed to be this lingering numbness; an unanswerable question about who could possibly fill his shoes on the last page. Theories were inevitably tossed around—perhaps the magazine would hire some big-name newspaper guy, a la Jason Whitlock (dear God) or Mike Lupica (dear friggin’ God) or Dan Le Batard. For a long while, it became column by committee. Selena Roberts. Joe Posnanski. Chris Ballard. All terrific wordsmiths who brought their own strengths.
Then, at some point, the powers that be settled on Taylor.
Phil Taylor is the best back-page SI columnist I’ve ever read. He’s smart and funny and poignant. He understands how to evoke emotion, without resorting to some of Rick’s tired tricks. He knows how to slam without coming off as a whining douchebag, a la Lupica. He has some serious writing chops (in other words, he’s a master at beautifully turned phrases). Best of all, he doesn’t brag or boast or talk shit. Phil just turns out great copy, which makes him the ideal journalist for sub-ideal times.
Plus, we share a war story. Back, oh, a decade ago, Phil and I went to dinner in Arizona during spring training. We sat down, placed our order with the waitress, then listened as she explained—sans sexiness, seductiveness, self-awarness—that she had an incredibly loose vagina, and needed some help.
Ever since, I only greet Phil with these two words: Loose. Vagina.