Earlier today I spent about four hours researching my latest book project inside the Sports Illustrated library on the 32nd floor of the Time Life Building. It’s a place I consider to be my editorial home. Over the course of the past decade, through seven book projects, I’ve probably spent, oh, 200 hours inside the library, digging through files, photocopying clips, combing through yellowed Sports Illustrateds from decades past. I wish I were a good enough writer to properly explain the awesomeness of the SI library, but I’m not. What I can say is it’s a sports researcher’s dream; a place where one can find detailed clip files on everyone from J.R. Richard to Neil Clabo to Earl Jones to Rebecca Lobo to Dave Fleming (the Mariner) and Dave Fleming (the writer). There is nowhere like it in the world. Nowhere even close to being like it in the world.
Alas, in a few weeks it will die.
The Sports Illustrated offices are moving downtown; a case (I assume) of a changed business and a changed business model. Space will be reduced; offices will be sliced. The library—my library—will vanish. Forever.
I feel like I’m losing a brother. That’s no exaggeration. I. Feel. Like. I’m. Losing. A. Brother. I also feel as if I’m losing a part of me; a part of what I love about journalism. I 100-percent understand why SI is likely wise to move. It’s a different game in 2015 than it was in, say, 1995. The king of sports magazines remains the king of sports magazines, but that doesn’t mean what it once did. Everything today is about digital; about instant buzz. The idea of sitting down on your couch and taking an hour to pour through a seven-page Evander Holyfield feature is one of the distant past. Give us 140 characters, and make them quick. Hell, a few weeks ago a young sports fan asked me if Sports Illustrated still exists in print. My verbal reply, “Of course.” My mental reply, “Fuuuuuuck.”
Back when I was a Sports Illustrated staffer, I’d devote free time to sneaking into the library and feeding my curiosity. I wonder what Ken Griffey, Sr. was like with the Reds? Were George Foster’s sideburns as cool as I imagine? I’d sure love to read some profiles of Jack Tatum. Of Joe Niekro. Of Stump Mitchell. Of Tony Casillas. They were all there. All you had to do was crank a handle and open the aisle of your choice. The folders—red, with yellow or white labels—gave you the name and dates. You’d open one and find anywhere from two to 500 neatly trimmed newspaper and magazine stories. The articles could be from last week; they also could be from 60 years ago. Magic, man. Just … magic.
The best part? The librarians. There was no better gossip spot than the SI library. I’d show up, sit across from Joy or Taj or Linda and hear the latest news. Who was dating who in the office. What Madonna’s new song sounded like. Sex. Love. Books. Politics. Pop. Rap. Restaurants. Deaths. On and on—just blissful banter with blissful people. The library was, quite often, the place to be. It truly was.
When I left today, I snapped some photos, took a sad breath, turned off the light and walked slowly away from bliss. I’ve been told much, if not all, of the library will be preserved at on offsite somewhere. I hope this is true. A decade ago, the same company took Time Magazine’s library and leveled it.
Hey, it’s a new age, right? Modern. Sleek. Technological. iPhones and Snapchat and Instagram photos. We’re better communicators than our predecessors; better at documenting the world than ever before.
Somehow, though, we’ve misplaced the one thing that allows us to gauge the present.
Our appreciation of the past.