The Eulogizer: Top political writer, sports psychologist, baseball player

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

David Broder, 81, top political journalist

David S. Broder, a correspondent and commentator for The Washington Post who covered 11 presidential campaigns and hundreds of other elections, authoring books and winning top journalism prizes along the way, died Wednesday at 81.

Broder was being remembered for setting the “the gold standard” for political reporting in the United States for decades and as the “dean of political writers.” He was influential as a commentator, was revered by his colleagues, and earned politicians’ grudging respect for his thoroughness, fairness and doggedness.

Longtime commentator Jack Germond said that “For those of us who spent our careers competing with David Broder, the hardest thing to abide was the inevitable comparison. If someone said Jack Germond … is a pretty good political reporter, the default response would be  ‘but he’s no David Broder.’ "

In a statement from the White House, President Obama called Broder a "true giant of journalism" and said he "built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation."

Former Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee said Broder "knew politics from the back room." Broder gained that knowledge the old-fashioned way — with relentless travel and interviews with the professionals of small- and large-scale politics in state capitals and cities across the nation. That degree of “shoe leather” reporting often put him ahead of national figures in understanding political trends.

His longtime employer, The Washington Post, presented a detailed package of stories, audio recordings, photographs and elegies of Broder, and described him as “Balding, sporting horn-rimmed glasses and measured in his speaking style, Mr. Broder was once likened to an MIT professor in appearance. He was a frequent and instantly recognizable panelist on TV news-discussion shows, a penetrating questioner who often put politicians on the spot and a clear-eyed analyst who could cut to the heart of an issue.”

The New York Times, where Broder served a short stint in the 1950s, said he “was often called the dean of the Washington press corps and just as often described as a reporter’s reporter, a shoe-leather guy who always got on one more airplane, knocked on one more door, made one more phone call. He would travel more than 100,000 miles a year to write more than a quarter-million words. In short, he composed first drafts of history for an awful lot of history.”

Some of Broder’s best scoops included identifying Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential running mate and reporting that U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine cried during a public appearance before the 1972 New Hampshire Democratic primary. However, Broder’s strength was not as an investigative reporter, but rather as a collector and disseminator of insights and information gathered through hours of legwork.

Washington Post political writer Dan Balz wrote that long before the Internet, Broder built a network of stringers who provided him with updates of local political news.

“He knew the details of everything but never lost sight of the big picture," Balz wrote. "In an era in which political reporting has become more and more focused on minutiae, he kept his focus where it belonged — on the events and forces that move ordinary Americans and shape history.”

Broder balanced reporting and commentary; he was criticized by partisans on the right and the left for being too “centrist.” New York Times columnist Frank Rich called Broder “Washington’s bloviator-in-chief,” to which Broder responded, “He’s on my case. But that goes with the territory.”

Broder was born in Chicago Heights, Ill., in 1929. His father was the dentist to the area’s Jewish community. He received a master’s degree from University of Chicago and wrote for an Army newspaper during a two-year stint in the military. After a short internship at the Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ind., Broder moved to Washington, where he worked for the Congressional Quarterly and others, including The New York Times, before finding his home at The Washington Post.

Over the years Broder became a TV talk show staple, as well, and is the all-time leader in appearances on "Meet the Press" with more than 400. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1973, during the height of the Watergate scandal, many awards and at least 16 honorary degrees

On a personal note, Broder was an idol of mine in my early days as a journalist. I studied his coverage of the 1976 presidential campaign for my master’s thesis in journalism and his writing as a working professional, especially in Washington.

Baseball deaths: Harvey Dorfman, 75, sports psychologist; Greg Goossen, former player

Harvey Dorfman, who worked with many Major League Baseball stars and wrote books on sports psychology, including “The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance,” as well as two memoirs, died Feb. 28 at 75.

New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild credited Dorfman with “helping him refine his touch with players through lessons passed down over years of work and friendship.” The Eulogizer offers a hat tip to Ron Kaplan, author of the fine Jewish sports blog Kaplan’s Korner on Jews and Sports, for helping get information on Dorfman.

Kaplan also joined the debate over whether Greg Goossen, the former catcher for the New York Mets and other teams, who died Feb. 26 at 65, was Jewish. Author Howard Megdal in his 2009 book “The Baseball Talmud,” called Goossen the seventh-best Jewish first baseman in history. But Goossen, “a lifelong Roman Catholic … was perplexed” by the ranking, The New York Times reported.

Goossen’s father was born Jewish, but Goossen apparently wasn’t moved to re-sign, as it were, with his father’s “team.” His obituary said his memorial service was at Saint Francis de Sales Church in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Kaplan, who delved into the Goossen matter in depth, including citing a recent letter from Megdal, came to the same conclusion as The Eulogizer, in opposition to Megdal. You can only play for one team at a time.

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