The first time Leigh Montville entered the time-life Building in New York City, in 1965, he was a callow youth newly graduated from the University of Connecticut. His objective then was to be what he is today—an SI writer. But perhaps he was a tad naive.
"I put on my little suit and gathered my little college newspaper clips and showed up unannounced at the personnel office, where there were two other guys—who were waiting to interview for a maintenance job—and me," says Montville. "We all saw the same woman and we all heard the same speech, 'Get some experience and then come see us again.' "
Montville has been collecting experience bulk rate ever since. He took a job at his hometown paper, the New Haven Journal-Courier, and three years later moved on to The Boston Globe, where he became a columnist in 1970. Several thousand deadline stories later, he longed for the luxury of time to reflect on his stories. "Doing a daily column is usually more typing than it is writing," he says. "It's like being a contestant on Beat the Clock." That was why when SI asked him to do a piece on the Boston Garden, in '86, his first question was, "When's the deadline?" Told it was in four weeks, he accepted the assignment with relish.
Other free-lance assignments for SI followed, about which Montville had only one complaint: None of his subjects was breathing. "I wrote about the Boston Marathon [April 20, 1987], the Zamboni machine [March 30, 1987] and the Arctic Circle [Jan. 27, 1988]," he says. "I started asking if I could write about a person. It's hard to interview the Arctic Circle."
He got his wish recently when he was assigned the story on Cub manager Don Zimmer that appears in this issue (page 58). For Montville, it brought back memories of the late 1970s, when he often wrote about Zimmer, who was then the Red Sox's skipper. Though Montville occasionally questioned some of Zimmer's managerial decisions, he always admired him for his love of the game. "He can tell you what happened in a ball game in 1954 the same way he can tell you about what happened last Thursday," Montville says.
Besides giving him the opportunity to write about a human being, the Zimmer story marks a milestone for Montville: After all these years, he's finally a member of the SI staff. "I guess 24 years was enough experience," he says.