The New York media scene is a bitchy place. Most people are quick to dismiss early success as dumb luck and/or good connections. But the fact is, at the highest levels, practically everyone has leveraged some kind of connection. Is having your father get you an interview more odious than having a friend from college do the same? After the interview, it's still up to you to prove yourself. After the Sarah McGrath-Margaret Seltzer disaster, people were quick to blame Sarah's connection to father at larger, Charles McGrath, which the Times Public Editor (and Gawker) dismissed as absurd. The same criticism could be leveled against his son, Ben, who is one of youngest staff writers (if not the youngest) at the New Yorker, where Dad was once fiction editor. But nepotism couldn't get anyone to write something as entertaining and exuberant as Ben McGrath's profile on Lenny Dykstra in this week's New Yorker.
For those who don't know (like me), Lenny Dykstra is a former baseball all-star who is launching a magazine for ex-athletes. But like all great profiles, who Dykstra is and what he is doing is irrelevant. He's a great character. McGrath starts with an anecdotal lede about Dykstra nearly standing him up for their first meeting and lets Dykstra take the story from there. McGrath quotes his subject frequently, though not at length — McGrath also has the gift of economy — letting his subject, not his writing, be the star of the piece.
Usually, McGrath contributes to Talk of The Town, which could dubbed Talk of Rich New Yorkers, or Talk of Hendrik Hertzberg Still Being Upset Over The 2000 Election. But McGrath's pieces are worth reading. Whenever I see corduroy, I think of his piece on the Corduroy Appreciation Club, which holds meetings on 11/11, the date that most resembles corduroy. And on strange streets in Manhattan, I remember McGrath's Talk about Caleb Smith, the Columbia librarian who walked every block in Manhattan. His story two weeks ago on IdreamofHillaryIdreamofBarack.com was so well-crafted I read it three times.
I'd love to pretend that McGrath's skills come from his connections, but that's just not the case. The guy knows his way around nouns and verbs.
My only complaint is that his Google image sucks. The image above is his head shot from the Yale Herald circa 1998.