I got my first dose of Smith's work when Melissa Segura (SCU, '01) brought a copy of her favorite piece to one of the first j. classes she took from me: he was her idol, and his work probably did more than anything else to inspire her to pursue a career in journalism.
Which she did. She is currently a writer-reporter at Sports Illustrated where she often works with Smith, who has become both a mentor and a friend. Segura covers baseball. Like her mentor, Segura looks deeply at the players, not just the games. Here's a link to one of her pieces.
Anyway, Smith's work is now a staple -- and a favorite -- of Magazine Journalism. From the Times article:
"Mr. Smith writes for Sports Illustrated. But his work is only tangentially about games, with great appeal for people who wouldn’t know a nickel defense from a triangle offense. Each year he produces four long, earnest feature articles that probe the psyches of wounded people, some of them famous but most obscure, from Andre Agassi to high school basketball players on an Indian reservation.
"And if the results are sometimes called melodrama, they have more often been praised as the work of perhaps the greatest American magazine writer currently working. He has won four National Magazine Awards — that industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize — for nonfiction writing, more than anyone else. He has been a finalist 10 times, also a record."