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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,208

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This is the grave of Bud Collins.

Born in 1929 in Lima, Ohio, Arthur Collins grew up outside of Cleveland, in the suburb of Berea. He went to Baldwin-Wallace College, in Berea. This is where his father was the athletic director. Then it was off to the military for a bit. By this time, he wanted to become a journalist and he decided on Boston University for graduate work. He went for awhile, but did not graduate, though much later in life he was given a degree. He was an athletic guy and got a job as the tennis coach for Brandeis. Interestingly, I guess, one of his players was Abbie Hoffman! He was a very good tennis player himself and won the U.S. mixed doubles title with Janet Hopps in 1961. In fact, he was a finalist at the French Senior Doubles in 1975.

While at BU, Collins began writing about sports. It was in 1963 that he finally got a job doing this full time. Not surprisingly, it was in tennis where he became known. Collins is probably the greatest tennis commenter of all time. He first was writing about tennis for the Globe and covering it for WGBH, which I guess must have had a sports program at the time. Unusual for public broadcasting, but it was the 60s and a different beast then. He also covered the Red Sox for several years. But it was tennis where Collins became a legend, especially after he moved to CBS in 1968 and then NBC in 1972. He was a legit journalist on top of this, covering the Vietnam War among other serious topics. In 1983, NBC hired Dick Enberg to be a more subdued play-by-play guy and moved Collins to analysis and interviews that worked better for his endless talking and stories and nicknames.

Collins remained at NBC until 2007, working with the best commenters in tennis and being The Guy for tennis commentary for most of my life. Tennis wasn’t a dominant sport in my household, but it definitely was something that would be on if football or basketball wasn’t. So I watched a good bit of it and Collins was the guy for all the big tournaments that were on NBC. He was also a good writer and worked with tennis stars to write their memoirs. That includes Rod Laver’s book in 1971, Evelyn Goolagong Cawley’s book in 1974, and his own memoir in 1989.

What made Collins such a legend was his obvious love for the game. He was a big personality and that was a good thing too. Tennis is a great game but the commentary can trend toward the boring. The big personalities were on the court–Connors, McEnroe, Martina, Agassi, Seles, quite a few back in the day. Collins is who matched them in the booth and it came through in his work. He’s also a very important figure in the history of broadcasting because he was one of the first sports writers to transition to television on a consistent basis, paving the way for a whole generation of sports writers who realized the future was talking more than writing.

When NBC let Collins go in 2007, it was pretty controversial. Some of this is that he was a Boston guy and that’s a sports tribe that sticks together. He was nearly 80, so I don’t totally blame NBC for thinking it was time for a new direction. But Collins still worked, paired with Dick Enberg on ESPN for tennis and what must have been the oldest team of broadcasters in sports history. He was also known through his career as a total dandy when it came to his dress. He selected his own fabrics, often rare things he found traveling the world as a tennis commenter and his side gig as a travel writer and ordering his clothes custom made. He liked bow ties but I guess we can forgive him. Maybe. As Enberg later said, “He was as colorful as his trousers.” His final tournament was the 2011 U.S. Open, when he fell and tore up his leg. It was time to retire.

Collins died in 2016 after battles with Parkinson’s and dementia. Ugh. He was 86 years old.

Bud Collins is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Collins was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994. If you would like this series to visit other tennis hall of famers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Not that anyone really does anymore–this series received less than $100 in donations last month and you should not be surprised that I am beginning to reduce the grave posts to save the graves I do have. Thus, the future is unknown for this series. In any case, Bill Larned, who was the best player in the U.S. around 1900, is in Brooklyn, and Holcombe Ward, another big time early 20th century player, is in Navesink, New Jersey. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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