John Underwood, "a stylish writer at Sports Illustrated for nearly a quarter century whose rollicking account of a fishing trip in Florida with the baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams led to their collaborations on two highly regarded books," died April 12, the New York Times reported. He was 88.
Underwood joined Sports Illustrated in 1961, specializing in covering college football, including its shady side. He also wrote about boxing, golf, baseball, and professional football, as well as the impact of gambling on sports, players, and fans.
He forged a connection with Williams, one of baseball's legendary players as well as an expert fisherman, when they fished for tarpon off the Florida Keys in 1967. "He brings to fishing the same hard-eyed intensity, the same unbounded capacity for scientific inquiry that he brought to hitting a baseball," Underwood wrote.
Their camaraderie on the trip prompted Underwood, at the suggestion of a Sports Illustrated editor, to ask Williams if he would help Underwood write his autobiography. The project began as a five-part series in the magazine, and was subsequently expanded into the bestselling book My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life (1969).
It was followed by The Science of Hitting (1971), "an instructional manual that became a Bible to many major leaguers, including the multiple batting champions Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs. In 2002, Sports Illustrated ranked it No. 86 on its list of the top 100 sports books of all time," the Times noted.
Underwood's later collaborations with sports figures included working on the autobiographies Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama's Coach Bryant by Bear Bryant (1974); baseball manager Alvin Dark's When in Doubt, Fire the Manager (1980); and the father/son NFL quarterback tandem Archie and Peyton Manning in Manning: A Father, His Sons and a Football Legacy (2000).
The death of Ted Williams in 2002 prompted Underwood to write It's Only Me: The Ted Williams We Hardly Knew (2005), a reminiscence about their friendship. Donna Underwood, his wife, said, "He thought of Ted as an uncle. And 'It's only me' is what Ted would say when he called. John or I would answer the phone and he'd say, 'It's only me.' "