22 November 2012

'Not a Sane Bone in His Body'

The current issue of Cornell Alumni Magazine has a feature article titled Good Sport by Brad Herzog, writing about sports journalist Jeremy Schaap. That's the same Schaap who gained notoriety in the chess world when Bobby Fischer was released from Japan to Iceland in 2005. I once used the video footage in a post appropriately titled Fischer and Schaap. Curious to discover if the encounter had made any impression on Schaap, I read the article expecting at best a passing reference to chess and Fischer. I was surprised to find that the subject was used as the final scene for the three page feature.

One of Schaap’s proudest moments came when he pursued a story that his father had first covered decades earlier. Dick Schaap had met chess player Bobby Fischer in 1958, when the fourteen-year-old prodigy won the U.S. national championship. Schaap later took him to ballgames, played tennis with him, even served as the master of ceremonies for Bobby Fischer Day after Fischer defeated Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky in an iconic Cold War confrontation in Iceland.

Dick Schaap, perhaps even a better known sports journalist than his son, died in 2001, but the story continued.

In 2004, Fischer was arrested for a passport violation in Japan, but he avoided deportation when Iceland offered him honorary citizenship the following year. Having tracked his movements since long before his father passed away, Schaap convinced his ESPN bosses that an interview with Fischer was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. They agreed, and he made it to Reykjavik in time to watch Fischer’s flight arrive.

The video I embedded in my 'Fischer and Schaap' post has since been removed, but it was easy to find another on YouTube: The Strange Life of Bobby Fischer. It shows highlights from Fischer's press conference given the day after his arrival in Iceland. The key moment in the clip was recounted by Herzog. I've abridged it slightly here:-

"Your father was Dick Schaap?" Fischer responded suddenly. "He rapped me very hard. He said that I don't have a sane bone in my body. I didn't forget that."

"I don't think he meant it literally," said Schaap.

Fischer then embarked on a diatribe, recalling how Dick Schaap had been "kind of like a father figure," and then later, "like a typical Jewish snake, he had the most vicious things to say about me."

"I have to object—" said Schaap.

"Did you read what he said in that article?" asked Fischer, his voice rising.

"I'm not sure if I read it, but I know that he said it," Schaap replied, then added: "Honestly, I don't know that you've done much here today really to disprove anything he said."

As Schaap turned and walked out, the camera was on Fischer's face, rendered speechless and close to tears. I wondered about the original source of the 'doesn't have a sane bone' comment and set out looking for it. I didn't find it, but I did find a longer video with much more Fischer footage.

Bobby Fischer - ESPN SportsCenter (13:01)

It shows many of the moments where the lives of Dick Schaap and Bobby Fischer came together. Herzog closed his article on Jeremy Schaap by noting,

A few months later, for his feature report on "Finding Bobby Fischer," shown both on ESPN and ABC's "World News Tonight," he received an Emmy. It was called the Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award.

I suppose the 'ESPN SportsCenter' clip embedded above was the same that won the Emmy. Now if I could just find the source of the 'sane bone' comment. It obviously weighed heavily on Fischer's spirit.


Later: 'Jim West On Chess' to the rescue: Schaap's Article on Fischer has the entire piece.

'Whatever Happened to Bobby Fischer? : Our Peripatetic Reporter Pursues an Old Friend' by Dick Schaap • 'Take the avarice of Monopoly, the complexity of chess, the loneliness of solitaire, the frustrations of a maze, and the absurdity of an eyeball bender, mix well and you'll have a hint of the new game I have invented. The game is called "In Search of Bobby Fischer." [...] I will continue to play this game, to pursue the former world chess champion, because I genuinely like Bobby Fischer. He possesses two classic virtues: He is never dull, and he does not have a sane bone in his body. I'll let you know when I find him. Don't hold your breath.'

If Fischer thought that Schaap 'rapped me very hard', he must have heard the quote from a third party. See the JWOC link for the rest. Thanks, Jim!


James R. West said...

Mark: The source of the "sane bone" comment was an article by Dick Schaap in the May/June 1979 issue of "Games Magazine" as given in the post of February 9, 2008 at my "Jim West On Chess" blog. Jim West

Nic Bentulan said...

hey mark i'm listening to the 2005Mar25 interview now.

is this the same jeremy schaap ?