Bud Collins, the incomparable tennis chronicler whose colorful prose matched his colorful wardrobe, died Friday at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 86 and had been in declining health for a few years.
I got to know Bud from covering the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport for The Providence Journal from 1978 to 2013. He wrote for the Boston Globe for most of those years. He would blow in to the gallery that served as the press room at the Newport Casino, usually on Thursday of Newport Tennis Week and usually from Wimbledon, which he covered 44 times. He would set up his laptop on the bank of cloth-covered tables we all shared and act just like another scribe writing about the games on the grass below.
Of course, Bud was anything but another scribe. Fans asked for his autograph. Players knew him by name, and he not only knew where many of them were born but also usually knew something about the village, town or city they called home.
And Bud wrote with flair and a passion the rest of us were lucky to approach once in a while. If we always got the nuts and bolts of a match, he always captured the electric buzz. He wrote game stories, columns and books, and was good at each. In the early 1960s he crossed over to television when WGBH, Channel 2, in Boston began televising matches from the Longwood Cricket Club, the venue for the U.S. Pro Championships. Bud proved as comfortable and adept with a microphone in front of a camera as he did with pen, pad and keyboard. He served us Breakfast at Wimbledon for NBC for 35 years and appeared on ESPN and The Tennis Channel. His was also a familiar face to viewers in Australia.
Words can’t describe Bud’s work clothes. Colorful was just the beginning. He relished multiple colors and didn’t seem to mind if his jacket, shirt, bow tie, slacks, socks, if he was wearing a pair, and shoes were not quite coordinated. One of my favorite Bud Collins fashion anecdotes: In the press room one day, somebody complimented him on his shoes, I think purple slip-ons. “Thank you,” he said, looking at his feet. “I got them in Rome. They’re women’s.”
Newport was one of Bud’s favorite places in the world. He was a friend of James and Candy Van Alen, the pair so responsible for the founding of the Hall of Fame. He wrote about the “Grand Dame of Bellevue Avenue” at every opportunity. And he was present for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies almost without fail, many years serving as master of ceremonies. In 1994 he was inducted. You can check out a pair of his pants in the Hall of Fame museum.
Bud Collins had fun doing what he did. In the early days of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships he directed the media tournament, entered himself – he was an accomplished player, having won the U.S. Indoor Mixed Doubles Championship – and ran around the grass courts in his bare feet, laughing and applauding other players all the while. I think the pros he wrote about enjoyed his company because, unlike many contemporary reporters, he was not confrontational.
But on deadline, Bud was all business, and he wanted all the details. Without looking up from his computer, he would cry out, “What’s the attendance?”
I saw Bud for the last time in 2014. The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies had concluded and he was sitting in the shade of the Horseshoe Piazza while photographers took pictures of the new Hall of Famers. He held a cane. We chatted for a few minutes, and he said he was doing okay. Then he flashed the smile that had become his second signature, for nothing could top those pants of his.