Category Archives: Newspaper

NOW AVAILABLE: Historical Baseball Writer Database

Almost two years in the making, we have completed the Historical Baseball Writer Database and have posted it in these places for your research needs and viewing pleasure:

The database is the result of painstaking effort poring over copies of Baseball’s Blue Books, an annual publication that launched in 1910 as a handy reference resource of the business side of baseball for people who worked in the game at the major league and minor league levels.  The Blue Book still publishes today, although most of the information that used to be listed is available online in varying degrees of free, and it is geared more towards scouting and coaching at the youth and college levels than to the business of professional ball.

From its beginning and through to 2003, the Blue Book would publish all the BBWAA-member baseball writers working at the various publications credentialed by the teams. They served as the source for this database.

Nearly every season between 1910 and 2003 is included in this database. Only 1926 and 1928 (Blue Books have not yet been located), and 1962 (BBWAA writers inexplicable excluded from that season’s book), are not yet included.  Also included are the 2010-2012 seasons, and also missing are 2004-2009 and 2013-2017 (we have media directories for those past five seasons). If you can help us find resources for those missing seasons before 2010, or can help us work with the materials we have on hand to fill in seasons after 2012, please write us and let us know.

If you are doing any historical research about teams, or media, or anything related where finding out who the beat writers and columnists of the time is an important thing to know, this would be a good place to start.

Thank you to the intrepid SABR members who helped us with putting this database together: Nick Waddell, Michael Sowell, Abby Rosario, Ruth Sadler, Jeff Findlay, Paul Goodson, Kenn Tomasch and Steve Dunn. Special extra thanks to Joel Dinda, who allowed me to borrow his several dozen blue books so we could make them available to our volunteers.

Enjoy!

The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.

Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box.  But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.


The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’

by Lou Boyd

 “Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.

Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.

The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.

The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”

While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.

1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.
1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.

1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows

On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.

According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]

The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.

Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.

Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.

For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]

Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.

The Forgotten MVP’s

 In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]

Indians Season         Date of Ribs & Roast Show                     “MVP”

1937                                       February 23, 1938                           Johnny Allen

1938                                       February 8, 1939                              Mel Harder

1939                                       February 6, 1940                              Bob Feller

1940                                       January 14, 1941                              Lou Boudreau

1941                                       January 20, 1942                              Jeff Heath

1942                                       January 26, 1943                              Ken Keltner

1943                                       May 23, 1944                                      Al Smith

Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.

[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.

[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.

[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.

[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.

Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.

Grantland Rice’s Legacy in the Deadball Era

The Deadball Committee of SABR has done terrific yeoman’s work in expanding the knowledge base of the baseball that was played during the era 1900-1919. There are nearly four hundred super-dedicated and knowledgeable members in the Committee; they have a solid library of historical newsletters available; they even have a very active Yahoo Discussions group.  The Committee is chaired by John McMurray, who also happens to be the vice-chair of the Baseball and the Media Committee as well.

While there is an impressive body of work detailing the players of the era, they also contemplate the era’s non-players, in this case, the sportswriters.  McMurray has recently published an overview of Grantland Rice, considered one ofthe most famous writers from the era, and he has graciously consented to allow us to reprint it here in full for your enjoyment.


 

McMurray: Grantland Rice’s legacy in the Deadball Era

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the SABR Deadball Era Committee’s February 2016 newsletter. To learn more about the Deadball Era Committee, click here.

By John McMurray

Even with the large number of new books on the Deadball Era published annually, it is worthwhile on occasion to recall prior works which illuminate figures who may have fallen a bit outside of the Deadball Era Committee’s view. One such person is writer Grantland Rice. Known best for his writing for the weekly magazine Collier’s, Rice himself was never a major league beat reporter, recognized instead for his prolific columns that touched on many sports and which often included a poem and clever twists of phrase. While Rice’s connection with baseball may seem attenuated relative to, say, the more regular interactions with players that Ring Lardner or Heywood Broun enjoyed, Rice nevertheless was influential in several important episodes of the Deadball Era.

Rice’s impact is given a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment in Sportswriter: The Life and Times of Grantland Rice by Charles Fountain, published in 1993. That Rice — a colossal figure in American sportswriting — has been the subject of only a few biographies (though two other volumes on him were published in the 1990s, including one by William Harper of more than 600 pages) may suggest that Deadball Era researchers would be better served to spend more time examining the role of reporters of the time, as these writers served as an essential liaison between the game and its burgeoning fan base.

Consider that when Ty Cobb famously sent postcards under various fictitious names to try and promote himself as a young player, he sent them to Rice, recognizing the impact of the then-local reporter’s writing. “He is a terrific hitter and faster than a deer,” said one, while another asked: “Have you seen Ty Cobb play ball yet? He is the fastest mover I’ve seen in baseball.” Rice subsequently wrote a column about the budding star which was overflowing with praise. That Cobb was in the major leagues within a year is often credited in large part to his surreptitious interactions with Rice.

In 1916, as Babe Ruth was firmly establishing himself as a star pitcher, it was Rice who suggested that praise for Ruth’s pitching prowess was overblown. Fountain noted that, in contrast to the praise that Rice often bestowed on young stars, he chided Ruth for being out of shape and exclaimed that “Ruth is still too young at this business to be classed with Rube Waddell or Eddie Plank or Nap Rucker.” Rice went on to say “quite a stretch of time lies between Ruth and lasting greatness.” It is reasonable to infer that the biting comments from Rice’s widely-read column made Ruth’s eventual switch to being a full-time hitter somewhat more palatable to his readers.

In 1917, Rice also used his platform to insist that John McGraw should be suspended for an incident with National League President John Tener. Rice’s columns, along with those of several of his contemporaries, drew attention to to the matter, applying pressure which resulted in McGraw’s eventual suspension.  Still, Rice is recognized more so today for helping to shape opinion of the Black Sox as the 1919 World Series scandal grew. He pointed out inconsistency in Eddie Cicotte’s play, for instance, saying, “Eddie, instead of jumping swiftly for the ball, took his time with all the leisure of a steel striker.” Playing up what Fountain called “the out-of-character aspect of (the team’s play),” Rice also used the word “fix” in print early on and also was outspoken on the deleterious effects that the performance of the Black Sox had on the game itself. Again, Rice moved and shaped popular opinion, having an effect on events that followed.

Of course, all contemporary baseball writers enjoyed outsized influence, essentially serving as the voices for particular teams to an audience which had few other outlets. But Rice himself had a disproportionate impact on the sporting scene of the early 20th century. In an interview with The Inside Game, Fountain said: “Rice was a combination of baseball-reference.com, the whole ESPN empire, and whoever passes as sports journalism celebrity today.” His column had an extraordinary influence.

There were other moments when Rice was ahead of his contemporaries. Rice himself noted “Every one (sic) knows the reserve clause in baseball will not stand the test of American law,” a sentiment uttered by few in the press at the time. There was also an element of craftsmanship to his writing, as Rice was strategic in his pronouncements while retaining an air of positivity. As Fountain points out in the book, although Rice disapproved of Connie Mack selling his Philadelphia Athletics players, thereby plunging the team into mediocrity, Rice did not take Mack to task for it in print; rather, he praised Charles Comiskey for being aggressive in purchasing players, as Rice knew that his own opinions about Mack would be inferred by readers.

Rice in part set the tone for sportswriting of the time, writing with what Fountain calls “respect for the intelligence and the involvement of the reader.” The same approach applied when Rice was writing about minor league baseball for the Nashville Tennessean from 1907 through 1910, his only time as a baseball beat reporter. Rice’s approach was literary and classically-based, deriving in part from his appreciation for Latin and the subtleties of language more generally. A phrase such as “the tumult dies” (in Rice’s famous “Game Called” poem from 1910) or a reference in a column to “crack slabsmen” imbue his work with creativity.

With time, Rice’s reputation has suffered as the core principles of journalism have changed. No longer do reporters ignore or brush aside the off-field behavior of athletes, as Rice did, nor do they serve as universally-happy mythmakers, intent on shaping a positive view of sports from top to bottom. “The role of the sportswriter at that time was to sell newspapers and tickets, and not necessarily in that order,” Fountain said.

Fountain suggests in the book that Rice’s rhapsodic, and usually uncritical, approach to covering star players would likely see him today banished to a local paper reporting on the exploits of high school athletes rather than taking on the hard-hitting issues of the day in professional sports. But the opposite side of that coin, according to Fountain, is that even if Rice had wanted to expose the character flaws of players he covered, he likely would not have had a receptive publisher:

“Had Rice written a piece about Ty Cobb that showed Cobb in all his complexity and nuance, Rice would have had a hard time finding a place to publish that,” Fountain said. “I doubt very much whether his syndicate of newspapers would have wanted that in a sports column, and I doubt very much whether Collier’s or any of the magazines that he wrote for would have wanted that in a profile. Readers wanted heroes in those days, wherever they were. He delivered what newspaper publishers and readers and magazine publishers and readers wanted at the time. Had he delivered anything else, they wouldn’t have bought it.

Rice now is often impugned for his lofty prose, with critics typically referencing his effusive 1924 column about Notre Dame’s football team. (“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again,” Rice wrote. “In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”) Still, whether he was analogizing major sporting events to Civil War battles or linking star athletes to figures from Greek mythology, Rice’s soaring prose helped to define sportswriting in his era.

Independent of whether one appreciates Rice’s writing style and approach, he is an important figure in the history of sports journalism and one who impacted the Deadball Era. Fountain’s work makes one appreciate how intertwined Rice was with the Deadball Era, even if Rice himself, because of the wide scope of his writing, is not viewed as a baseball reporter first and foremost. Rice’s baseball columns are one illustration of the impact that Deadball Era writers and reporters could have on the game, and his extensive body of work underscores how important a role a writer could play at a time when newspapers were indeed king.

JOHN McMURRAY is chair of SABR’s Deadball Era Research Committee. Contact him atdeadball@sabr.org.

Hear the 1957 Braves Pennant-Clinching Inning Featuring a Walkoff Home Run by …

Hank Aaron!

This clip was sent in by reader Karl Schindl, a regular reader who has several old time baseball radio clips, and shared this one as an example.  The quality is decent, with play by play announcer Earl Gillespie clearly heard with good timbre, although there is an audible hum in the background on the recording.

It’s the bottom of the 11th inning, with the Braves hosting the Cardinals at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.  Rookie Billy Muffett is on the mound working his third frame for the Birdos, and Red Schoendiest, serving the first full year of his exile from St. Louis, opened with a flyout to center.  Johnny Logan slapped a single to center field, with the big guns coming up.  Eventual Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, who’d already knocked home a run with a double to tie the game in the seventh, failed in the clutch this time around, just getting under a pitch to hit a high flyout, again to center. Aaron, already 2-for-3 with two walks and a run scored, knocked the first pitch he saw from Muffett out of the park to secure the win, and the pennant, for the Bravos.

The box score for the win is here:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MLN/MLN195709230.shtml

And the story from the next morning’s Milwaukee Journal is below.

Coincidentally, this pennant-clincher occurred on the same day the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School to finally integrate schools in the state of Arkansas.

Thanks for sending this along, Karl!

MKE Journal 1957 Clinch

What, Now it’s the Baseball Box Score That’s Dying?

SABR’s Baseball and the Media Committee formed a couple years ago for the purpose of researching how the media cover baseball, both as news (journalism) and as an event (in game).  The thought was that we would seek to examine, illuminate and celebrate the people who and institutions that bring us the game by the pen and over the air (and through the wires).

The one part of covering the game that did not occur to us at the time was the most basic, and probably first, form of transmitting to the public what happened during any given game: the box score.  It is neither poetry nor prose, but it is in the rawest sense the building blocks of telling you, the interested person who couldn’t manage to swing a day off to take in a ballgame, exactly what transpired during those 75 or so minutes.  (Hey, it was 1859.  Games were faster then.) And for the past century and a half, the box scores in the newspaper have been a staple of the baseball fan’s diet, and often the very first thing that fans turned to when they opened up the newspaper in the morning.

Ed Sherman, a sports media writer based in Chicago, just published a pretty good, tight piece on how baseball box scores are dying. Well, not completely dying.  Box scores, in fact, are better and more complete than ever.  Just compare the box score for the Tigers-Indians game from September 10, 1915:

Tigers Indians Box 19150910

To that of the Tigers-Indians game of exactly 100 years later to the day:

2015-09-11_11-07-06

Just about the only thing that’s the same is that both are not good news for Tiger fans.

Sherman’s point is that the newspaper box score is dying, which makes sense, since by most accounts the newspaper medium itself is dying. Personally, I don’t believe that newspapers will completely die off, for the same reasons books made of paper won’t die off: people just like holding things they want to read in their hands, especially now that the riddle of how to keep newspaper ink from smudging your fingers has been solved. The newspaper will transform into something that will still satisfy that need for tactility, but might well be very different from how it looked when the Boomers and Gen Xers were kids, or even from how it looks today. But the baseball box score almost certainly will not be a part of the future of newspapers, which Sherman discusses in his article.

Will I miss the newspaper box score? In a way, I guess. It had been an essential part of my own long history of reading newspapers, but I haven’t relied on newspapers for box scores since years started with 19. It’s been so much easier just to buzz on over the Baseball-Reference, where I can see the box score for any game in every teams’ entire histories like *snap*, or my favorite teams‘ websites. Once you have that convenience available to you, it’s hard to picture ever having to rely on the old way ever again.

But that’s just me.  How do you feel about the “death of baseball box scores in the newspapers”?

Before you comment on that, check out Sherman’s article here:

The slow death of baseball box scores in newspapers

Working the Game: An Interview with Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune Columnist

Our “Working The Game” segment today features our interview with Paul Sullivan, the long-time baseball columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune’s baseball writer, Sullivan covers the Cubs, White Soxchi-paul-sullivan and national news. From 1994-2013, he served as the Cubs beat writer for 14 seasons and the Sox beat writer for six seasons. A lifelong Chicagoan, he has also covered the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and University of Illinois beats during his 33 years at the Trib, and he served as columnist Mike Royko’s legman from 1985-87.

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball writer?

After being transferred to the Tribune sports department in 1987.  I had been Mike Royko’s “legman” (reporter/researcher) for the previous two years and he decided I would be a better fit for Sports than Metro, where I started as a reporter. Actually I began as a copy clerk in 1981, then was city desk assistant for a few years before Royko hired me. Once I got in sports, my editors began giving me assignments at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, and I became the back-up to the beat writers for both teams. Also covered preps, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Illini hoops, etc., at different times, but ultimately landed in baseball.

What was the first baseball game you ever worked (if not exactly, then approximately), and how did you get the gig?

I wrote a piece for Metro on the last day of the Cubs’ 1983 season, sitting with fans in the right field bleachers. That’s where I (would normally sit), so it was familiar territory. I interviewed Bill Veeck and some other fans. The headline was “Cubs Fans Never Lose Hope.” Of course, the next year was ’84 (when the Cubs won the National League’s East Division), so I wrote some features for Metro on the season.

My first big baseball assignment was during the 1983 ALCS between the White Sox-Orioles when I was assigned by Metro to provide “color” from Comiskey Park for story someone else would write. I interviewed the Sox co-owner, Eddie Einhorn, who was upset at Tito Landrum’s game-winning home run and had some not-so-nice things to say about the Sox’s play. The editors decided to let me write a sidebar for sports, and Einhorn was upset that his harsh comments were played up after the loss, threatening to sue the Tribune for defamation of character. I met him again years later when I took over the Sox beat, and he’s a very nice guy who was just being a frustrated fan.

My first baseball assignment for the sports department was June 10, 1987 when Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden returned from cocaine problems. I interviewed fans at Wrigley who were heckling him and the Mets’ psychiatrist, Dr. Allen Lans, who said: “They’re not unruly. They’re not violent or crazy. It’s not like a soccer match in England.” That story convinced me it would be a fun beat to cover someday.

How did you get your break covering a beat for a team?

I was assigned to the White Sox beat on July 15, 1994, replacing veteran beat writer Alan Solomon, who moved Metro. Since I’d been the back-up baseball writer since 1989, it seemed like a long wait. My first game as the Sox beat writer was the night Albert Belle was busted for using a corked bat and the Indians (later revealed to be Jason Grimsley) sneaked into the umpires’ room, stole the bat and replaced it with a clean one. It was quite a caper, and I wrote follow-ups all week. The Sox looked like they were going to the World Series, but then the strike happened and the season was cancelled, so I moved to (being the) Bears’ feature writer that Fall and went back to baseball the next spring.

As a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, are you actually covering a team per se, or are you more of a baseball generalist?

I was reassigned from the Cubs’ beat in August of 2013 after two decades on the baseball beats (including 14 years on the Cubs) to write long form features on baseball and baseball-related subjects—Beth Murphy’s (spokesperson for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association) fight with the Cubs, Ozzie Guillen’s (former manager of the Chicago White Sox) absence from baseball, etc.  It was an adjustment I wasn’t ready for, but survived. That job morphed into being the Tribune baseball writer the following spring after Phil Rogers left for MLB.com. I write columns and features on both teams, fill in for the beat writers on occasion and write a Sunday feature on a national topic or trend. I also do a graphic with one-sentence blurb on all 30 teams, instead of a power ranking, which I find boring and usually redundant. It’s a mix of stats and snark, so it’s not too serious.

On game day, what do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  When you wake up in the morning, what you do before you leave for the game?

I have a morning column for the web site that’s due around 9 a.m., so I wake up and have an hour or two to think of something, research and write it. I’m usually working on a few features at a time, so often I go to the ballpark to report and don’t actually write for print. I don’t do anything out of the norm to prepare for a game. Unless I have an assignment I like to go in with an empty notebook and find a story at the ballpark. Royko taught me not to plan the news, go find it instead. He came up with some of his best columns at 5 p.m., cranked it out and left by 7. I’ve never found there’s “nothing” to write about.

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark, and is it different at home versus on the road?

As a beat writer you’d get there about four hours before the game to set up and start working on blogs. As a columnist it varies, but usually by the time the clubhouse opens about 3 ½ hours beforehand. It’s the same access on the road. Back in the day you wouldn’t have to be there so early or write during the game. I recall watching the first few innings of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in the bleachers. Those days are history. The Internet changed the news cycle forever, and also there is less access clubhouse time so (these days) you can’t just stroll in and expect to talk to players.

What are the key things you do at the ballpark between the time you get there and the time the game starts?

Nothing. Set up your laptop. Go work the clubhouses and then go write something. It’s not exactly a science.

Once the actual game starts, what are you doing?  Are you working the entire time the game is going, and on what?

As a beat writer I was taking notes and keeping score while transcribing tape and writing my blogs and articles with occasional tweets. As a columnist I rarely keep score since I’m not describing the game itself but analyzing or giving an opinion.

What is your process once the game finishes? 

If the column needs an update, I work the postgame clubhouse after the game for the late edition. If not, I leave it alone.

What are the key differences in what you as a columnist do to prepare for a game, and your work process at the game, versus that of a beat writer?

I’m thinking big picture as a columnist and small details (roster moves, injuries) as a beat writer. The preparation is the same, but the mindset is different.

You’re unusual in that you cover both teams in Chicago.  How did you manage to swing that?  Do you spend more of your time on one franchise or the other?

Not that unusual for a baseball columnist. Jerome Holtzman covered both teams for decades. He taught me almost everything I know about this job, along with Dave Van Dyck. I probably spend more time on the Cubs since I live near the ballpark, but I do go to both ballparks a few games every homestand.

How many stories are you responsible for submitting on a daily basis, or perhaps in the course of a week?

No set amount. I do have space reserved for the Sunday notebook and graphic, and write 3-4 days a week when space is available, plus the morning blogs during the weekdays. The digital side is important to the Tribune, so I’ve been doing more of that this year.

Who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of a feature that you write?  Is it you, your editor, combination?

I come up with most of my own ideas, though the editors do assign me stories once in a while. Last summer they assigned me to a project where I travelled through the minors to see the Cubs’ top prospects, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. I have a half-dozen other features I’m working on at any given time, some which turn into Sunday columns.

Do you get any vacation or free time during the season?

As a beat writer you’d get home weekends off, or about six days a month. As a columnist you don’t have set days off. I haven’t taken more than 3-4 days off in a row in-season for the last 20 years because of the beat, but I do have a vacation scheduled for All Star week.

What are the easier things, and what are the harder things, for you to do as a columnist during the season?

The easiest thing is the actual reporting and writing, which I’m used to at this point. The travel grind was hard, but now I’m embedded here in Chicago most of the time. Critiquing players or managers you like and respect is probably the most difficult part of the job as a beat writer or columnist. You hope they understand it’s your job, and fortunately most of them do. Criticizing a self-absorbed idiot is not difficult. I have met a few.

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while working as a baseball columnist?  Are they remarkably different from those a beat writer might face?

Not sure. I guess I’m still learning the pitfalls on this job.  The only pitfall of being a beat writer is getting too close to the people you cover and then trying to be objective. You can’t fool Chicago fans, so don’t try to pretend someone is doing a good job when he sucks.

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

I scan every box score on a daily basis. My favorite web sites to peruse, outside of the Chicago papers, are Deadspin, ESPN, Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference… I’m not really a stats freak, but I’m adapting. I write for a general audience, and there are plenty of sites for in-depth statistical analysis, so hopefully stat nerds don’t hold it against me.

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?  Do you get a day off too, or are you still working a full day?

Depends on what’s going on. Some off days are your busiest days. I don’t do anything unusual if I’m not writing. I like to run a few miles, eat lunch, hang out, go watch a game with family or friends. Just your typical Chicago sports fan, doing what we do.

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do while on the road?

I’m a creature of habit and have places that I go to in every city, and bartenders that know what beer you drink even if you only see them once a year. I have old friends in many cities, so I get to see them. I don’t do touristy things, but I’ve gone to art museums in towns like Seattle and New York. I guess my favorite thing is going out after the game with the other writers. We abuse each other a lot in the press box, but can always have a beer or two afterwards. It’s the Stockholm syndrome perhaps.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

Mostly relax with family and friends. I also cover for the beat writers, who get their much-deserved time off, and report from the GM meetings and Winter Meetings. When I’m really off I just do the normal stuff- watch football, hockey, basketball, etc.

After you’d become a baseball writer, what was the one big thing about the job that’s true but you totally did not expect going in?

That most athletes are regular people despite being famous, or semi-famous. The ones who are the jerks stand out. And players that you sparred with at times during their careers are usually much friendly afterwards. I almost always go to other clubhouses to say hello to players I covered in Chicago.

What baseball writers do you most admire, retired and/or currently active, and why?

I respect any beat writer who has lasted years, knowing what they’ve gone through, especially missing time with their families to cover baseball for 7 ½ months. I grew up reading Bob Verdi from the Tribune, the best game story writer I’ve ever read. Jerome Holtzman was my mentor, and also one of the greatest ever. I still miss him.

I’d hate to leave anyone out. Too many good ones. This is the golden age of baseball writing/tweeting/blogging.

If you were the King of Baseball Journalism and you could make any changes or improvements to the profession or to the process, what would they be?

More space in the paper, later deadlines, more clubhouse access time, better wireless in the press boxes. I would also ask that players stop spouting clichés and GMs to return their messages, but I know that’s a pipe dream.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would want people, such as ordinary fans, to know about your job?

It’s a great job. You all want to do it, I know. You tell me all the time. But it’s still a job, and writing on deadline is not as easy as it sounds. But yeah, I am damn lucky.

Working the Game: An Interview with Pete Abraham, Boston Red Sox Beat Writer

For the next installment in our series, we switch from the broadcast booth to the press box and chat with Pete Abraham, the beat writer who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe.

Peter ---- AbrahamPete is a Massachusetts native,  He joined the staff of the Globe in 2009 after spending nearly 10 years in New York covering the Mets and Yankees for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. Pete also covered the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team for the Norwich Bulletin.  You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

 

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball beat writer or journalist?

I wanted to be a journalist since high school when I landed a part-time job at my hometown paper, the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. I loved being in the newsroom and observing all the various characters there. My ambition at the time was only to go to college then come back and cover New Bedford High games.

In terms of baseball, I loved covering amateur baseball but had no designs on covering MLB until well into my career when the opportunity presented itself while I was working for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. I started working there in 1999 and realized pretty quickly that getting to cover Yankees or Mets games, even sidebars, would be good for my career.

Prior to going to New York, I worked 13 years at the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin covering UConn men’s basketball. They tried to make me sports editor but I wanted to keep writing so I went to New York.

 

What was the first baseball game you ever worked (if not exactly, then approximately), and how did you get the gig?

This is a somewhat amusing story. My final year at UMass-Amherst was in 1986 and by then I had worked part-time for The Standard-Times for seven years. As a reward, they got me a credential to cover a Red Sox game. I don’t recall the date but I have a vivid memory of going to the game and being amazed that the press box at Fenway Park had beer taps that flowed all game.

The Sox lost the game and afterward the reporters were lined up in the hallway outside of manager John McNamara’s office. They were talking about why Dwight Evans had not been used as pinch hitter late in the game. As the postgame interview went on, nobody asked McNamara about Evans. So I mustered up the courage to ask him. I tried to be polite about it but he shot me a glare. “Where the hell are you from?” he said. Before I could answer he profanely told me to get out of his office. The only way out of the crowded office was through a door that led to the clubhouse. I walked out and was the only reporter in the room and all the players were looking at me.

Evans of all people was standing right there. “What did you ask him, kid?” he said.

“I asked him why you didn’t pinch hit,” I said.

“Good question,” Evans said as he walked away.

I had a beer when I got back to the press box. I needed it.

 

How did you get your break covering a beat for a major league baseball team?

I started working at The Journal News in 1999 for two terrific editors, Mark Leary and Mark Faller. I was a general assignment writer who did mostly high school and college games for a while. I volunteered to do anything and within a few months they allowed me to do sidebars for Mets and Yankees games. That progressed to writing game stories and occasional features.

In 2002, in the middle of the season, they moved the Mets writer to the Jets and I was given the Mets beat. I’ve been covering baseball ever since.  Looking back on it, I was incredibly fortunate they gave me the chance. Covering baseball in the NYC market is a huge challenge and they would have been well within their rights to have hired from outside the staff and gotten an established writer. Mark Leary, who passed away, was a huge influence on me. He taught me things I think about every day. So did my editors in Norwich, Jay Spiegel and Gary Samek.
When did you realize you were going to make it as a baseball beat writer?

I don’t know that there was a particular day. The Mets were a challenging team to cover. During my tenure there I covered Fred Wilpon buying out co-owner Nelson Doubleday, a few manager firings, the Bobby Valentine vs. Steve Phillips feud, a GM firing, assorted trades, scandals and even silly things like whether Mike Piazza was gay.  Meanwhile I was competing for stories against terrific writers from papers like the Times, Post, Daily News and Newsday.

That I survived and kept coming back for more seemed like a sign I could cover baseball.

 

Let’s take about game day: What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  You wake up in the morning, and you do … what, before the game?

I prepare the night before usually. I unwind after games by updating a stat book I keep and doing a legal pad sheet of various notes that help me write on deadline. There are trends, assorted stats, how the starters fare against particular hitters, etc. I like having the information handy during games.

In the morning, for a typical night game, I’ll wake up around 9:30 (depending how late the previous game was), read the Red Sox clips we get from the team every day, then have a little breakfast. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty good about working out before I go to the park. I could stand to be better about it, for sure. On the road, it’s about the same but you have more time generally.

 

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark, and is it different at home versus on the road?

It’s about the same. The clubhouse opens to the media 3.5 hours before first pitch. I usually get there an hour before that to do a little work and just see what is going on at the ballpark. So for a 7:05 game, I get there at 2:30.

 

What are the key things you do at the ballpark between the time you get there and the time the game starts?

I spend time in the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice talking to the players and gathering information for stories. The manager does a pre-game media session. I’ll usually try to talk to some of the coaches or front-office types. It’s better to talk to people in person than get back three-word text messages. I work for NESN, the network that carries Sox games, and appear on their pre-game show. I also get started on my stories for the website and paper. I try to have my “notebook” story done by the second inning.

 

How long before the game do you go to the press box to watch the game from?

I generally try and get in my seat sometime around the national anthem. That can vary depending on whether I’m on the phone working on a story or even just something innocuous like seeing some friends who are at the game.

 

Once the actual game starts, what are you doing?  Are you working the entire time the game is going, and on what?

Once the game starts I try to limit how much I’m on the web (outside of Twitter) and how much I’m texting and just watch the game. It can be easy to get distracted. For night games, I need to file what is called “running” by the 7th inning and then that gets a top for first edition.  If there’s an injury or a trade, that is when it gets complicated.

 

In what way does an injury or a trade complicate your in-game routine?

An injury does not really complicate much of anything; we deal with that most every day. A significant trade adds to the workflow. I’d have to do a separate story, call around for information from scouts, perhaps get on a conference call with the GM. The Globe has at least three reporters at every home game and two on the road, so we can divide up the work pretty well.

 

What is your process once the game finishes? 

Once the game ends you get the manager then get in the clubhouse, hurry to get what you need then go back to the press box and write. You might have a little more time for day games. But it’s usually about 35 minutes tops.

 

Do you do all your writing and filing of stories while at the ballpark, or do you write and file stories after you’ve gotten home or to the hotel room?

Everything at the ballpark after a game. There’s no time to go anywhere else.  Even if there were I’d be afraid I’d get hit by a bus or something. My job is to get them a story quickly.

 

Is there anything about working every day in Fenway that makes it unique among ballparks to work in?

Fenway is not an especially good place to work beyond the vista once you sit down to watch the game. The clubhouses are small and crowded and access to the clubhouses post-game is going against the flow of the crowd. The press box at Fenway is pretty high, too. You don’t get the same view as you would at places like Camden Yards.

 

How many stories are you responsible for submitting on a daily basis, or perhaps in the course of a week?

Daily it’s usually three things. A game preview for our web site then a game story and a notebook. The game story usually has two versions and the notebook as many as three or four. With the web, the updating never ends. So for a week I night do 18-25 stories, each updated several times.

 

In addition to game accounts, are you assigned additional feature stories to write?  If so, who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of the feature?  You, your editor, combination?

Sure, I do features all the time. Typically I generate my own ideas and run them by my editors.  Sometimes they’ll come up with ideas that are good. The Globe’s executive editor, Brian McGrory, is a baseball fan and a few times a year he has some great ideas. I get caught up in the day-to-day details and it’s good when people see the big picture. For instance, in 2013 Brian asked about doing a story on the personal relationship between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. It worked out great. Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan and his deputies are great to work with and talk ideas over with.

 

Do you get any vacation or free time during the season?

No vacation. I get a 1-2 days off a week. I like covering all the road games and taking my time off when the team is home.  I usually cover 125-128 games. That’s after spring training and then we cover the playoffs whether the Sox are in or not. Then the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings.

 

What are the easier things, and what are the harder things, for you to do as a beat writer during the season?

The easier things? I’m not sure anything is “easy.”  It’s hard sometimes to cover the team when execs leak stories to national writers to curry favor with them.  It’s hard to cover the trade deadline, that 10 days or so generally is awful.

 

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while covering a baseball team?

Two things. You have to remember to write for your readers and not to impress other writers, or yourself or your editors. Write for people who follow the team and care about the team. Inform them. The other thing is to remember you aren’t with the team. It’s a shared experience a lot of the times, going around the country and living in hotels and dealing with travel. But you don’t work for the team and aren’t beholden to the team. Ask what needs to be asked, write what needs to be written and be honest. It’s unpleasant sometimes to write something critical about a person you’ll be face to face with a few hours later. But that is the job sometimes. I think sometimes, especially for outlets that don’t have editors or much in the way of accountability, the “coverage” is basically a lot of back-patting and propaganda. You aren’t doing the job right if the manager doesn’t get mad at you from time to time.

 

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are two sites I’m always on. I read a lot of individual writers, mostly analytical or informational reporting. Opinion doesn’t really help much. There are some podcasts I like. MLB Network Radio is really good, too.

 

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?  Do you get a day off too, or are you still working a full day?

I usually have a story to do. We cover the team every day of the season.

 

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do while on the road?

Depends on the city. I have friends in NYC, Tampa, Baltimore and a few other places. I’ve been doing this long enough and been to every MLB city often enough that I’m out of things to see. I’ll occasionally check out museum listings to see if there is some interesting exhibit. Beyond that, it’s baseball, getting ready for baseball and trying to stay organized.

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

I have two nieces and a nephew and try to see them as often as I can along with other people in my family. I love attending Patriots games and we usually hit a road game every season. I’ll go on a vacation and every few weeks I’ll drive to a casino in Connecticut and play $10 blackjack all night just for fun. Blackjack is very relaxing. Movies, reading books not about baseball, binge-watching television shows I missed all summer.

 

What baseball writers do you most admire, retired and/or currently active, and why?

There are too many to list and I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out. I respect dozens of people in the business for various reasons. I will say that the camaraderie among baseball writers is strong and we help each other out a lot. I learned a so much watching and reading the people who cover baseball in NYC. A lot of real pros there.

 

What is the thing about covering a baseball beat that most surprised you, that you didn’t expect when you first started?

The general friendliness of the players. I came from a background of covering college sports and most of the players were unspoiled and easy-going with the media. I was fearful professionals would be harder to deal with. But probably 95 percent of the players I’ve covered have been gracious with their time and respectful of my job. The outliers are annoying when they’re All-Star-type players but for the most part MLB players are decent guys.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in covering a baseball beat since you started in 2002?

When I started covering baseball there was no social media and newspapers did not have web sites. So the notion of being on a 24-hour news cycle was foreign. That by far is the biggest change. There’s never really a time you’re not working unless you force yourself not to work. The urge to check Twitter is overwhelming. There have been days I’ve done updates for our web site 10 times on various things.

 

If you were the King of Baseball Journalism and you could make any changes or improvements to the profession or to the process, what would they be?

Anybody who starts a question with “Talk about …” has their credential revoked for two games. Second offense is a week.  That is just lazy.  Also people on Twitter should get electric shocks for asking beat writers questions about their fantasy team.

 

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would want people, such as ordinary fans, to know about your job?

Not really. I’m incredibly fortunate to do what I do and never take it for granted. It’s nice knowing that something you do hopefully gives people a few minutes of pleasure a day, or at least a distraction from the realities of life.

New Biography: Bob Addie

We’ve posted a new one to the site, this one written by Committee member Larry Baldassaro, about the life and times of Bob Addie, who served as the Senators beat writer for the Washington Post and the old Washington Times-Herald from 1954 until the team left for the Lone Star State after the 1971 season.

The biography is posted on our site here:

Bob Addie

… as well as on the BioProject section of the SABR website.

Here’s an excerpt:


With his trademark dark glasses and red socks, Bob Addie, the son of a New York City butcher, was a respected and popular fixture on the Washington sports and social scene for almost 40 years. A columnist and Senators beat writer for the Washington Times-Herald and the Washington Post, Addie served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America and received a National Press Club Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. He served in both World War II and the Korean War and married a US Open and Wimbledon tennis champion. He was on a first-name basis with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and counted among his friends a Supreme Court justice, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and prominent congressional figures.

[…]

Addie’s [journalism] career was interrupted … in 1951 when he was called into service during the Korean War [after having also served in World War II]. This led to another encounter with General Eisenhower, who was then in France as supreme commander of NATO. While escorting a group of American newspaper publishers interested in interviewing Eisenhower about a possible run for the presidency, Addie was assigned to deliver a secret message to the general. When asked by Eisenhower if he was a career service officer, Addie, who felt at ease with even the most eminent personalities he encountered, replied, “Hell no, I’m a sportswriter who was recalled in the Korean war.”

They discussed sports for a while, then Eisenhower asked Addie for advice as to what to say if the publishers were to ask him about the presidency. Addie suggested that he say he was focused on his job with NATO but that he would not entirely rule out the possibility of entering the presidential race. That, said Addie, led to many US papers saying for the first time that Eisenhower might become a presidential candidate. Later, when Eisenhower was president, he said to Addie: “I don’t know whether to thank you or damn you. Look at all the time you’ve taken away from my golf.”

After two years in the service, Addie returned to the Times-Herald. When the paper was purchased by, and merged into, the Washington Post in 1954, publisher Philip Graham asked Addie to stay on. With the two papers, he served as the Washington Senators beat writer for 20 years until the team moved to Texas in 1971. Addie was proud to say that he never missed a day covering the team.


Read the full biography here or here.

“America Go to the Ball Game”: A British Newspaper Reporter’s Take on the 1956 World Series

One of the things that always fascinates me, and perhaps you as well, is reading about how people in other parts of the world regard the sport of baseball. Baseball is a top sport in maybe a dozen countries around the world, if you include the Netherlands (who, believe it or not, currently place fifth in the world in the IBAF rankings).  We’re talking about a collection of countries that make up only about 10% of the world’s population, though, which means that nine-tenths of the world doesn’t give a flying flip about baseball. To them, it might as well be Olympic handball or water polo. Tragic, isn’t it?

So I find it highly entertaining when anyone from a non-baseball country talks or writes about baseball.  How much do they know about the sport? Or more entertainingly, are they describing it in an awkward or even inaccurate way? But mostly, I’m interested in how they regard the game as a cultural phenomenon. Are they amused by it? Intrigued? Dismissive? All of the above?

The article below is a perfect example of exactly the kind of thing that thrills me whenever I come across it. It appeared in the Times of London on October 10, 1956, just two days after the Larsen perfect game. It was a far different world in the Fifties: there was no Internet or sports-only cable networks, of course, which means no MLB.TV or YouTube or ESPN, so a British subject couldn’t merely seek out a baseball game, or a clip of a game, and simply watch it anytime he wanted. The game had to be presented to him either on telly, or in the cinema on a Movietone newsreel.  Which is to say, only a few Britons ever got any exposure to baseball, and almost certainly very little at that. Most Britons got no exposure to it at all.

So when the unnamed correspondent of the piece below provided his overview of the previous day’s Yankees-Dodgers tilt to his British readers, there were some very basic explanations he had to put across about how the game is even played, in addition to what baseball—or more exactly, what the (amusingly named) World Series—meant to Americans as a cultural touchstone.  The piece is an engaging example of a writer who knows nearly nothing of the game describing the proceedings to those who know absolutely nothing about the game.  The bonus here is the correspondent’s use of standard cricket terminology to put across basic baseball concepts in a way his readers can even begin to understand, which is delightful, even if he did summarize major league baseball as being merely “rounders played by strong men with a hard ball”.  No wonder Great Britain ranks only 25th on the IBAF table, even today.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  Click on the article below to open it in a separate window and read it in even better definition.

London Times Article
The London Times published this article about the sixth game of the 1956 World Series, the one after the Don Larsen perfect game.

The Beginnings of American Sports Coverage

Committee member John Thorn has shared this fascinating account about the inception of sports journalism in America.  This article, written by William Henry Nugent, first appeared in the periodical The American Mercury in March, 1929.

Although much of the article contemplates sporting activities beyond the baseball field, it provides tremendous insight into the very beginnings of sportswriting in America in general.  As importantly, we  also learn from this article the role of the media not only in establishing a ubiquitous sports culture in the United States, but in actually spurring and guiding the development of many of the sports themselves.

I hope you especially enjoy, as I did, the wonderful period language Nugent employs in the piece.

 

The Sports Section
by William Henry Nugent, 1929

The newspapers reflected and at the same time nourished the mania for sports in the Twenties. In even the most dignified papers, principles of accurate reporting were ignored, promotion and sports news became confused, and the amount of newspaper space devoted to sports increased. William Nugent traced the evolution of the sports column and its specialized jargon in an article published in March 1929, from which the following selection is taken.

The cover of the American Mercury, March 1929The United States learned its first lessons in sports journalism and sports slang from the British Isles, where flowered the first public prints dedicated to horse racing, the hunt, the chase, cockfighting, prizefighting, and other such pursuits and spectacles. The writers for these periodicals invented a special style and vocabulary that are still used by our modern sports-page literati. …

It will not seem strange that we inherited sports journalism from the British Isles if it is further recalled that we also imported the organization of sport, the solemnities, the ceremonies, the rules, the first prizefight manager, the promoter, and the feudal distinction between amateur and professional. Again, despite those who applaud the English sporting spirit and blame everything wicked on Americans, the British initiated us into the mysteries of commercialism, faking, and publicity. But they gave us the good with the bad. The English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants in the last century helped to break down the wall of puritanical prejudice against organized play. They acted as teachers. Think of all the English and the Irish pugilists, the Scotch golf professionals! In time, the pupils learned to play as well as their instructors, and even better, and competed against them in international contests.

Anyone, then, who would trace the evolution of the present-day American sports section and its slang should examine certain early periodicals in England and their imitators in the United States. …

The first important sporting weekly in the United States appeared in New York on Dec. 10, 1831. It was the Spirit of the Times: the American Gentlemen’s Newspaper. This pioneer lived until 1901, when it merged with the Horseman of Chicago. Horace Greeley, as a young printer, set type on it in 1832. Its editor and owner, William Trotter Porter, who came of horse-loving Vermont stock, attended Dartmouth, learned the printer’s trade at a Bible House at Andover, Mass., and at twenty-one descended upon New York City with the notion that a national sporting paper devoted principally to horseracing would be a profitable venture. …

He advocated and ballyhooed the same sports played up in the papers across the Atlantic. It pleased him when his overseas contemporaries called the Spirit the Bell’s Life of the Western world. He sprinkled his columns with hunting stories about the buffalo, the wildcat, the turkey, the panther, and the ‘possum. He had articles on old sledge, the brag steamboats on the Mississippi, an Answers to Queries column, a few woodcuts, dramatic reviews, jokes, and an occasional serial novel. He popularized poker and “peaknuckle” by printing their rules and answering questions on their problems. …

The Spirit, as masculine as Godey’s Ladies’ Book was feminine, was read by horsemen, breeders, farmers, college students, Army officers, congressmen, gamblers, pugilists, ball players, bartenders, all the knowing ones. Daniel Webster, a friend of Porter’s, took it at Washington while the Senate was in session and at Boston when he returned home. The success of the Spiritgave birth to seven other papers bearing the same title. At the outbreak of the Civil War it had, according to sworn testimony in a libel suit, a circulation of 100,000. Only one weekly in America, aside from the religious press, had more, Bonner’s New York Ledger. Thousands of subscribers seceded with the South in 1861 and never came back.

By encouraging cricket in the ’40s and ’50s, just as he had sponsored other hyphenated pastimes here, Porter nearly made it the national game and indirectly helped to establish baseball. Up to a few years before the Civil War, indeed, cricket had more advocates in the nation than baseball. Elevens sprang up, not only in New York and in Philadelphia but even in Detroit and Naugatuck, Conn. The All-United States beat All-Canada in an international match and the victors considered challenging the parent Marylebone Club of London, which is to cricket what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

The St. George Cricket Club, instituted by British residents in New York, built a clubhouse on Bloomingdale Road, and its members bowled and batted and drank tea just as they had done in the Old Country. They ignored the jibes directed at them by ribald passersby. How unlike the attitude of the sensitive Philadelphians in 1828, who abandoned their wickets in a field at Camden, N.J., when onlookers and newspapers laughed at them for wasting time at a boy’s pastime!

In 1844 the activities of the English gentlemen encouraged a group of young men who had offices in Wall Street to consider exercising after office hours, but instead of playing cricket they voted for the town-ball of their boyhood. They rented a field near Madison Square, but later moved to the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. They gathered twice a week and imitated the St. Georgians by building a clubhouse, keeping a scorebook, and fixing a system of fines for nonattendance. This Knickerbocker Ball Club wrote out regulations in 1845 for a new game that it called baseball. It caught on. Just as the small-town Babbitts of today in plus fours play golf because it is the recreation of the Rockefellers, so did the young men of Brooklyn and in New York in the ’50s organize baseball clubs in imitation of high-toned Wall Street. The game took because Porter gave it publicity.

He printed the first rules, the first scores, the first picture of a match in progress, the first box score, the first allusion to it as the national game, and the first dope stories, and gave wide space to the first convention in 1858, when the players voted to make nine innings a game instead of calling it when the first side had tallied twenty-one aces. Cricketers, native and foreign-born, switched to baseball and carried over many terms to the newer game, among them,lucky breaks, fielding average, batting average, batter (instead of the old fashioned striker), fly(ing) ball, innings (instead of hands in).

Henry Chadwick, an Englishman who wrote on cricket for the Spirit of the Times, first edited Spalding’s Baseball Guide and won a press agent’s title of the Father of Baseball. Harry Wright, another Englishman who played cricket with the St. George Club and baseball with the Knickerbocker Club, organized the first salaried nine, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1868, and later managed teams in the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs which he helped to launch.

The Spirit also boomed prizefighting in America, introducing the London prizering code and the Marquis of Queensberry rules. For a considerable period the American ring, long a bootleg institution, was really only a branch of the English ring. It was under the control of Englishmen and Irishmen; they did the fighting, the managing, the training, the faking, the promoting, and the collecting. …

The Spirit of the Times, in the ’70s, imitated its two transatlantic contemporaries and introduced amateur boxing, football, rowing, and track and field competitions into America. Curtis, whom Wilkes had engaged as his editor in the ’70s, was the Chambers of the United States, forming the New York Athletic Club, defining an amateur athlete (a rewrite of the English definition), and aiding in establishing the present Amateur Athletic Union. For good and for evil, the old Spirit for half a century was the chief propagandist of British professional and amateur sports, their slang and their journalism, in the republic.

The second important sports weekly was born in New York in 1845 and still lives. It is the National Police Gazette. It circulated early among police officers, criminals, the Fancy, barbers, and saloonkeepers. It picked up stories of British criminals until the American underworld had developed its own heroes. Each week is summarized the nation’s rapes, burglaries, murders, and hangings. But it remained for a rival, the Illustrated Police News of Boston, to set a different alliterative headline each week over the countrywide harvest of executions, e.g., “Spine Stretching,” “Legally Lassoed” and “Justly Jerked.”

The Police Gazette later added news about boxing, cockfighting, and other pastimes. Wilkes, before going to the Spirit of the Times, had edited it, but it never had the Spirit’s literary tone or class of readers. …

The New York Clipper cruised the journalistic seas from 1853 to 1924, carrying boxing, baseball, and theatrical news, and, from 1897 onward, stage news only. It docked for the last time four years ago in the office of Sime Silverman’s Variety. The Clipper not only helped to spread underworld and sporting argot from abroad but also contributed idioms from the English-speaking stage and circus lot. Other weeklies containing sports news blossomed between 1830 and 1890. To note a few, there were the Whip, the Rake, the Flash, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Mercury, and the New York SportsmanLeslie’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly pictured important athletic events. Thomas Nast drew sketches of the Heenan and Sayers fight for the New York Illustrated News. But the Spirit of the Times, the Police Gazette, and the Clipper were the big three in sports journalism in the last century.

Even before the Civil War some newspaper editors, though they looked on athletics as the province of the weeklies, printed news of any event that aroused public interest. The New YorkHerald, from its establishment in 1835 until 1885, assigned Uncle Joe Elliott, superintendent of its delivery room, to double as a reporter of prizefights and horse races. Seated at the ringside, he dictated a story to a stenographer, who later transcribed the notes for a copyreader to cut down and polish. Herald pony-express riders, in May 1847, carrying Elliott’s story of how Yankee Sullivan vanquished Caunt the Englishman early in the morning on a dew-covered battleground at Harper’s Ferry, galloped from the ringside to New York in time for the Herald to print the yarn only two days after the mill.

Less than two years later, Elliott, in relating how Tom Hyer had won the championship of America by flaxing out Yankee Sullivan in eighteen minutes at Rock Creek, Md., dispatched from Baltimore to New York the first prize-fight message ever sent over Morse’s five-year-old magnetic telegraph. This epochal dispatch, plus other pugilistic intelligence, filled the entire front page next day. In April 1860, the Herald‘s presses rumbled day and night for four days to provide an eager public with accounts of the “great international match” between the Benecia Boy, an American blacksmith’s helper, and Tom Sayers, an English brick-layer’s laborer, a landmark in ring history. Bennett did not send a representative from the home office but economically clipped his report from English and American exchanges. The Herald also reported horse races, especially the matches between Northern and Southern thoroughbreds, yacht races, and the early baseball games.

James Gordon Bennett, the younger, himself a long-distance pedestrian and polo player, offered cups in the ’70s to winners in college rowing races and track and field events. Out of this developed the present Poughkeepsie Regatta and the annual intercollegiate meets. In the ’80s he introduced polo to Newport and found space in his paper for news about it, as well as about golf and tennis, old pastimes still indifferent to newspaper publicity. His Evening Telegram, established in 1867, had a clientele among boxing and baseball zealots. When Elliott was superannuated in the late ’80s, the Herald engaged Billy Edwards, champion emeritus of the lightweights and bouncer at the Hoffman House, to dictate a blow-by-blow account of boxing bouts to a shorthand reporter. Thus he was the founder of a long hokum dynasty of prizefighters who “expert” for the newspapers at higher salaries than are paid to city editors.

Toppy Maguire, a contemporary of Elliott, served the New York Sun as a boxing and racing authority for thirty years. Sometimes Charles A. Dana accompanied him to a fight. Arthur Brisbane, while London correspondent of the New York Sun, cabled stories about Sullivan’s visit to the Prince of Wales, and at other times wrote about the bare-knuckle fights between Smith and Kilrain, Mitchell and Sullivan. The puritanical New York Tribune preached against prize-fights and horse races, but its reporters were assigned to them and turned in excellent yarns.

These early American sports writers, through oral and printed tradition, inherited a ready-made vocabulary. For a while the editors of conservative newspapers with traditions of good writing toned down their excessive slang, but today all editors allow their sports writers greater liberties than those granted to reporters in the other departments of the paper. Many terms and wisecracks borrowed from the past still survive, some without change and some with slight changes due to the wear and tear of colloquial speech. American sports writers yet use a lot of this standing-metal slang, but they likewise create their share of new phrases, idioms, and nicknames. Baseball experts, adapting boxing diction to baseball, introduced initial sack, hot corner, and so on.

William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895. Before turning his talents three years later to his war with Spain, he had worked out the modern newspaper sports section. Finding his rivals running from three to seven columns of sport news daily, he doubled, trebled, and quadrupled the space, and on occasional Sundays issued a bicycle or a horse supplement of twelve pages. …

Hearst not only invented the present-day sports page make-up; he whooped things up all along the line, putting the final crusher on the weekly as an authority in athletics. Before he breezed in with his open purse, other papers had appended the names of the writers at the ends of sports stories. The New York World, for instance, had baseball chatter signed by De Wolfe Hopper, the actor, who had already discovered the poem “Casey At the Bat,” and Dominick McCaffery, the heavyweight contender of 1889, explained over his own name that John L. Sullivan beat down Jake Kilrain, not by face hits but by blows to the heart.

The New York Illustrated News, in 1889, appointed John L. Sullivan sports editor, with the understanding that he would sit two hours a day at his desk. John L. collected his salary for eight months, but did no work. He blustered in once, bought the staff a drink, and then refused to come again. The publishers, after frequent telegrams to Boston, ultimately cut him off the payroll.

Hearst placed the new by-line rig on a better basis. He signed his champions to a contract and, instead of giving them an impecunious $50 a week, paid out real money. He paid James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, successors to Sullivan, $5,000 a year each for the right to put their signatures in facsimile over articles. Furthermore, he did not ask them to associate with the staff, but gave them a ghost writer, Robert H. Davis, to do the work of composition. He hired other champions, Hobart on tennis, Bald on bicycling, Batchelder on wheeling, and Heffelfinger, the Yale hero, on football. Amos Rusie, the Giant’s pitcher, told how he threw puzzling curves; Arthur Irwin, manager of the Giants, charted the science of the hit-and-run; and under the shaky facsimile signatures of two dinge jockeys, A. Hamilton and Willie Sims, appeared the story, “How A Horse Race Is Ridden.” Hearst, in 1896 and 1897, had signed up nearly every sports champion. Of late the price of by-lines has gone up. Dempsey was paid $45,000 a year for his name, and Tunney is said to have received a still higher sum.

Hearst built up a staff of experts, including Ralph Paine of Yale on rowing, Charles Dryden on baseball, and Paul Armstrong on boxing. The World, in 1889, had boasted that Nellie Bly, in interviewing John L. Sullivan and his trainer, William Muldoon, to the extent of three columns both before and after the Kilrain fight, had been the first woman to achieve such a feat. The Journalassigned Winifred Black to visit New Haven, and in the fall of 1895 appeared a five-and-a-half column story and three sketches headed: “At Old Yale. The Journal’s Woman Reporter Trains With the Little Boys in Blue. Once Around the Clock With the Lads Who Will Uphold Yale’s Prestige. The First Time a Woman Was Invited to Dinner by a College Football Team.”

The Sun, the Herald, and the World spread out on college football reports, running seven and more columns with sketches. Hearst ran wild in covering the Yale-Princeton game in 1895. He printed two-and-a-half pages, with five sketches, one seven columns wide, and two diagrams showing “How the Ball Moved.” Richard Harding Davis filled a whole page, aside from pictures, plus a breakover. Heffelfinger presented a technical description, and Jim Corbett in a signed story approved of football by saying: “It has a tendency to make a man a strong, healthy animal and it is all right. I consider football as played today rough sport, but not brutal.” Both the team captains signed statements. On Monday Captain Thorne of Yale told his own story of how he made that great run. Not only did Hearst splurge on football but he gave space to other pastimes and a big prizefight called for five pages. All this before 1898.

Other publishers in 1896, and for a long time thereafter, shrilled that he was prostituting journalism by his yellow methods. Today the innovations of 1896 have become commonplace. All publishers have adopted those identical methods, with the eight- and the ten-page sports section, the banner headlines, the cartoons, the pictures. Even the New York Times and the Associated Press, within the last few years, have allowed their sports writers to sign their names to stories. Others have gone into the market and bid away champions from Hearst. As a result of adopting his devices and newer ones, such as the double-measure sports column popularized by Grantland Rice of the Nashville Banner, the New York Mail and the New York Herald Tribune, a feature that has a thousand imitators, other papers have overhauled and passed him.

Since the World War the sporting section has grown tremendously. The Editor and Publisher has computed that the New York World devotes 40 percent of its local news on weekdays to sports and that the Herald Tribune gives over no less than 60 percent. All large city newspapers now surrender four or five pages to sports news on weekdays and eight and even ten pages on Sunday. …

To supply this demand, the Associated Press has lately organized a segregated sports department with twelve men on its staff. The International News, out of a total of 45,000 words in a full thirteen-hour report, carried 5,000 words on sports. The United Press is sending out three times the amount it transmitted a year ago. Publishers agree that circulation, prestige, and reader interest are created by sports news. …

Today, America leads the universe in sports journalism. Our syndicated specialists sell baseball stories and box scores to Japan and Mexico, prizefight and polo yarns to the press of the world. Readers in the British Isles know the cartoons of Bud Fisher, Tad, and Edgren. Slang from our sports sections has found its way to England, often in movie captions, until nervous Bloomsbury critics write letters to the London Times that we are corrupting, that is, americanizing, the mother tongue. Few seem to know that many of these words are making a return trip to their place of origin. For it was the British who taught them to us when they gave us our first lessons in sporting journalism.

Source
American Mercury, March 1929.