A few months ago I was asked to speak to the Sunrise Rotary Club about people I’ve met in my 65 years as a sportswriter. As I thought about it, I realized that I’ve met a lot of notable people, but not necessarily for news or even sporting personalities.
This column is a result of that speech. If you are a member of Sunrise Rotary, you may find a lot, but not all, familiar. I have split my speech into two columns for this week and next.
At the beginning I came across the legend of Key West Boog Powell at a Key West High School baseball meet a few months ago at Rex Weech Field. I was amazed that he remembered me.
In the early 1960’s I wrote for the Rochester, New York Times-Union and Boog played for the Rochester Red Wings. I covered the last game of the season and didn’t mention him.
“I led the (international) league in batting and all you could write about was Jimmy Finnigan scoring the goal that won the game. I was really upset,” Boog recalled. But we sat in the Rex for a long time and talked. It was great. And I wrote a column about it.
In 1958, I was walking down Sandusky Street in Delaware, Ohio, when I spotted an elderly gentleman at a crosswalk who obviously needed some help. I took his arm and helped him across the street. Turns out we were headed to Ohio Wesleyan University for the same lunch. He was a member of the Board of Trustees. I was invited as a student. We sat together and talked.
He was Branch Rickey and he spoke to me about integrating Major League Baseball in 1947 by signing Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Rickey was the team’s president and general manager. How many times have I wished I had had a pen and paper to write down everything he told me.
Rickey, who was a major league catcher as a student and coach at Ohio Wesleyan, died on December 9, 1965 at just under 84 years old. I wrote a long obituary for the Dayton Daily News, where I was employed for 29 years, 3 months. ESPN named Rickey the most influential sports figure of the 20th century.
When I graduated from Ohio Wesleyan, Professor Verne Edwards Jr. got me a job as a sports writer at the Rochester Times-Union. Rochester had just lost its pro basketball team, the Royals, to Cincinnati, and since I loved basketball, I covered some games that were still being played in Rochester, as well as some in Syracuse, which had a team called the Nationals.
While covering auto racing at Watkins Glen, I interviewed the greats sterling moss, among other.
I interviewed Jimmy Clark, who later won the Indianapolis 500. He and I chatted for a while in his trailer before he apologized and told me the BBC was on hold waiting to interview him. It wasn’t long before he was killed in a race.
driver Graham Hill met the same fate, but on a plane. I interviewed him after he won the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and before his win at Indianapolis.
I met boxers Ingemar Johannsonwho was knocked out Floyd Patterson and would be twice KO’d by Patterson in three world heavyweight championship fights. Fresh out of college and shortly after starting work in Rochester, I reported an argument Nino Valdesone of Cuba’s finest fighters when he defeated Mike DeJohn by separate decision.
Through Jack Twyman I found out about it Maurice Stokes, who had been a star with the Rochester Royals and contracted an illness that left him paralyzed. Pen in mouth, Stokes had written a commentary on life, a copy of which I received from Twyman, who had become Stokes’ caretaker. I had promised Twyman that I would not use the commentary until Stokes died. The day after Stoke’s death, I wrote an article for the Dayton Daily News that was voted national basketball column of the year.
I’ve met four presidents.
Jimmy Carter came out of meeting editorial types and our paths crossed at the Daily News. We talked for a while as the governor at the time. Carter campaigned for the presidency. I shook or at least touched the hand of President Lyndon B Johnsonas he finished a speech in Dayton. Gerald Ford was Vice President while we were standing side by side at a buffet at an outdoor dinner party in Dayton. Once when I was the editor of a newspaper magazine in Dayton, I used the phone Vice President George Bush, who had played baseball at Yale. All four became presidents.
When I was a summer internship at the Jeffersonian in Cambridge, Ohio, I went to nearby New Concord to meet a Cambridge native at the timeMajor John Glenn, who had just set a coast-to-coast jet speed record. He and his family had arrived early that morning to visit his parents and celebrate his new record. “C’mon, help me unload my car while we talk,” he offered. We talked the rest of the morning. I photographed Glenn, his wife and children. I wonder what happened to the prints. I know what happened to him. John Glenn became an astronaut, four-term U.S. Senator, candidate for U.S. President, and made his second trip into space at age 77.
I interviewed several Cincinnati Reds players including Johnny Bankswho I had lunch with, and of course Peter Rose. When I was senior sports editor at Dayton, my staff directed coverage of Rose’s crimes that led to his being banned from sports and imprisoned for tax evasion. Our reporting was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. During that time, a friend asked me, “What are you doing with Pete Rose? I like him a lot.” I told her, “I like him a lot too.”
I’ll continue my list of memorable encounters in next week’s column. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving.