Jerome Holtzman discusses baseball, journalism, and his book "No Cheering in the Press Box"
BROADCAST: Aug. 15, 1974 | DURATION: 00:58:53
Sportswriter Jerome Holtzman discusses his book "No Cheering in the Press Box."
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Studs Terkel Hasn't it? Jerry Holtzman is my guest and he's been a baseball writer for the "Chicago Sun-Times" for 18 years and has worked for the paper 31 years, always in the sports section. And Jerry's new book. Jerome work- Jerome Holtzman's new book is called "No Cheering in the Press Box," on the conversations with sportswriters, covered about a half-century or so, primarily baseball. Publishers of the book, Holt Rinehart Winston. And it's a very revealing book in a very remarkable way. The guys who cover it, how they're connected and unconnected with sports. The men who write about it. And Jerry, I thought before we talk about, hear the voice of an old- time ball player, Rube Marquard, the great left hand of the Giants back in 1911, 12, 13. Memories what baseball was like then for a player. Even as were talking right now, there's a baseball players union. Marvin Miller the head of it. There's there been attempts at a football players' union. There is one of the difficulties of having. And we go back to the old days and how a sportswriter and sportswriters, who in your book have looked upon that particular phenomenon.
Rube Marquard [unintelligible] I bummed my way to Waterloo, Iowa. Five nights, days and everything on freight trains and everything. So finally when I got to Waterloo, Iowa, the stationmaster, he ways, "What are you doing here? Come on! Get to work! Get out of here!" And I said, "No." I says, "I'm reporting to the Waterloo Ball Club". And he looked at me, said, "Do you ever wash your face?" I said, "No. I says, "I've been riding for five days and five nights." I says, "I'm anxious to get here. I said, "Where do the ball players hang around?" And he said, "The the smoke shop down the street about a half a mile." So I went down there and I got in the place there, and, the, the fellas that own the ball team own the smoke shop and the name was "The Strong Brothers." So I got in there and one of the brothers back there, they found him and says, "What are you doing in here? Who are you and what do you want?" I says, "Well I got a telegram from Mr. Frisbee, the manager. His team to report. And if I make good, I'll get a contract. He says, "Did you ever take a bath? "I did take it a bath," but I says, "I bum my way here." So Frisbee happen to come in. And I was introduced to him and I says, "I received your telegram but I didn't have any money to tell 'em first class or anything like that. I says, "I had to bum my way." And he said if I make good, why you would reimburse me. He says, "Keokuk is here tomorrow and we'll pitch you" I says "You don't want me to pitch tomorrow," I says, "After what I've gone through." He says, "Tomorrow or never!" So I says to Frisbee, I says "Could I have five dollars so I get a clean shirt or something?" He says. "After the ball game tomorrow."
Rube Marquard So the next day, I warmed up and my whole arm felt terrible. But I had in my mind that I'm gonna show 'em that I could make good. I went out and I pitched and I beat them six to one. And that night I thought sure by winning the ballgame, I could get $10.00 advance on my salary. So I ask him, I says, "Mr. Frisbee," I says, "I showed you that I could deliver the goods." "Oh," he says, Keokuk is in last place. He says, "Wait 'til Oskaloosa comes here. They're in second place. They're a tough team, and if you can beat them, then we'll talk." I says, 'Can I get any advance money? Ten dollars outta my contract?' He says, "You haven't got a contract yet." I says, "All right." So.
Studs Terkel Romantic past, yeah. You start with Dan Daniel, since your book deals with the baseball writers observe these scenes and how writers have changed considerably. Dan Daniel has been covering 50 years and he speaks of. He's not too hot about the young writers of baseball today. His objection is they, they, they put words in the player's mouth. You agree with Daniel?
Jerome Holtzman No I don't. In fact, I was very surprised that he said that because he's one of the few older writers who I think has a pretty good rapport with the younger writers. In fact, Dan Daniel who really was or perhaps you can say still is he was the Arnold Toynbee of baseball. There wasn't anything that happened in baseball that he didn't record or pontificate on. What's remarkable to me is that I've been to the New York baseball writers dinner, and he is at the age of 84, or 85, he's one of the featured speakers every year although he's no longer, you know, with a, with a newspaper there and I'm surprised he said that. I think that perhaps he feels that, that today's writers aren't as kindly and benevolent as he was.
Studs Terkel Well, I'm thinking' something, something entirely different, in reading Dan Daniel. By- this, this, the writers in this book are from Dan Daniel to Red Smith, who was quite remarkable. Ends with Jimmy Canon and John Tulis, and Allan Lane. These are quite remarkable writers. Not as, or Red Smith of course, and Cannon well-known but Daniel. I played the trials and tribulations of Rube Marquard, beginning for a deliberate reason. [unintelligible] I'm thinkin' of Dan Daniel, he's the players or the young writers aren't as good as the players they were. Was he really that good? I mean he says how I signed Ba-. How he got to sign Babe Ruth to a contract for the owner of the beer magnate Rupert back then. He was working for comp-. Dan Daniel was working for the company.
Studs Terkel Mmm-hmm.
Jerome Holtzman He didn't want the story to be wrong and he had written that Babe Ruth was going to sign and so the next day he took Ruth almost by the collar and you know, up to [Jacob] Rupert and they signed. But it is true that in those days there weren't any knockers or there there were very few knockers. There was the. Now there were two principal schools of sportswriting. There was the gee-whiz school of which about 90 percent of the writers belong. And there was the aww nuts school and the chief practitioner of the aww nuts school was Westbrook Pegler and a man named Bill McGeehan. But most of the writers were team men and they played it for drama.
Studs Terkel Yeah, well I go a step further than reading Dan Daniel. He was more than a team man. He was a company man. 'Cause he also got Red Ruffing. Ruffing, we should point out to those who not baseball, was a marvelous pitcher for a long time for the Yankees and other teams. He was also a great pinch hitter as well.
Jerome Holtzman Mmm-hmm.
Jerome Holtzman Yes as a matter of fact that really wouldn't happen today. You know things like that don't happen. I can cite one personal incident that happened oh about three or four years ago with myself. Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game for the Oakland A's. And Charlie Finley the owner of the Oakland team announced he was going to give Catfish Hunter a five thousand dollar bonus which he did on national TV and it just so happened that when he pitched this perfect game I ran across the late Ray Schalk who was, you know, a very famous catcher with the White Sox and Ray Schalk told me that whenever, whenever a pitcher pitched a perfect game or a no-hit game, he always sent the catcher of the game a telegram congratulating him. So I mentioned to Mr. Finlay that I said, "Gee you know, you're giving a $5000 dollar bonus to Catfish Hunter. You ought to give something to Jim Pagliaroni who caught the game!" And by God, he gave him a thousand dollars. So I'm just citing this-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah. You mentioned, you mentioned, we'll come back to the young writers' days as talked about by these veteran writers and their own thoughts. You mentioned Bill McGeehan. Al Laney in your book who's quite a literate guy. We'll talk about literacy of sportwriters, too. Allen's quotes Bill McGeehan. He says a typical column of his, he says writing about some argument Babe Ruth had with his manager, Miller Huggins. When Ruth was the home run king and Miller was manager of the Yankees who couldn't lose for winning, you know? He says, he quoted Babe as saying, "What does that Huggins, a 210 -lifetime hitter, get off knocking me?" And McGeehan took this and said, "There's the same cry from heard through the ages. The cry of the creative artist against the critic."
Jerome Holtzman Well that's hard to say. I think that the attraction varies according to the individual. I think as Red Smith and others point out in the book it's an easy life. It. There's a lot of fun connected with it. You're outdoors. You're on your own. You're not in an office sitting at a desk. You're almost in some respects a free agent. You know, you're you're, I mean you can hit. You don't go into the office very often. There's a freedom that that comes with being a base player writer that you don't have on most jobs and this is a very appealing thing. And, and you know as a matter of fact, Leonard Koppett, of the "New York Times," was discussing this with me and he said that you know, he too, enjoys this freedom. And he says that we're willing to pay for it. We don't make as much money as, you know, as the man staying inside.
Studs Terkel Yet back in those days baseball, the national pastime, was still not the urban country it is today. But baseball the open, the open field, the part that so much the American scene. These guys were the. And I think Marshall Hunt. No! It's Daniel point. Is it Daniel or who pointed out? Marshall Hunt, another old-time writer-
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Yes. Yes!. Then, I mean. You know in those days baseball was a very big thing. It was the, you know, it was the, you know it was the only major sport. And as you pointed out, it, you know it occupied one-third of the front page of most of the newspapers in all the major cities.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Studs Terkel But the, the idea of, the idea of writers, the writers on the paper it was more of a challenge to them than politics, in some cases, were aside from, aside from muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens. The '20s and '30s, quoting one of your the people you interview, this with a tape recorder?
Jerome Holtzman Well yes. Actually some people think that the phrase came from the Jimmy Cannon chapter and I, you know, I mean, the title. It didn't at all. I was going to use the same title for, for a different book that I had in mind 10 years ago. The phrase, "No Cheering in the Press Box," is merely a, a dictum that we have in the press box that, you know, we're there as objective reporters and that we're not there to cheer or to boo and that if someone wants to cheer or boo they should buy a ticket and sit in the stands. But the title really doesn't indicate that I believe that there should be no cheering in the press box or they shouldn't be. It's just a-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Of course, this is in contrast to many television sportscasters as well as radio sportscasters, the baseball writer tries to maintain a balance and also reporting the game as an event rather than being a, a afficionado, one team or the
Jerome Holtzman Yes there's a very large distinct-, distinction between the writers and the television announcers and the radio announcers and that is it the baseball writers are working only for their papers. We're not working for the ball club in any way. The ball club doesn't pay us. We're not obligated to the ball club. Whereas the the radio and TV men are hired with the approval of the ball club. And many ball clubs I'm sure would prefer to, you know, you know to call the editor of the publisher of the paper and say, "Hey get this guy off!" and you know, "Send somebody else out," you know, "With our team effect." That's been done many times. So you see, we really, I mean we really have an independence that nobody else, you know, you know, has, you know, that's in the entire traveling party.
Jerome Holtzman They're all company men! They're all company men. Even, I mean, well, well just look what happened to Harry Carey. He was announcing the, you know, the White Sox games on WMAQ and there were some things that were said on the, by him and by his guest on one of his pregame shows and they pulled him off. He's here. He's no longer doing the radio games. And as a matter of fact it's interesting that, that WMAQ now has Bill Mercer doing the White Sox games completely on radio and I just noticed the other day that they said at the end of the broadcast. They pointed out. The station pointed out that Bill Mercer was in the, was hired by the White Sox, was an employee of the White Sox. Which illustrates again, that the writers are the only ones who, who really have a genuine freedom of expression.
Studs Terkel Yeah. I think perhaps one of my favorites of course is Red Smith as a writer and observer of the scene. He, you toward the end of the book you have Red offering his credo and perspective on page 244, 45. I'm jumping around here because your book has, has a lot of nuggets to it. And Red Smith's credo [page turning] "I never felt I was a bug-eyed fan of such. I wasn't one of those who dreamed of being a sportswriter going around the country traveling with ball players, getting to games free and oh dear diary, what a break! I'm not pretending I haven't enjoyed this hugely. I have. I've loved it. I never had any soaring ambition to be a sportswriter per se. Only a newspaperman came to realize I didn't care which side of the paper I worked on." He goes on. "The guy I admire most in the world is a good reporter. I respect a good reporter and I'd like to be called that. I'd like to be considered good and honest and reasonably accurate. The reporter is one of the toughest jobs in the world getting as near the truth as possible is a terribly tough job. And I've always tried to remember." Here's the part. "There's an old line that sports isn't Armageddon. They're just little games that little boys can play and it really isn't important to the future of civilization, when the Athletics and the Browns, when the St. Browns, who play and win. If you can accept it as an entertainment, writers of entertainment I think that's what spectators sports are meant to be."
Jerome Holtzman Well I think that's one of the things that is lacking in today's sports page and that there really isn't as much. There isn't as strong an attempt for humor and to treat sports as entertainment as perhaps there should be. I think that we're much too heavy about everything and of course you know maybe this is a reflection of the times but there's strikes now and there you know the sportswriter now is concerned with labor stories, with financial stories, with all kinds of salary arbitration stuff. We, I mean, we handle stories today that were never handled in the sports section before.
Studs Terkel But Jerry isn't that inevitable? You see, I think we've come to the more interesting- You and I can talk about. That I happen to like a great many of the young sportswriters today and I think they're really, aside from the greats of the past like what great writers, you know, such as Lardner and Heywood Broun who went on to other worlds to describe and talk about. The fact that the sportswriters deal with labor disputes and strikes is the fact that maybe pro sports is an industry. And they see to that and they're not kidding themselves that it's merely pure sport. And these guys are working athletes.
Jerome Holtzman Right. I think what's happened really is that the sportswriters are covering sports as an industry. We're really attacking it from the bottom, so to speak. The old writers never wrote. I mean for example years ago, if the White Sox were sold. Say that, you know or say a bank took over the White Sox. You know this was a financial story written by a financial writer. This wasn't written by a sportswriter. The sportswriters tended to dismiss all these, you know, labor stories and financial stories. But I think, too, Studs, that, that in getting, you know, to the meat of things as we do more now, you know, than ever before, that we've lost some of the romantic; you know some of the romantic aspects of the past. For example, you know, years ago you looked through the paper 30 and 40 years ago and in, the wintertime, the baseball writers would write stories about the, about say Walter Johnson hunting in Idaho or someone fishing somewhere, you know, somewhere else. And you see all this is gone now. It's all, you know, tell a story quick, you. You know, tell it fast and you know, get off.
Studs Terkel But Jerry. I don't think it's the, I'm just questioning, I don't think it's the writers [match strike] who have lost this. The very nature of the sport itself had become more and more industrialized, pro football, case in point, of course. As well as baseball with television: were there rights, were there fees? Were the commercials? Were the nature of the game it's a become less pure sport. And winning has to be, you know what, no matter what. We'll come to that, too. But mostly selling.
Jerome Holtzman Yes I think this. The professional athlete today is a pretty smart, you know he's a pretty smart fellow and he's discovered that he's been short-changed all these years and he wants a larger slice of the pie. And so this is why you have Marvin Miller active today who is certainly the most, you know, successful of all the union's sportsmen. And you know this. I mean. I'm, I'm all in favor of this. I'm all in favor of upgrading the salaries [match strike] and the working conditions of the professional athlete because the professional athlete is something special and I disagree with many of the people who say they're overpaid. They're not overpaid at all. You know if a man is making a $100,000 dollars a year or a $150,000, he obviously, you know, deserves it. Or, or he wouldn't be earning that kind of money.
Studs Terkel Do you remember? You know, I interviewed Steve Hamilton, the baseball player and you feat[ured] that in the "Sporting News," which you write as well. The baseball, "The Sporting News," and Steve was saying the life span, the working span of a pro, pro athlete is very short. And he says, "Do you ever?" And so that the very top. These are the very top artists and the craftsmen in their field, whether it be football or baseball. Whoever questions that say the 600 top lawyers or 600 top bankers? Whoever questions their salary? Never really.
Jerome Holtzman Right. The Major League Baseball player. The average lifespan of a player who [match strike] appears in a box score in the major leagues is two and a half years. In other words anybody who plays in one game you know would be considered it's just two and a half years which means he doesn't even qualify for the pension. So you know life span is very, very short and also there aren't that many fellows at the top making all that big money. There just a few at the top.
Studs Terkel We just. We're not wandering from your book, your book dealing with baseball writers touches on this but the writers themselves they come the central figures here and their thoughts. Marshall Hunt, an old -time guy. Speaks that he knew Babe Ruth. And a number of them knew Ruth well. Richards Vidmer did, too. Ruth of course, is worth a whole book as there is one forthcoming, "The Babe and legends about the Babe."
Jerome Holtzman But I think that one of the things that pleases me about the Bath Ruth anecdotes that I have in the book and that is that I make a sports [match strike] bibliophile and they're all new to me. And there's been you know millions and millions of words written, written about Babe Ruth and I found the one man, the one writer, who really was the closest man to Babe Ruth, the closest writer to Babe Ruth, Marshall Hunt, who worked for "The New York Daily News." And
Jerome Holtzman I,
Jerome Holtzman I think that one of the charms, one of the fortunate aspects of my book is that as I went around, you know, you know, and interviewed these men, I discovered that they were so delighted to talk to somebody. You know, you know, they're very lonesome and they were also had reached an age where they would, you know, where they weren't hesitant to tell stories that they hadn't written. You know, you know they hadn't written themselves.
Studs Terkel By the way. I say this is a rather wistful rather poignant aspect of your book. These are, were celebrated writers years ago and forgotten and neglected and they open up. Lawrence Ritter whom you know wrote a book about old -time ballplayers called, "The Glory of Their Times." They, too, even more celebrated, finally opened up. Somebody remembered. Remembered. Marshall Hunt speaks of Ruth, [unintelligible] stories. Or a Ruth elected to Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts and about clean living because he was the athlete of the decade, decades. And of course Ruth's life was [laughter] somewhat different.
Jerome Holtzman Well yes his lifestyle of course was quite raucous. He was a, you know, he was a womanizer and he was a a drinker and a carouser. And he stayed up late and you know he was always in hot water, so to speak. In fact, he was suspended once, you know, by the league four times in one season.
Jerome Holtzman Yes.
Studs Terkel Vestal, yes. But a the [laughter] I remember there and the number of them in the book, by the way, funny and quite hilarious. It was the, but the writers! Here we again to old-time writers maintaining, many of them did, [unintelligible] though they'd lose their jobs, maintaining myths. And the young writers a little more on the, on the muckraking side today wouldn't make of
Jerome Holtzman Yes, yes. The-old writers like Richards Vidmer for example, make some poignant comments in the books. In the book he says, that he says, "The public should be informed, my ass." He says, "There are certain things the public is not entitled to know," and he wasn't about to tell them. And he talks about himself and how close he was to Ruth and Gehrig and all the stories that he knew that, you know, you know, about both of them that he never, you know-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Well he's right on the matter of, of no disagreement with matter of very personal matters. But as far as the public's right to know, as to the nature of a team, the treatment of players or also that seems to be a great raffish note could have been added back in those days, that the young writers have today, strangely enough. Is that breaking with the Babe Ruth myth would have been very funny, if were, if there were stories that back then. It would have been controversial, of course but quite hilarious and I think more helpful than, than lies.
Jerome Holtzman Well I think that this whole generation has you know has been very healthy in that respect and that they broken a lot of myths not just in sports. You know we broke the myths about the fact that we spy on other people; that we have a CIA which we never knew before. You know, Americans thought that gee we would never spy on anybody, that everybody, you know, everybody spies on us.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel What's interesting from the standpoint of this craft alone, your book on writers. Quoting Marshall Hunt. This is Hunt. "How writers since they were the key writers had to be." They were paid by the word, back in those. Paid by space.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Studs Terkel This is very interesting. Perhaps you could discuss this a little. "In the '20s and earlier, the publishers wanted long stories. The reporters were paid by space, by the inch and I think they got $10 dollars a column about 20 inches to the column. The one thing those fellows wanted to avoid was having their stories cut. They became very practiced and could weave a story like a cable or a chain. And they wrote with pencil very swiftly." It's a matter of technique, then, too? And about [unintelligible]
Jerome Holtzman Yes. Of course then what happened as they point out. Then what happened was that some of these writers, they wrote so much they were so prolific that they began making more money than the editors and so the publishers stopped the idea of you know, just paying by space.
Jerome Holtzman Yes.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Right. As he covered baseball and went around with the Yankees or the Giants from town to town to when he went to St. Louis. He went to the zoo and when he went to Pittsburgh, he stayed at the Schenley Park Hotel and he talked about how he observed the migration of birds. And he talks about, you know, covering Princeton-Yale football games and how he can still recall seeing a screech owl, as sitting at the railroad station when he went to get his train. He was a naturalist and of course he still is.
Jerome Holtzman Yes. Fred Lieb worked for "The Sporting News" for years and years and he also wrote about 12 team books; histories of the Tigers and the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals. Books of that sort.
Studs Terkel And here, of course, is an interesting reflection: two of the celebrated Yankees, of course Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the different psyches of the two. Gehrig really was an insecure sort of guy. Wasn't sure of his own position. Was
Jerome Holtzman Well yes. Gehrig came from you know, humble beginnings. So did Ruth. But the, but but Gehrig's parents were more foreign and he was very cautious and he saved his money and he, I mean according to the writers, he admired the way Ruth just kind of freewheeled through life. You know, Gehrig just couldn't do it that way.
Studs Terkel When Ruth would play these wild games and toss the dough away, Gerhig would say "Oh, that's wonderful!" [laughter] He had an air of wonder about him. But also here's, was this discussed? Fred Leib discusses Ty Cobb and others did [unintelligible] Cobb, one of the most remarkable players of all time or perhaps the best all-around player if there is one. Yet, as a person, before we take a break. Discuss the nature of writers and Cobb. Cobb, there was was in, sort of, unanimity, unanimity of agreement. That Cobb was a bastard.
Studs Terkel Yeah,
Jerome Holtzman I mean most of the players hated Ty Cobb. And this bothered Ty Cobb when he was in his later years and he tried to, you know, he tried to I guess make amends although as you know it was very difficult. But the players hated Ty Cobb because he was such a fierce competitor. He would win or try to win at any, you know, at any cost.
Jerome Holtzman Yes but I think that you know, there was just more. I mean, sure Cobb was very tough on writers but I'm sure some of the others were, too. But I think that in Cobb's case, he was just disliked by everybody. Just, no he was too, I mean he was totally disliked.
Studs Terkel In other words [he didn't have it?] Later on though one of the, one of your writer. Who, I forget? Who was it now? Was it Drebinger? Well one of the writers, Cobb tried to make up for it later on.
Jerome Holtzman Yeah
Jerome Holtzman Well Al Laney worked for years for the "New York Herald Tribune," as a sportswriter mainly covering golf and tennis. [page turning] But he covered some baseball and some football. And he was just a master craftsman. You know, a stylist. He was very careful, you know, with every story he wrote. In fact sometimes I wonder, you know, he was, he was so careful, I wondered just how he was able to go to press, you know, because you have to go to press. You just can't, you know, you can't continually baby a story. But he's a very literate man and has a lot of interesting things to say about, you know, about his fellow sportswriters.
Studs Terkel [But I'm you see?] his writing became more than just simply covering the sport. It covered a time and the various arts, too. He'd bring music into it, too. He says, "No such thing," quoting Al Laney as a born reporter. "You have to learn, just as you to learn to play the piano. Be no different than what's the use? You exist as a reporter by being capable at the same time, being different. Well the writers, having developing something of your own." And then he speaks of certain writers he liked. Henry James and Conrad and Joseph Conrad. And then Darwin's nephew, Charles Darwin's nephew. 'Says, "He's the best sportswriter of all time."
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Studs Terkel Cricket critic and music critic. But he, his own style. He also likes baseball. What do you think of this? I'm quoting from Laney. Your thoughts about this, Jerry. This I think lends itself to some, some reflection. "Baseball has that marvelous climactic action." He compares it to other sports like golf which of course I don't dig at all. "Something that doesn't exist any other game, baseball. Is no easy job if you're a baseball writer. The baseball writer must always be looking for a strong angle but still he must say who won the game. He must take all these threads, weave it into a coherent story. He's writing about past action. Past action. That's one of the difference between him and the broadcaster. The broadcaster talks about something taking place that instant. But a morning paper reporter is writing about what's done, what's over with."
Jerome Holtzman Well of course I'm a morning baseball reporter and so I'm pleased to hear him say you know how difficult my job is. But I think it's true that when you're a baseball writer, you try to be a little bit different. You can't write the same, you know, the same dull kind of stuff. The woooden kind of stuff. And you're always looking for angles and yet at the same team, you know, you know, at the same time, you can't go too far out. You've got to explain what happened. It's a very difficult job and you've got to be alert and you just hope that you do. You know you just hope that you write fairly well most of the time.
Studs Terkel But is it really a climactic game? Perhaps this one. See there, it's not bucking the clock, the way football is or basketball or hockey or boxing. Is this? Is it? Hasn't it been described as anti-dramatic?
Jerome Holtzman Well if anything baseball has a more leisurely pace to it than the other sports because I mean football as you say there is a clock. You know time runs out. But of course time runs out in baseball, too. You only play nine innings, you know. After nine innings the game is over unless it's tied. But of course, if it's tied in football you keep playing, too. I think that Al Laney, he describes how a, a sportswriter should try to to cover the different sports. That each sport has its own tempo. And that, and this tempo should be reflected in the writing. Well I think this is a very difficult thing to do and there are very few sportswriters that I know of who can switch from one sport to another and who, you, you as a you as a reader can recognize the shift of tempo.
Studs Terkel Talking to Jerry Holtzman the baseball writer of the Chicago Sun-Times. His book, "No Cheering in the Press Box," Holt Winston Reinhardt are the publishers. Tells us, really the thoughts, offers the thoughts and reflections of the men whose own psyches we little know other than through their writing. And that's the baseball writers. The sportswriters who really play it, who may even now, certainly in the old days it may not have the, aside from columnists have the widest audience of a paper, possibly. The
Studs Terkel Yeah. We'll return in a moment after this message to Jerry Holtzman and and the book and more of the writers. Resuming the conversation with Jerry Holtzman and the book, "No Cheering in the Press Box." Abe Kemp an old-time baseball writer I like. We'll come back to pro football in a moment; the thoughts of Al Laney. But Abe Kemp is one of these raffish old writers, one of these when I see him just chewing away the cigar there and rather cynical old guy. And he's very funny.
Jerome Holtzman Yes he is. He was a, you know, he was almost a professional Toastmaster, a master of ceremonies in San Francisco. And he really adds an element to the book that isn't there otherwise. He was an ordinary guy who didn't even graduate from grammar school who started working at the San Francisco papers at the age of 14 or so and who was a sportswriter for 60 years covering baseball-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel He says "I was a lousy baseball writer. I'm a lousy sportswrit- and a lousy newspaper man. I never believed in the concept. I went my own way. Figured out my own concept, what I wanted to write about. I wasn't interested in scoops. I wasn't interested in routine stories. I was interested in the unusual, the bizarre, the esoteric. I wrote 63 years to pursue that line. As a consequence came up with more God damn stories of any sportswriter ever lived." [laughter] That's the theme of his book and he ends, of course, in a rather poignant note there. He says, [unintelligible] funny. "I'm working my book every night. I can't stay at the typewriter very long. I can do about two pages. My fingers cramp up. I tear up the damn sheets. I don't like what I've written. I've torn up 5000 pages. I guess I shouldn't but I do. I doubt I'll ever finish the son of a bitch."
Jerome Holtzman What's kind of interesting just about two weeks ago I got a letter from him after he saw the book. And he was pleased with the book and in this letter that he sent me, he submitted three more pages of anecdotes that I could have included in his chapter.
Studs Terkel But they. We're returning as these write- I'm thinkin' of the writers old and young and since pro football is in the news with the organization of the football union, the difficulties they're having and things the public doesn't know but thoughts. A lot of these baseball writers wonder about pro football and Laney says on page 89 of Jerry Holtzman's book, "What distresses me really about football, professional football. See as it is now that if you, if you come through and knock down the quarterback and he doesn't get up, goes off the stretcher. Everybody cheers. The idea is the maim the quarterback. That disturbs me, terribly. As we, as we're talking now Jerry, Mike Royko has today's column. It's reflecting the baseball, the football players strike but the nature of what is it in football? "This disturbs me that people should succumb to this sort of thing. What does it do to people?" He describes it as similar to that of Rome and the Colosseum and the Amphitheater and the gladiators. [unintelligible]
Jerome Holtzman Well, I think there's much to what he says. That the idea is to knock 'em down. It's, it's to knock everybody down. You know, if you get three gorillas on a football team, they'll be any team in the land because the idea is you get the, you know, the fellows who are others you know the biggest and strongest and fastest and the essential. I mean the one idea of football is to, is to knock your opponent down. That's that's it right there.
Studs Terkel It's funny as, as you talk I noticed that. Yeah Ford Frick, who was the commissioner of baseball for a time. So so. After he was a sportswriter and he quotes Arthur Brisbane the eminent critic of the Hearst papers for years who tells his famous story, the gorilla story.
Studs Terkel And so wondering about gorillas today. So I'm thinking about pro football. What's? It's not simply sports alone but I'm just wondering if not affecting, infecting our society fully. Pauline Kael speaks of it in movies and you can't separate sports from the psyche of a day. You're talking about the writers, some of the local writers' Chicago papers are here to some of the best ones. George [Phair?], George Strickler. Mention of Warren Brown, [who is very
Studs Terkel Shirley Povich. She's recently retired, "Washington Post." Al Horwitz and he's the one. He's the opposite of Dan Daniel. He's always sort of sighted, he felt. Where's Horowitz writing or did write?
Jerome Holtzman Well Horowitz wrote for "The Philadelphia Ledger," and he's now a publicity man, has been for about 20 years in Hollywood. But he covered the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia for about 20 years.
Jerome Holtzman Right. He felt that in the old days that the ballplayers weren't getting sufficient money and salaries and so forth and he tried to help them. He would write stories about them to puff them up. And so on, you know. You know, helping them get a better deal.
Studs Terkel Yeah he would do that but he speaks of Connie Mack. And here's one of the, one of the truly legendary things of baseball: the manager, the athletics and the owner for so many years. Connie Mack and the use of psychology. I remember this. I was going to Crane Junior College, that 1929 World Series, Athletics and the Cubs. And everybody was astonished when he called upon, not Lefty Grove and not George Earnshaw or Rube Walberg his three great pitchers but he called upon an old, old seaming has-been, Howard Ehmke.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman And of course Howard Ehmke struck out 13 players in that, you know, in that game to set an all-time record. And Horowitz tells of the, you know how and how Connie Mack used psychology. He, he had Ehmke on the club and Ehmke wasn't, you know, was a fading veteran. And one day he said to Ehmke that "Well we're going to have to leave you here. We're going to have to cut you from the club." And Ehmke said, "Well Mr. Mack, this is my, my, you know, my first and only chance to be on a team that can win the pennant." And you know, Mr. Mack said, "Well the fellows don't really want you around." And he says, "Oh," he says, "I, you know," he says" I've still got one good game left." And so he said, "Well the fellows don't want you in the ballclub." He says, "The ballclub is going west." He says, "Why don't you stay here and go to New York." And he says, "The Cubs are coming in to play the Giants and the Dodgers and you go there for a week and you watch the Cubs. And you know, just. We'll see what we can do." And of course Ehmke went there, watched the Cubs for a full week and then came back and saw Mr. Mack and Ehmke said again, he said, "Mr. Mack, I can pitch one game." And he pitched him on the first game of the World Series which of course was a surprise to everybody. And he set an all -time World Series strike
Studs Terkel Of course there Ehmke had stuff, not a fastball. Slo- and the Cub sluggers, Hack Wilson and Stevenson and Cuyler. Was Cuyler there? I think they were, were all expecting the fastballs of Grove and Earnshaw. And Ehmke's psychology, I'm assuming, I mean, well rather, Connie Mack's understanding there. You- John Drebinger. He's one of the most distinguished of baseball, for "The New York Times," for many years. John Drebinger also one of your heroes in the book.
Jerome Holtzman Yes. The heroes of the book really as you said Stud that, you know, are the sportswriters not you know not the athletes themselves. And when I first started going around interviewing. For example, I ran across a lot of, you know, sportswriters who were talking about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and I switched the interviewing a little bit to zero in more on the sportswriters themselves because I, because I thought that they really would be more interesting especially since there's almost been nothing written about them.
Studs Terkel But also the covering. Drebinger having his own dignity and style. But he speaks, couldn't help but to speak again of the humor. Lustig had a humor. The images of players: Ruth, Babe Ruth. Paul Waner, one of the best natural hitters of all time, and Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the most remarkable pitchers of all time. All three were quite renowned as boozers.
Jerome Holtzman Yes as a matter of fact he mentions it as too bad that Mickey Mantle couldn't have been a drinker because he says if he had been, you know, if, if Mantle had been a drinker, Drebinger was convinced that this would lessen the pressure on him as he went for these home run records. But he said in, you know, in Mantle's case, he'd have a few drinks and he'd get silly. And and he, you know, he felt this hurt him as a player.
Studs Terkel Twenty-seven series. Again, watching the electric scoreboard that day. No TV of course. Hardly radio. You've got the electric scoreboard. When the Yankees, it was the seventh of deciding game, wasn't it? Tony Lazzeri at bat-
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Studs Terkel And he calls old Alex in, who was drunk as hell, walks to the mound. No windup. And he strikes out Lazzeri. [laughter] These are the some known stories but the little-known stories there, too. Gehrig. Coming back to Gehrig. Marshall Hunt and Drebinger both speak of Gehrig in the shadow of Ruth. Always there the and also the family aspect of it or the the boy. The the domesticated.
Jerome Holtzman Yes it's kind of interesting because Gehrig and Ruth always got along, you know, quite well until both got married and apparently it was their wives. I mean, you know, Gehrig's wife apparently was, was somewhat competitive and she was always telling Lou, "You know, Lou. You know, you got to, you know, you, you, you shouldn't always be playing in the shadow of the Babe." And Lou Gehrig himself was content with this role but apparently his wife wasn't and she wanted bigger and better things for him and she felt that when Ruth left the Yankees that Gehrig then would become the number one player. And it and it really didn't happen quite that way because then Joe DiMaggio came along.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Also the question of what happens? Who's gonna be the top man? We come to that matter, being number one and yet you quote in your book toward the end it's John Tunis who speaks to this very malaise. This matter of losing, on 261. John Tunis who is a celebrated writer whose interest more than baseball speaks of that. Perhaps you should read this and your thoughts about it, Jerry, since it's your book. "Sports is the great opium of the people. It has become an addiction; made them forget more important things. Politics for one thing. Look how 47 million people voted for Nixon [laughter] and 27 million for McGovern." This is John R.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Studs Terkel They, a sports books but not Frank Merriwell. "The heroes in the vast Tunis library are not the winners but the losers." And here he says about sports, "People should think more. People are more concerned with sports than politics, and it's just the reverse should be so. Losing! Here's the key. Losing is the great American sin. Nobody likes to lose. Certainly, I never saw anybody likes to lose but the American athletes hate to lose more than anybody especially those in the Olympic Games. My heroes are the losers. All my books have been in that vein, every book I've ever written." And yet we come Jerry to one of the, how sports reflects us now in a broader sense, too. If you win, that is you must win or else that. There's no joy to the game.
Jerome Holtzman Well but, but all of America as I heard Richard Goodwin say, "All of America is success oriented." You know, the, the prize is always to the winner, and the rush is to the champion. And as you know as John Tunis points out, there's a very thin line between the winner and the loser. Most people don't realize this. You know, the manager of the year, say, becomes the manager of the year in baseball because somebody happened to get a, you know, base hit over second base. So he becomes the manager of the year. Yet, the ball could have been hit, you know, two inches either way, and it could have been caught, and the other man could have been the manager of the year.
Studs Terkel I'm I'm I'm also thinking of losing, you know, George Allen is a case in point. I've seen him during "Working" on the book "Working." The contrast of George Allen's Eric Nesterenko, the hockey player. Eric believes in certain delight in the very game itself. And to him, he says "to win is good but it's not the end of the world if you lose." Whereas George Allen, it is the end of the world. He says the place is like a morgue, and it should be if we lose.
Jerome Holtzman Well I covered professional athletes all the time and when a team loses for example, the Cubs have just had a, you know, long losing streak and I've been with the Sox when they've lost. Everything really hinges on winning. And they say, they, you know, their food taste better. They, you know, they feel better. Losing really is the great American sin especially in sports, you know, because, because people want to see that, you know, the best. You know the people in Chicago. I disagree with them. They feel they're entitled to see the Cubs and White Sox win the pennant every year. I don't feel like they're entitled to that. But they're very disappointed because the Cubs don't win a pennant.
Studs Terkel Aside from all that I'm thinkin' the whole nature of watching a game. Whether it be baseball or football or whatever and enjoying, delighting in the game was for the spectators, as well as the player. Winning of course, is better than losing but that's not the end or the beginning of it,
Studs Terkel So we come to conditioning of people: children, little boys. For the moment little boys. Baseball. This is the John Tunis. "I've always believed Little Leagues, the Little League is harmful to the extreme. It's for the parents, that's what I object to. The adults take over. I don't like the idea of having little boys playing in front of their parents and friends. Little boys should be playing their sports by themselves. We dress 'em up in football, baseball uniforms and now I understand it's spread to hockey and basketball. They're professionals in miniature at the age of 10. These boys can't grow up and understand the enjoyment of simply playing. When a boy is told by his coach or his parent, it's important for him to scoop for a touchdown or score a run. Can he get anything out of the game? It takes the sport out of it. There's too much pressure on to succeed. Sports can be derogatory. Heard a boy a great deal. This training, this competition, and that's the point, isn't it?"
Jerome Holtzman Well, I think that today. Yes it is the point. And I think that today the boys of today, I don't think are quite as competitive in sports as they used to be. The athlete is no longer the school-boy hero. And I can see that my own son, that he hasn't always, you know, you know, he has been a swimmer and it hasn't been always important for him to win. And I think that this is, that his attitude is indicative of, you know, of an entire change. I think that the younger boys today don't want to compete, you know, the way we did 30 and 40 years ago.
Studs Terkel Isn't it happening? Isn't there a polarity here? Two extremes. What you say is true for some young people. At the same time, as we see the effective TV and advertising promotion and little leagues. And we see the little kids kicking in, in during halves of a football game on national TV; eight-year-old kickers, 10- year-old kickers, who would beat them [unintelligible] the little league ball players. So I think some are becoming more and more competitive as machines are.
Jerome Holtzman Yes.
Jerome Holtzman Well really it's repulsive to see these little kids dressed up as professional players, you know, you know, as as Mr. Tunis says, "They're professionals in miniature." I think it is repulsive. I think that, you know, the whole concept of little league is repulsive to me because it's so highly organized, that these little boys should be playing on a sandlots among themselves. And you know, you know and not before any spectators and especially their parents. But I do think that there has been a swing away from that, that the, the I mean you can see it in the high schools. The, the, it is, it's, it's no longer important for a boy to be a schoolboy sports star, to be, you know, to be popular. That, you know, that many times the, the athletes find out that they are, you know, that they are no longer the most popular kids in school and of course that you know they always were before. And this is really a very healthy, you know, very healthy change.
Studs Terkel Yeah. That's possible that might be moving, you see, in two directions at once. I mean what you say is true, of course, you know. At the same time, industry is there pushing. I think it's. Here is the other thing that John Tunis says in Jerry Holtzman's book that I like. "The whole damn society is too competitive. I've been a winner myself. I've got a box full of nice stocks and bonds, all that sort of thing to prove it. I've always felt somewhat guilty about it, that you have to beat the other fellow. But age has blunted my competitive desire," 84 now. "Nature took care of that at the age of 70. At 80, you're out of the picture." Tunis reflecting.
Jerome Holtzman Yeah, this really you know, you know, I kind of loved old John Tunis. You know as I did so many of these other men they're all older men and they're all talking, you know, at the ages, you know, 72 or 75 or 85 and they have really such wonderful things to say, and, of course, Mr. Tunis.
Studs Terkel Yeah. The one I've, I've quoted most, Tunis and [unintellligible] is my favorite of course is Red Smith. I practically marked the whole sequence here. Also about the his craft. He says, "When I began doing a column, which is much more, much more personal thing than covering the game itself. I found it wasn't something I'd rip off the top of my head. I had to do it painstakingly. I'm always unhappy, very unhappy. Anything, anything take less than two hours. I can do it in two hours if I must. My, my question is, my usual answer to the question, How long does it take to write a column? How much time do I have? If I have six hours, I take it. I wish I could say the ones that take six hours turn out better. Not necessarily. But I will say this: I do think over 300 days effort pays off. You do the best you can every day. Take as much time as necessary, as much time as you have. It's gonna to be better than if you brushed it off." He speaks of a style that can be more simple, straight, as he grew older.
Jerome Holtzman But I think this is true of all writers. I think that, you know, as all writers get older and mature they stop using the big words. They stop using as many adjectives. And they're much more direct and they're much more concerned with giving information than showing off their writing brilliance or their so-called writing brilliance.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman Well Cannon said that the new journalists. He says, "They're, you know, they're claiming, they're claiming that I'm the father." He says but he says, "So far as I'm concerned they're my bastard children." He didn't like them for a variety of reasons one of which was of course that they helped sink the "Herald Tribune," you know, "The Herald Tribune World Telegram" combination. And he felt, too, that some of the New Journalists, especially Jimmy Breslin, that they were always writing about things that didn't happen. They were. They were faking a lot. They used to fake dramatic scenes and he didn't believe in that. He you know, he only wrote what he saw and what he heard and what he felt. And he cites, he, he, he sort of savages Breslin in the book a little bit for making up things.
Jerome Holtzman Yes.
Jerome Holtzman Right. He was 63 years old. He was in a wheelchair and he was, you know, trying to work his way back. And he was just overjoyed with the fact that he could get up and walk to the bathroom.
Studs Terkel He says, "I thought "The Man with the Golden Arm" was the great novels of America. His description of that neighborhood, that saloon, those people. He wrote better about Chicago than anybody, including Carl Sandburg." And this is interesting. But also his thoughts about truth telling. Sportswriting survive because the guys, because the guys who don't cheer. That truth tells. So today I think we sense that even as we read the papers, look through sections somewhere we get more to the core of things.
Jerome Holtzman Yes.
Jerome Holtzman Yes there's no question really that the, the, you now, today's sportswriter is certainly telling more truth than ever before. And there, it's kind of interesting that one of the reasons for this hasn't been because of advances necessarily by the sportswriters themselves but by some of the ex-athletes who wrote books. They were the ones, you know, that first began exposing the situation.
Studs Terkel JBrosnan.
Studs Terkel I'm thinkin' that since in the, in the history of baseball writers have been Ring Lardner, Haywood Broun. I think of Westwood Pegler, you know, whether you agre- not discussing his political writings now but the nature of his writings, the power of his writings, you know. Even there, too powerful, having a view. I happen to abhor but nonetheless potent, think of the people growing older and getting meaner and nastier, more narrow. You'd think that, you know, the old cliche yet Red Smith, a return to him. And like the normal pattern in Jerry Holtzman's book, says Red Smith, "I know I've grown more liberal as I've grown older. I have become more convinced there's room for improvement in the world. I seem to be finding it is a much less pretty world than it seemed when I was younger. I feel that things should be done about it and that sports are part of this world. Maybe I'm sounding too damn profound. Maybe I'm taking bows when I shouldn't. I don't know. I know I'm more open now." And and then he goes on to say, "My sympathies have almost always had been on the side of the underdog or the guy I think is the underdog. There was a time when I was inclined to go along with the establishment maybe because I'm no longer traveling with a ball club and no longer expose, exposed to the establishment day in and day out." And so now he says, "I'm supporting the players and I look at the Charlie Finleys and the Bowie Kuhns." He came to admire Marvin Miller. But first he didn't like because what he heard about him; whom, who is the man who organized the baseball players union.
Jerome Holtzman Right, Red Smith is a very interesting study. Red Smith is about 69 years old now and he's the lead columnist for "The New York Times." It's interesting to me that of all, you know, he of course is considered to be the best sportswriter in the country and has been for the last 25 years or so. It's interesting to me that in the last 10 years, he's become the champion of of the, the players' unions both in football and baseball. And, and, you know, and other sportswriters comment about this. And yet for the previous 30 years, he really was an establishment writer.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Studs Terkel Since you mentioned this aside from Smith, which is, of course, quite a to me a very beautiful story, is that baseball writers, by the very nature of their work, Jerry, in other words, they travel with the team and they're at the hotels with the team and with the players unlike the don, the drama critic who did not associate with actors, you're thrown in with the players and also the management is always there. So you almost caught in sort of a trap, aren't you?
Jerome Holtzman Yes it's a very delicate relationship because for example, if I write something that Richie Allen doesn't like, I might go down for breakfast the next morning or very often I'll see him at the next table. I'll go out, you know, to the ballpark on the team bus and he'll be in his seat, you know, you know, just across the aisle. I'll see the manager three times a day. And yet at the same time, you try to be as objective as possible and try to write as much truth as you possibly can. And so it's a very delicate relationship and one of the ways to handle this, unlike the old-time writers, I mean, at least I find it, is that you, is that you don't become too involved and too friendly with the players or with the managers. Because in that way, you don't obligate yourself to them. You have to keep a certain distance.
Jerome Holtzman No.
Jerome Holtzman Right. Also as Jimmy Cannon says, he says if, if, you know, if a performer gives a bad performance, the drama critic doesn't walk backstage after the performance and say, "Hey what happened?" You know, "Why did you strike out or why did you blow that line?"
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Jerome Holtzman We're constantly going into the clubhouse and asking what are very often embarrassing questions. And I just think that the baseball writer as, you know, as Jimmy Cannon also says. He says, "It's an adversarial relationship"-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Well, of course, this is what the book's about to revealing these psyche's of the thoughts of these a number of very distinguished baseball writers who were writers. That's the important thing; they're writers and talking about it. Jerry Holtzman himself a baseball writer of the "Sun-Times," for so many years. Edited and put it together. Holt Rinehart Winston. Perhaps end with another Red Smith comment he made. He speaks, he and others speak of the really remarkable sports editor Stanley Woodward. I guess one of the best ever was, wasn't he at the "Herald Tribune."
Jerome Holtzman Yes that really pleases me because I too, I mean Stanley Woodward too is among my heroes and I was delighted to get so much in the book about Stanley Woodward because he was really a newspaperman first and a sportswriter second or a sports editor second.
Jerome Holtzman Right.
Jerome Holtzman No.
Jerome Holtzman Well Stanley Woodward, I just saw him once in Tampa Florida in spring training when I was young baseball writer and I really admired him greatly. He wrote a very famous book called, "Sports Page." [cough] And the thing that I admired most about Stanley Woodward is that as the sports editor, he was constantly looking for people who could outwrite him. He was looking for, you know, for newspaper men who were, you know, who were as good or better than he was and you don't always find this. Now and also, he had the column and he handed the column to Red Smith on his paper because he knew that Red Smith could write a better column. There's only there's another sports editor who I think really deserves to be in the same bracket with with Stanley and that's Wilfred Smith of "The Chicago Tribune." Wilford Smith was this, is the same kind of man that Stanley Woodward was. Wilford Smith, you know, he didn't put, you know, himself above his staff. He he was always, you
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Perhaps we could end with this Red Smith comment. And it's about baseball and ourselves. "Sports. I won't deny that the heavy majority of sportswriters, myself included, have been and still is guilty of puffing up people they write about. I remember one time when Woodward, my beloved leader, as he puts it, was on the point of sending me a wire during spring training saying, 'Will you stop Godding up those ballplayers?' Godding up. "I didn't realize what I've been doing. If we made heroes out of them, we have. Then we must also lay a whole set of false values at the doorsteps of historians and biographers. Not only has the athlete been blown up larger than life but so are the politicians, celebrities, in all fields including rock singers and movie stars. When you go through Westminster Abbey you'll find excepting for the little Poets' Corner, almost all the statues, memorials are to killers; to generals and admirals who won battles whose specialty was human slaughter. I don't think they're such glorious heroes. I've tried not to exaggerate the glory of athletes. I'd rather if I could preserve a sense of proportion to write about them as excellent ballplayers, first-rate ballplayers. But I'm sure I have contributed to false values as Stanley Woodward said, 'Godding up those ballplayers.'" So Red's telling us about a lot of things. Isn't he? And so's your book too, Jerry.