From Black Sox to Three-Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sportswriting from the "Tribune," "Sun-Times," and Other Newspapersby Ron Rapoport
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Bears, Bulls, Cubs, Sox, Blackhawks—there’s no city like Chicago when it comes to sports. Generation after generation, Chicagoans pass down their almost religious allegiances to teams, stadiums, and players and their never-say-die attitude, along with the stories of the city’s best (and worst) sports moments. And every one of those moments—every come-from-behind victory or crushing defeat—has been chronicled by Chicago’s unparalleled sportswriters.
In From Black Sox to Three-Peats, veteran Chicago sports columnist Ron Rapoportassembles one hundred of the best columns and articles from the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily News, Defender, and other papers to tell the unforgettable story of a century of Chicago sports. From Ring Lardner to Rick Telander, Westbrook Pegler to Bob Verdi, Mike Royko to Hugh Fullerton , Melissa Isaacson to Brent Musburger, and on and on, this collection reminds us that Chicago sports fans have enjoyed a wealth of talent not just on the field, but in the press box as well. Through their stories we relive the betrayal of the Black Sox, the cocksure power of the ’85 Bears, the assassin’s efficiency of Jordan’s Bulls, the Blackhawks’ stunning reclamation of the Stanley Cup, the Cubs’ century of futility—all as seen in the moment, described and interpreted on the spot by some of the most talented columnists ever to grace a sports page.
Sports are the most ephemeral of news events: once you know the outcome, the drama is gone. But every once in a while, there are those games, those teams, those players that make it into something more—and great writers can transform those fleeting moments into lasting stories that become part of the very identity of a city. From Black Sox to Three-Peats is Chicago history at its most exciting and celebratory. No sports fan should be without it.
"A flip-page feast for sports fans. . . . Some cities can boast of more winners, but no town ever had more good people to write about than Chicago. What writers, what characters, what moments! . . . More than any volume of sportswriting I've ever seen, From Black Sox To Three-Peats serves as a cutaway view of the evolution of sportswriting. . . . There's so much good writing in the book."
"Great sportswriting, of particular interest to Chicago fans."
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from Black Sox to Three-Peats
A Century of Chicago's Best Sportswriting from the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Other Newspapers
By RON RAPOPORT
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
It is hard to know where Ring Lardner's newspaper columns left off and his fiction began, and for good reason. While Lardner's popularity and influence extended far beyond the sports page—Ernest Hemingway wrote articles for his high school newspaper under the byline Ring Lardner Junior and Virginia Woolf, who didn't know second base from Westminster Abbey, was an admirer—the truth is he never really left sportswriting.
Almost until the end of his life, even while writing the classic stories that made his reputation and his fortune, Lardner continually returned to sports in syndicated newspaper columns and magazine articles. His grandson James wrote in the New York Times in 1985 that as Lardner was turning out seven columns a week for the Chicago Tribune between 1913 and 1919, he also found the time to write You Know Me Al, Alibi Ike, Gullible's Travels, Champion, and many other short stories.
Let me repeat that. The man wrote a column every single day and still found the time to write some of America's most enduring fiction. The mind reels. The fact that the overall quality of his columns was so high, says Lardner's biographer, Jonathan Yardley, "must be counted among the extraordinary accomplishments of American journalism."
So perhaps it is no surprise that Lardner's "In the Wake of the News" columns in the Tribune bear all the hallmarks of his stories: loopy dialogue, misspellings, haphazard punctuation, and odd abbreviations. He must have driven his copy editors crazy. The column reprinted here is one he wrote before the 1919 World Series, which turned out to be not so funny after all.
The other pioneers in this section were also Chicago originals, in the press box and the arena. Frank A. (Fay) Young was a dining-car waiter for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad when he started working at the Chicago Defender as it was being founded in 1906. He collected whatever newspapers he could find on his runs out of town and clipped articles about black athletes. When he finally quit his day job, Young went on to train and set the stage for writers at black newspapers around the country for the next half century. The article reprinted here is on a topic the black press returned to again and again but which few white readers ever came across. More's the pity.
Arch Ward, who ran the Chicago Tribune sports staff from 1930 until 1955, has been called the most powerful sports editor who ever lived. He is best remembered for inventing baseball's All-Star Game—he describes its perilous origins in the column reprinted here—and the NFL's College All-Star Game, which survives today in a different format as the Pro Bowl. Ward was also, in that more ethically relaxed journalistic era, a one-man conflict of interest. He once quit his job to become a promoter and, while still at the Tribune, started a new pro football league. Ward was so busy with outside activities, in fact, that Tribune writer Ed Prell told Jerome Holtzman in No Cheering in the Press Box that he and four other writers took turns ghosting his "In the Wake of the News" column. I'll bet Lardner wishes he'd thought of that.
Along with Dave Hoekstra's twenty-one-gun salute to Double Duty Radcliffe, baseball's oldest player, this section contains tributes to Chicago sports pioneers by some well-known columnists who just happened to be among their closest friends. Jack Griffin and George Halas, David Condon and Ray Meyer, Jerome Holtzman and Bill Veeck.
Sports columnists all over the country mourned Veeck's passing—I wrote a tear-stained tribute myself—but I think Bill would have liked Holtzman's, in which old friends tell their favorite stories about him. Some of them might even be true.
A Hot Tip from the Umpire
Chicago Tribune October 1, 1919
CINCINNATI, O—Gents: The world serious starts tomorrow with a big surprise. A great many people figured that the White Sox would be scared out and would never appear. But sure enough when we woke up this morning and come down to breakfast, here was the White Sox as big as life and willing to play. The first bird I seen amist them was Ray Schalk, the second catcher.
"Well, Cracker," I said, "I never expected to see you down here as I had been told that you would quit and would never appear." "Well, Biscuit," was his reply, "here we are and that's the best answer."
So after all that is said and done the White Sox is down here and trying to win the first 2 games on their merits so it looks like the serious would not be forfeited after all.
Most of the experts went to the 2 different managers to try and learn who was going to pitch the opening game. So to be different from the rest of them as usual, I passed up the two managers and went to the umpires. The first one I seen was Cy Rigler and I have known him all my life. "Who is going to win, Cy?" I asked. "I don't know," was his ample reply. You can take that tip or leave it. Personally I am betting on his word. He will give them the best of it if possible.
The next umpire I seen was Quigley. "My system," he said, "is to call everybody out."
The 2 American league umpires could not be seen as they was both up writing their stuff, but you can be sure that neither of them will give anybody the best of it. So all and all, it looks like a even break in the umpireing.
That brings us to the hotel accommodations. A large Chicago newspaper has got the prize rm. of the lot, namely, the smoking rm. off the ball rm. in the Gibson. This means that if anybody wakes up at 3 in the morning and wants to smoke why they can do so without moving out of their rm. And if they want to dance why all as they have to do is go in the next rm. And look for a pardner.
A great many people has written in to this hotel to ask how I am going to bet so they can do the opposite and make big money.
Well gents I might as well tell you where I stand. I dont believe either club can win as neither 1 of them has got a manager. But I do know both of the socalled managers personally and I have asked them who is going to pitch the opening game and they both say everybody on the staff so it looks like a free hitting game with Gerner and Mayer in there at the start and Mitchell and Lowdermilk to relieve them, but neither has made any provisions in regards to who is going to relieve us newspapers guys.
The other day as you may remember, I tried to make a comparison of the 2 clubs man for man and when I come to the shortstops why I said the logical thing, which is that no shortstops can win the serious as nobody ever hits to the shortstops in a big event like this. But thousands of birds wrote in personal letters to know what I thought of the 2 shortstops any way so I suppose I have got to tell them.
Well of the 2 shortstops mentioned Risberg and Kopf will be in there at the start of the serious but they will both be took out before the serious is 9 games old.
Compareing the both of them, Risberg is a Swede, but on the other hand Kopf hits from both sides of the plate. Both of them is tricky and is libel to throw a ball to a different base than expected. Kopf is the better looking but Risberg is the tallest and if they ever try to drive a high line drive over his head they will get fooled.
The 2 stars of the comeing serious has both been overlooked by the experts and I refer to Sherwood Magee and John Collins whom a lot of you think wont be in there. Even if they are not they are both good fellows.
Another question the public keeps asking we experts is who gets the advantage of having the serious 9 games in the stead of 7. Well gents all as I can say is it isnt the newspaper men. Further and more I wouldnt be surprised if neither ball club liked the new regime as I have nicknamed it as it looks to me like both mgrs. would use up all the pitchers they have got tomorrow and wouldn't know what to do next.
All together it looks like a long serious, and whoever made it 9 games had it in for us.
A Polecat in the Hotel
Major Leaguers Fail to Drop Color Bar
FRANK A. YOUNG
Chicago Defender December 12, 1942
The National and American League owners and managers quietly and superbly sidestepped the question of admitting Negroes into the big leagues at the annual meeting of the two leagues at the Palmer House, which was a busy place last week.
They discussed every other angle—transportation, trades, spring training dates and everything else relating to the game. But when the Negro newspaper man made his appearance, things changed in a hurry.
Mr. So and So, president of this or that club, could not be reached even by phone. One or two who were collared "had nothing to say," at this time. Anybody would have thought a polecat had come into the hotel.
One newspaperman ventured to confidentially tell us just what the trouble was but only on the promise that his name would not be used.
He believed the time was ripe for Negroes to get in major league baseball but that those behind the move had gone about it in the wrong way. First, he said, there are owners, who, like Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators, believe the two Negro leagues ought to clean themselves up. By that he said it was generally known that there are men connected with both leagues who couldn't stand to have light shed on their businesses. He said major league baseball had no place for such operatives.
The general impression was that the Communists were behind the move. Asked how the Chicago Defender and millions of baseball fans of color could be classed as Reds simply because they demanded a fair deal for all, this informant said he knew but was telling us what others thought.
On Thursday afternoon, a committee of 19 members of the CIO was balked in its efforts to place the matter of discrimination against Negro ballplayers before Judge Landis and the joint committee of the National and American Leagues, which was in session at the Ambassador East hotel on the North Side. The committee desired to present its case but was met at the door by Les O'Connor, secretary to Judge Landis, and told that the committee would be given a hearing if a place could be found on the program.
After a long wait, the committee told O'Connor that if the committee was not given a hearing that the matter of Negroes being employed in the major leagues would be taken up with the Fair Employment Practices Committee. This riled O'Connor who went back in to the joint meeting and returned with Landis' "No," with regard to any hearing.
The time was ripe last summer to inject Negroes into major leagues when a wide amount of publicity was given Larry MacPhail, then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers but now an officer in the Army, and President William Benswanger of the Pittsburgh Pirates who made a statement that Pittsburgh would give three or four a tryout at the end of the season.
What the end of the season meant no one but Mr. Benswanger knows as no Negro players even got a chance to appear with the Pittsburgh club in a workout.
The whole question died down with the coming of the World Series although it is reported that it came up in New York at a meeting and things waxed so warm that the phonograph record of the meeting was ordered smashed.
The following telegram was sent to the Pittsburgh club president by the Chicago Defender:
President, Pittsburgh Pirates
Last summer the Chicago Defender was among the first to congratulate you on your decision to give tryouts to four Negro baseball players. We again want to congratulate you on your stand for fair play to all races in the major leagues. However, we believe that the question of Negroes in big league baseball must be before the major leagues meeting now in the Palmer Hotel. In the interest of national unity and morale in these crucial war days, we believe that you should act to place this important question before the current meeting by insisting that it be placed on the league agenda. You will be making a major contribution to our war effort through this action, which will go a long way towards breaking that racial barrier holding back the all-out prosecution of the war against the race-hating axis.
Metz T.P. Lochard
The Chicago Defender
The Game of the Century
Chicago Tribune July 6, 1933
The Game of the Century at Comiskey Park this afternoon is the answer to oft-repeated statements that major league baseball is a stenciled, unvarying procedure that shuns extraneous innovation.
Scores of fans have written to this department since the game was announced venturing the opinion that eloquent persuasion must have been required to win approval of the league presidents and club owners.
There is no better time to make known that the proposal was received enthusiastically right from the start by nearly every man connected with the game. Save for a few minor details the game will be played exactly as outlined in the original suggestion.
The first person to whom we mentioned the idea was William Harridge, president of the American League. Our selling points were these:
1—Baseball needed an opportunity to show it was not in a state of decadence.
2—A Century of Progress Exposition was an ideal setting for baseball to display its wares.
3—All profits of the game would be donated to the Baseball Players' Charity fund.
4—THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE guaranteed all expenses in case the game was rained out.
5—The fans of the nation would be invited to help pick the all-star teams.
We asked Mr. Harridge for his candid reaction. He answered as follows:
"I am all for it. While there has never been anything like it, I know no reason why it is impossible."
This was on April 20. Harridge promised that if we could interest the National League in the proposal he would submit the idea to the American league club owners at their meeting in Cleveland May 9.
The next day we called upon William Veeck, president of the Cubs. He said it was just the tonic baseball needed and offered to help interest other National League clubs.
Fortified with the endorsement, we wrote President John Heydler of the National League. His immediate reply was strong personal support and a promise to take a mail vote of the club owners.
There was nothing to do then but to wait. The American League at its meeting May 9 officially approved the game and instructed President Harridge to make necessary changes in the schedule to clear the way. From a National League owner we learned the vote was progressing satisfactorily in that organization.
On May 15 when it looked as if everything was set we received a wire from Mr. Heydler stating that the National League would be unable to accept the invitation, due to the objection of a few of the club owners.
The objections, we learned, came from St. Louis, Boston, and New York. St. Louis feared precedent, but said it would not take the responsibility of blocking the game. The complication involving New York and Boston was a doubleheader scheduled between those teams at Boston July 5, the day before the game in Chicago. It is impossible to play even a single game in Boston and be in Chicago the next day.
The Giants were playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field at the time, so we called upon Secretary Jim Tierney. He said New York would have no objection to the interleague contest if it could get out of the twin bill at Boston. That left the Boston club the last obstacle in the way of the big game. A telephone call to Charles Adams, owner of the Braves, brought the information that they would make no protest if President Heydler ordered the doubleheader shifted to another date.
Mr. Heydler came to Chicago the next day. When he learned St. Louis, New York, and Boston were willing to take part, he immediately gave official approval and the game was on.
THE TRIBUNE then invited 55 newspapers in all sections of the United States to cooperate in conducting a poll of the fans to determine their idea of the strongest teams that could be recruited. All 55 papers accepted and 500,000 fans participated in the voting.
This is truly America's game. Never have so many people had a hand in the arrangement of a sports event.
The first All-Star Game was a great success, drawing 47,595 fans to Comiskey Park and featuring a home run by Babe Ruth as the American League won, 4–2. The game quickly became a highlight of the baseball season.
Excerpted from from Black Sox to Three-Peats by RON RAPOPORT. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Ron Rapoport was a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than twenty years and also wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and the Associated Press. He served as the sports commentator for NPR's Weekend Edition for two decades and has written a number of books about sports and entertainment. He lives in Van Nuys, CA.
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