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Keeping an eye on Chaim, Raffy & a few good books

Archive for September, 2009

Joe Falls: 50 Years of DiMaggio, Kaline & Jordan

Posted by athomeatfenway on September 9, 2009

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There is much to like about Joe Falls book, “50 YEARS OF SPORTS WRITING, And I still can’t tell the difference between a slider and a curve.”  (Sports Publishing, 1997.)

This 187 page tome navigates Falls’ personal experiences with DiMaggio, Williams, Mantle, Jordan, Nicklaus, Schembechler, Hayes, and on and on and so forth.

Joseph Falls, son of a New York City cop, at the age of 17 in 1945 took a job as a copyboy for the Associated Press. After an apprenticeship of eight years, Falls moved to the Detroit bureau of the AP, where he flourished. He was hired by the Detroit Times in 1956 to cover the Detroit Tigers, and continued that beat with the Detroit Free Press from 1960 to 1978.  Later, he moved to the Detroit News, where he was a columnist and Sports Editor.

Those of us living outside of Greater Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s knew of Falls because he wrote a weekly column in The Sporting News.

What a writing cast the TSN had !

Furman Bisher.  CC Spink.  Jerome Holtzman.  Dick Young.  Jim Hawkins.  Joe Falls.  That stable of Sporting News columnists doled out exotic, intoxicating Baseball intelligence, covering the turf from the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum to Shea Stadium.  The Baseball Universe in 48 tabloid pages, a 4-color photo of Reggie Jackson on the cover.

In 2001, Falls won the J. G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Falls may have started as a humble copyboy, but he ascended to a prominence that unlocked doors that other writers could only dream about opening.

In 1965, not long after making the transition from reporter to columnist, a colleague suggested that Joe interview Walter Hagen, who was 73 and lived within a day’s drive of Detroit.  Hagen, who won 11 Majors, picked up the phone but was silent as Falls said hello.  After an uncomfortable silence, Hagen’s housekeeper came on the line and explained that the Golf HOFer was unable to speak because he had throat cancer.  But Hagen knew how respected Falls was, and granted him a meeting.

When Falls arrived for the interview, Hagen was smoking a cigarette and wearing a white bib.  Hagen is  a prime example of why Falls says that Golfers are the nicest athletes to interview.  He was welcomed into the lakeside Hagen home.  He spent two delightful hours “chatting like mad”, Falls talking, Hagen signing to the housekeeper, and the housekeeper speaking for Hagen.  After Falls knew it was time to leave, Hagen offered a demonstration of his golf swing.  He took his stance, drew back his club, and swung through an invisible ball.  Hagen then let out a loud whoop.  “Oh”, said the housekeeper, Mr. Hagen made a perfect shot, right into the middle of the lake.”

Falls was transfixed.  He had met a sporting legend, sick and failing, and felt his robust love of life.

Falls was, above all, a fan of Sport.

As a reporter, he set aside his childhood allegiances, like the one he had with the Yankees.

He found joy watching athletes push themselves to excellence.

He felt their pain as well.

As in the case of Mickey Mantle…….immediately after the conclusion of the 1960 World Series…

“Mazeroski’s home run against the Yankees in 1960…I  can still see Yogi Berra going back for the (homerun) ball…”

“It was a difficult moment for me.  I was old enough to know better, but I was still a Yankee fan.  I felt suffocated.  But I knew I had my work to do.  My feelings for the Yankees had fallen away when I became a baseball writer and saw them up close.  They were very arrogant, even nasty.  Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin and Clete Boyer always seemed to be laughing at those around them, mostly the newspaper men, making them look stupid whenever they could.  These players had been my heroes; now they were distasteful people.”

“Mantle was a little different from the others.  When he was around Martin, Ford and Boyer, he could be a smart aleck, very cutting, trying to get laughs from them.  When you got him alone, he was much different.  He was pleasant and cooperative, and this is the Mickey Mantle I chose to remember when he died.”

“Anyway, when I walked into the Yankee dressing room that day, Mantle was sitting in front of his locker with his head down.  He was crying, and the tears were spotting the floor.  I knew, in that moment, the measure of a man.  He was a big star – a celebrated figure – but he was also an athlete – and now he was crushed.”

“At that moment, Elroy Face, Pittsburgh’s great relief pitcher, appeared in the doorway.  I thought he had come over to offer his congratulations or condolences to the Yankees.”

“He had an awful expression on his face.  He looked around the room and said, “F—  you guys.”

“Some memory.”

This poignant, hardcover collection of memories was  gathered by a man that few players hated,  most  respected.

Falls takes you places you cannot go on your own.  His decency and fairness gained him entry into insulated clubhouses and homes.

It is a great read.

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