Saturday, November 27, 2010
Strength in Numbers
The National Turf Writers Association is about to accept broadcasters into its lodge. After 51 years, it will be, goodbye National Turf Writers Association, hello National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, which would be the new name of the organization. Jerry Bailey, come on down. Jill Byrne, come on down. Joe Tessitore, come on down. Tom Durkin, come on down? We'll see.
At least the new name gives the turf writers top billing. I'm told that the new lapel badge, instead of just having a pair of binoculars, will be adding a microphone. In a poll of the card-carrying turf writers about the admission of racing broadcasters, I voted in favor without hesitation, the main reason being that I needed a new lapel badge. In desperation, I tried to use mine in a Coke machine the other night and it was rejected.
This is not a change that would have Joe Hirsch, founder and first president of the turf writers, spinning in his grave. Hirsch was a progressive, someone who never lost sight of the big picture, and I'm sure he would have seen the wisdom of including broadcasters. The organization had to do something, because turf writers are in danger of becoming extinct. Turf writer may become an anachronism before long, like bowling alley pin boys and elevator operators. I can virtually count on one hand the number of cities with newspapers that employ full-time turf writers. The Los Angeles Times, where I worked for 24 years, now covers the sport by committee. At almost all papers, gone are the days when a sports editor has the luxury of hiring a reporter who would do only turf writing.
Let's face it, some turf writers cling to their membership (and pay the $50 annual dues) only because they want to retain their Eclipse ballots. (I am one of these). When the broadcasters join, one of the four voting groups will have more of a majority than it already had. Last year, the turf writers controlled 53 per cent of the vote. The other groups with votes are Daily Racing Form representatives, racing secretaries from most of the tracks and the smallest faction--chart people from Equibase. Whether the three minority groups will cotton to the turf writers-broadcasters holding more of an upper hand remains to be seen. It's possible that the votes from the four groups will be equally weighted, at 25 per cent apiece, which was the way Eclipse voting worked before there was a change to the current total-vote system.
The broadcasters are lucky that the turf writers, in considering a reorganization, aren't as narrow-minded as the national baseball writers have been. In another incarnation, I was a baseball writer, and I still hold an honorary membership, and I can say with conviction that broadcasters will never invade that group. Years ago, there were influential baseball writers, such as Dick Young of the New York Daily News and Milt Gross of the New York Post, who typified the resistance to electronic types crashing the club, and that mindset still prevails.
At news conferences, Young would stand in front of cameras so it would be difficult for them to capture the principals; there was almost a fistfight in Atlanta one day when Young objected to the presence of several TV cameramen in the New York Mets' clubhouse. Several hours before the seventh and final game of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals, Gross was conducting a one-on-one clubhouse interview with Mickey Lolich, one of the star pitchers for the Tigers. Without warning, a local radio broadcaster, somebody from St. Louis, invaded Lolich's locker and stuck a microphone in front of him. He was doing a live broadcast and was going to piggyback on the Gross interview.
There had been a rumor that Lolich would be pitching despite some discomfort in the groin area. Something about an infection that had flared up. With disgust, Gross looked at the broadcaster. He practically grabbed the mike out of the guy's hand and said: "Now, Mickey, about that infection. With that (sore) on your (private), how effective will you be against the Cardinals today?"
The radio guy wrested his mike from Gross and headed for the door. Lolich went out and beat St. Louis, giving Detroit the title. Even before he wrote his column, Milt Gross told me that he had had a good day.