Winter Olympics Recap and Spring Training Time

Before we make the leap from the wintry temperatures to the warmer climes of spring, a tip of the hat to a pair of victorious American teams to the recently completed Winter Olympics.

There were few headlines for U.S. athletes in figure skating, alpine skiing and speed skating, the sports that receive the most coverage.

But Gold Medal success of the Americans in two others will be the what we will remember the most from these Games.

An emphatic salute to the U.S. Women’s hockey team in capturing the Gold in a dramatic shoot-out with Canada, and to the American Men’s Curling team which garnered the Gold Medal beating Sweden.

Well done!



Now let’s warm up a bit.

Spring Training is underway for major league teams, and growing up there was no better signal that we were all closer to the joy of the warmer months than we were to the bitter weather of winter.

As a kid, the sound of baseball on the radio was an indescribable delight.

My New York Giants  (yes, the Giants used to play in some other city than San Francisco) trained in Phoenix.

They would broadcast all the weekend games, and I counted the days until the first exhibition game in early March.

The Giants played most of these games against the Cleveland Indians who were based in Tucson, and the two clubs would go back and forth facing each other two-thirds of the spring schedule.

Back then, there were only four teams training in Arizona.

Everyone else had their camps in Florida.

Today, it’s split down-the-middle.

In Arizona the spring headquarters are bunched closer together. No long bus rides.

A major plus.

I can still hear the sounds of the games, the crack of the bat, the crowd obviously enjoying a day in the sunshine, the shouts of the vendors selling peanuts, hot dogs and beer.

I lived for those times, and I bet you do as well if you go back that far.

I thought of those wonderful memories last weekend when Jamie and I watched the Giants take on the Cubs in Scottsdale.

We had terrific seats a few rows behind the Giants dugout not far from home plate.

It pays to be married to someone who has connections in Arizona.

Here I was, watching the team that broke my heart when they moved from New York in 1958, playing in Arizona, which was merely a strange locale out west when I was glued to the radio as a youngster.

How ironic.


Spring training eventually changed for me as my broadcasting career unfolded.
In 1967, a month into my first major job as Sports Director of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, I traveled to Ft. Myers, Florida to cover the Pirates for a week, sending film reports and interviews to be aired back at the station.

All of the Pirates games had been broadcast for years on KDKA Radio, and approximately 20 regular season contests were televised on TV.

KDKA and the Pirates were big-time partners.

So here I was, a 24-year old neophyte, soaking in his very first spring training, rubbing elbows with major leaguers.

The Pirates nearly won the National League pennant in 1966, and many observers picked the Buccos to win it all this time around.

The Dodgers took the NL flag the year before, finishing a game and-a-half ahead of the Giants and only three games in front of third-place Pittsburgh.

This was the Pirates big chance and they acquired two proven veteran stars in trades.

Jim Bunning, future Hall of Fame pitcher from the Phillies, who threw no-hitters in both leagues (one, a perfect game), and shortstop Maury Wills, who was a key member of three Dodger world championships, a former MVP, and one of the finest base-stealers the game has ever seen.

One day there was a story in  which Willie Davis, the Dodgers center-fielder ripped Wills, his former teammate, and Wills answered in kind in a film interview with me in the clubhouse.

I had a scoop!

I was the only reporter who recorded Wills harsh reaction to his ex-teammates’ criticism.

As indicated previously, I had established myself as a “tell it like it is” commentator who would deliver strong opinions on the nightly newscasts.

It was uncommon for sportscasters to air these commentaries as a regular format.

Viewers were curious.

It helped the ratings.

I was prepared to report the story on film with the Wills interview  to be sent by courier to the station for airing the next day.

Today, of course, it would go on the air live by satellite.

When the Pirates brass got wind of my story, the manager Harry Walker asked me to go on a walk with him on the empty ball field where the Pirates practiced.

A hardened baseball veteran for decades, Walker, in his soft, southern dialect, calmly explained to me that the Pirates were building for a solid run at the pennant, that the club, and the station I was employed by, were partners, and that fueling this controversy would be a detriment to the far-reaching goals of the organization.

He never raised his voice, or showed anger.

I was left with a decision. A big one. Do I follow through with my mission of being the objective reporter I was hired to be, certainly strengthening that reputation, or caving to the wishes of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and refraining from sending Maury Wills’ remarks to be broadcast?

I decided not to send the interview and do that report.

I have never regretted going that route.

In the years to follow, I still wrote and aired critical commentaries on various topics and various sports figures.

But in my heart I knew eventually I would go in a different direction.

My love for sports was not about criticism and finding fault.

I guess that part of me was revealed that day in Ft. Myers.

In any event, that incident was a far cry from the days I turned on the transistor radio and heard the crack of the bat, and the sounds of a spring training game between the Giants and the Indians.



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