A wonderful run: Stan Isaacs' final Newsday column
The first story I ever wrote for Newsday was about a Mineola-Hempstead High football game that ran Oct. 25, 1954. The story was copyread by Ed Comerford, the talented jack-of-all-trades who later became sports editor.
Bob Zellner, the sports editor, looking on, asked Comerford what he thought. Comerford gave a half-shrug and said, "Uh!"
Some time later, Comerford told me, "What you didn't realize, Stan, was that for me, that was a compliment."
I wind up almost 38 years at Newsday with this column. It has been a wonderful run. As a sports reporter, Out of Left Field columnist, city-side columnist, a short Marx Brothers regime as sports editor, and finally, armed with TV and VCR, as armchair spectator. Readers have been appreciative and forgiving. Editors have been patient and often lifesavers for the factual blips and spelling assaults upon names I have committed.
Two profound journalistic injunctions have served as beacons through the years. Joseph Pulitzer said a newspaper should "inform and enlighten." I subscribe to that, and because I have toiled in the vineyards that Larry Merchant described as the Fun and Games Department, I have added "to entertain" as well.
There also was the gospel according to Sherman (Roadblock) Jones, one of the original Mets. On the very first day of the very first Mets spring training session in 1962, when the team broke for lunch, I walked over to Jones, a nondescript pitcher, and introduced myself and my paper.
He said, "Newsday. That's a newspaper, isn't it?"
"I believe only 14 percent of what I read in newspapers," Jones said.
"Why 14 percent?"
"Fourteen percent," he answered with a mystical air, and that was it.
Sherman (Roadblock) Jones' credo has been a constant reminder that there are people out there with a healthy skepticism for what I would write. It nipped any excess headiness that might have developed at the typewriter and word processor.
Good times rolled
Stealing the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers world championship flag from Walter O'Malley; spiriting it back to New York; donating it to the Hall of Fame with the proviso we would get it back when there was a place in Brooklyn worthy of it; pleading in vain for the Hall of Fame to give it back so we could present it to the new Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame.
Satirizing the phony trade stories that cropped up at every World Series, Len Shecter of the New York Post, Merchant of the Philadelphia Daily News and I made up what in 1962 seemed like the outlandish idea of Yogi Berra as manager, leaving the Yankees to pilot the San Francisco Giants. Many reporters and United Press International used the story because they were willing to print a rumor.
Being in the dressing room in Miami Beach to witness the Beatles, on their first tour of the United States, meeting face to face with Muhammad Ali, who was training for a fight. Ali didn't know who they were.
Basking in the presence of Casey Stengel, Bill Veeck, Bill Russell and the early Cassius Marcellus Clay / Ali, four of the most dynamic people I met in sports.
Finding that the best way to elicit comment from two people I enjoyed was to argue with them: Leo Durocher and Jackie Robinson, of whom I always was a bit in awe.
Bantering with Rocky Bridges, Mark Freeman, Jim Bouton, Hiraldo Sablon Ruiz, Chet Forte, Gump Worsley, Chico Resch, Phil Johnson, Mike Weisman, John Tatta and Bob Gutkowski.
Riding cross country in a train to the Super Bowl with John Madden, the anti-plane claustrophobic who rode trains before he was presented his own bus.
Hurrying out of Anaheim Stadium to make a plane, being driven in a mad dash with Joe Trimble of the New York Daily News by actor Peter Lorre, who volunteered to get his friend Trimble there in time. I had visions of adventures right out of old Lorre movies as we sped toward the airport. We made it.
Deciding on an offbeat approach to Kansas City owner Charlie Finley and watching a Yankees-Athletics game from the pasture behind the rightfield fence where Finley had stationed some sheep. One of Roger Maris' 61 homers of that 1961 season landed near me - and a ewe. I gave the ball to Maris afterward. I wish I had kept it.
One day my column read, "Out of Left Field by Stan Isaacs," had colleague Bill Voorhees' picture in it, and he was identified as Jack Mann, another colleague.
When I printed the interview with Giants manager Alvin Dark in which he made comments questioning the intelligence of blacks and Hispanics, it evolved into a national story. Dark denied the story, but many people had heard him make similar comments.
The Isaacs Ratings of Esoteric Distinction (IRED) were originated as a loving spoof of "The Ring" boxing ratings in the days before ratings became the crabgrass of journalism. The IRED grew and grew until people regarded me as the chocolate ice cream expert I declared myself to be.
The secret of the Left Field Grab Bag, mementos distributed to readers every Christmas: Readers who responded with the best letters got the choicest prizes, but everybody got a prize.
Newsday gave me $ 1,000 to write about trying to make my fortune during the races of Belmont Stakes week in 1980. I came down to the Belmont Stakes even, and decided to go out with a bang. I bet $ 500 to win on Codex, the favorite, by far the biggest bet of my life. Temperence Hill won and paid $ 108.80. Codex ran out. I turned $ 500 back to Newsday.
I was as bad as most in predictions over the years but one feat of prognostication made me proud. In the pool that the Boston guys ran on the press bus covering the Boston Marathon, I was the only one to pick the relatively unknown Ambrose Burfoot. He won the race and I won the pool. Something like $32.
I hated the 1972 Olympics. For the excuses made by American athletes, doctors and coaches after losses; for the tragedy of the Arab terrorists killing Israeli athletes; for Avery Brundage's insensitivity in the aftermath; for the unconcern about it by many American athletes; for the racist remarks I heard from some angry Israelis.
I made Edmund Muskie lose his temper when he was running for vice president in 1968 because I asked why he didn't think his support of the Vietnam War would hurt him with many voters.
When I started in this business, sports owners had the advantage over players in salary negotiations. Now the pendulum has swung to the players' side. But it is difficult to have sympathy for owners. Consider Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon, supposedly one of the enlightened ones. Wilpon, a man who grew up in Brooklyn - he played high school baseball with Sandy Koufax - said he would exercise a Mets veto to prevent any minor-league team from coming into Brooklyn.
This although the Mets live off the patronage of old Brooklyn Dodgers fans and that a Mets minor-league team in Brooklyn would help his old borough and also develop keener interest in Mets farmhands by Mets fans.