Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
No one at Newsday in the mid-1980s would have been surprised to learn that young Tom Verducci would go from a guy covering Nassau County high schools to baseball beat writer to baseball columnist to Sports Illustrated star to best-selling co-author of a book with Joe Torre.
(Actually, the part about Torre writing a best-selling book might have surprised people in the mid-'80s.)
After all, Verducci clearly had talent and drive, so why not dream big?
But if anyone had predicted the most recent turn in his career . . . well, no one would have, Verducci least of all.
"If someone had laid out this scenario to me, I probably would have said it's not possible," he said Tuesday, one week before his first All-Star Game as a Fox analyst. "So it was not even something I was thinking about."
Why would he in an era when, as he said, "it was an either/or scenario. You either did print or electronic, and you certainly didn't think about doing both."
Here he is, though, at 53 and still writing for SI, but perched alongside Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds in the lead booth for the network that not only carries the All-Star Game but the World Series, too.
Current or former sportswriters who serve as reporters on television are nothing new. The Boston Globe's Will McDonough pioneered the role in the '80s.
(Speaking of sportswriters-turned-TV-reporters: Fox baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal and Verducci were interns at Newsday together in 1982! Verducci returned full-time in 1983 and stayed until '93.)
But what Fox is doing with Verducci is extraordinarily rare. He has been compared to Howard Cosell, but only in the sense that Cosell was a non-pro athlete serving as a game analyst on baseball's biggest TV stage.
More recently, another former Newsday sportswriter, Tony Kornheiser, was part of the "Monday Night Football" booth for ESPN, but he was asked mostly to inject humor into the telecast, or at least an alternative perspective.
Verducci is there as a veteran baseball man, treated on par with Reynolds, a two-time All-Star second baseman as a player.
And even though he was not a pro, Verducci does have on-field credentials. He played at Penn State and, during his summer as an intern, held his own at a pro tryout camp. In 2005, he spent five days as a Blue Jay in spring training and wrote about it for SI.
If baseball people are more wary of dealing with him than they would be with a former player, he hasn't noticed. But he has noticed that younger players associate him more with TV than print, thanks to his years on MLB Network and Turner.
(Verducci and Reynolds shared the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Studio Analyst.)
What about viewers? "I'm sure for some people there is a built-in bias toward wanting to have the ex-player or ex-manager in the booth, but there's not much you can do about those people," he said.
Buck said the transition from his longtime partner, Tim McCarver, has gone as well as he could have hoped.
"I can tell you this has been the most enjoyable first half of a season that I can remember," he said. "I can't wait to get to the ballpark. I leave with a smile on my face. This is the best broadcast I've been a part of, for a lot of reasons."
Among those, he said, is chemistry. "We're having fun, we're able to laugh, and we give each other trouble," he said. "But the different ways Tom and Harold see the game, that's what makes this three-man booth work."
Many casual fans will hear the group for the first time Tuesday, but Verducci said he does not expect to feel any added pressure.
"I'll go back to the first story I wrote for Newsday as an intern," he said. "I was hovered over the story in the back of the room and Dick Sandler came by and said, 'Just remember, you're not writing for the Penn State Daily Collegian anymore.'
"But it hadn't occurred to me the process of writing would be any different based on how many people would read it. I kind of feel the same way with this job in terms of the preparation and the eagerness I always feel before a game."
Finally, I wished him well on behalf of all the print journalist schlubs he is representing. Said Verducci, laughing: "Proud of it."