Art Spander recalls his Sporting News days

A Sporting News front page.

A Sporting News front page. (Credit: Handout)

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The new year will mean the end of an old friend. Time and technology have conspired to halt the print edition of The Sporting News. As of Jan. 1, the publication is going all-digital.

And so another part of our past disappears.

The Sporting News was what ESPN's SportsCenter is: comprehensive, interesting, filling a need. That, even more than SportsCenter or anything else currently on TV or the Internet, where information is everywhere and anywhere.

If you didn't have The Sporting News, you were nowhere.

The rhythmic headlines -- "Adcock Cloud Adds Wacky End to Gem," about Harvey "The Kitten" Haddix's perfect game for 12 innings.

The boxscores, which if you lived in North Dakota or South Carolina or many other non-major-league areas were unattainable anywhere else.

The columnists, Dick Young, Furman Bisher, Joe Falls, Leonard Koppett, Larry King -- yes, that Larry King -- who in their own way were as recognizable as Chris Berman or Hannah Storm are now.

I was one of them for nearly two decades, the early 1970s until 1991, the kid from the West Coast asked to write weekly for what was the sporting paper of record.

Like others, for me the job was supplementary. We all were employed by local dailies. Some of the material had been published previously, but so much of the audience was new.

And the team was special. I felt like a rookie joining the Yankees. Or the Celtics. Joe Gergen of Newsday, Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune, Mike Downey of the Chicago Sun-Times and I were the new kids on the block, the youth movement, as it were.

The way people now might tell ESPN's John Clayton, "I saw you last night," they would notice a Gergen or Verdi and ask, "Don't you write for The Sporting News?" And they did.

Who knows the influence we had, but 35 years later, people to whom I'm introduced begin, "I used to read you in The Sporting News." And Stan Awtrey, who was with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, insists that reading my columns made him want to be a sportswriter. Apologies are hereby offered.

TSN started in 1886. It once was "The Bible of Baseball" but expanded to include every sport. A tabloid based in St. Louis before -- as a victim of changing tastes -- it morphed into a magazine based in Charlotte, The Sporting News was edited by people who knew the difference between the San Francisco 49ers, the UNC Charlotte 49ers and the Long Beach State 49ers.

Lowell Reidenbaugh, a kindly individual, was the managing editor when I started. He coaxed, cooperated. Tom Barnidge, now writing a news column for the Contra Costa Times east of San Francisco, replaced Reidenbaugh. They were critical. They were supportive. They were at heart both fans and journalists.

Newsweek, the magazine, also is going all-digital, another loss. You can find out what is happening on a screen or an iPad, but you can't stack back copies, as I did.

There on a shelf in a closet too full of sports history, I located TSN's Centennial Issue, $3 in 1986, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb on the cover, each sliding on a basepath.

Inside are celebrities posed looking at the paper: John F. Kennedy in Washington, Pee Wee Reese and Billy Martin on the beach at Waikiki, and -- so very TSN -- two New Guinea native boys, their copy having belonged to a missionary, holding up an issue on which the front- page headline is "N.L. TO MAKE BIG CHANGES IN '59 SKED."

The Sporting News, in truth, was a fan magazine, but isn't ESPN a fan network? Peter Gammons was a baseball correspondent for both, giving credibility to both.

The first Super Bowl was covered by The Sporting News. So was Hank Aaron's 715th homer. And the U.S. hockey win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. Great days. Great pages.

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