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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Interview With Edward Hershey

Edward Hershey has enjoyed a fascinating life journey. He covered sports for several New York newspapers while he was still a student in high school. After graduating from college he worked for the Suffolk Sun before being hired by Newsday at the age of 24. Hershey's bio details the variety of interesting jobs that Hershey has held, including sports writer, general assignment writer, New York city Assistant Commissioner of Correction for Public Affairs, college lecturer at Baruch College and LIU, founder of the consulting firm Edward Hershey & Associates and Communications Director of (Oregon) Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union.

I collect classic/out of print/hard to find books about basketball, chess and many other subjects. Many years ago, I tracked down several volumes of Random House's Pro Basketball Library; volume three is a 1969 book titled Great Rookies of Pro Basketball. Hershey wrote the chapter about Rick Barry, who developed into one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players and is the only person who won a scoring title in the NCAA, ABA and NBA. Hershey's piece, published early in Barry's career, notes that not everyone expected Barry to be so successful:

"Practically from the day he took his first shot at a playground basket in New Jersey, Barry wanted more than anything to be a professional. And, true to his personality, he didn't want to be an ordinary professional basketball player. He wanted to be a star. During his senior season at Miami, Rick had heard himself described as a risky draft choice. There were respected pro scouts and officials who said they did not think Barry would ever make the grade in the National Basketball Association. They predicted that Rick's lean, 205-pound frame could not take the constant pounding of the pro game. They also said his temper, which had flared on the court when things hadn't gone Rick's way in high school and college games, would work against him in the high-pressure world of pro basketball. They said that, as a pro, he would never get the shots he had taken as a college player."

The legendary Zander Hollander edited Great Rookies of Pro Basketball; Hollander is perhaps best known to basketball fans as the editor of The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball. Hershey recalls, "Zander was a sportswriter at the World-Telegram when I was there as an intern and then briefly as a sportswriter. Among his other beats was skiing--he had a winter column called 'On Your Sitzmark.' That's where we met. He is an affable fellow who tried to involve lots of colleagues in those compilation books and he was very patient with me."

Hershey's profile of tennis star Arthur Ashe was included in Best Sports Stories of 1969 and he wrote Cleon with New York Mets outfielder Cleon Jones but he is particularly proud of a short piece titled Marilyn.

Hershey contacted me in reference to some of my recent articles about Roger Brown. I recently spoke with Hershey and our wide-ranging conversation started with basketball but extended out to a variety of subjects. Here is my interview with Hershey, edited for length and clarity:

Friedman: "What are your recollections of the high school game (the 1960 New York PSAL semifinals) between Roger Brown's team (Wingate) and Connie Hawkins' team (Boys High)?"

Hershey: "It was no contest in terms of mano a mano. Brown had an insane day (39 points, 17-34 field goal shooting; Hawkins finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds). If you picture Kevin Durant on one of his better days, that is what Brown looked like that day. It seemed like everything he shot went in. It was clear that Boys had the better team and probably were better coached as well--but certainly the better team, so Hawkins did not have to do as much as Brown did. There was another unbelievable game in the first year or two of the new Garden. Michigan played Princeton in the ECAC Tournament. Bill Bradley outplayed Cazzie Russell but Bradley fouled out and Princeton lost despite having, I think, a 14 point lead. There is sort of a parallel, I would say."

Hershey's recollection of that December 1964 Michigan-Princeton game is 100% correct; Princeton led 77-63 when Bradley fouled out but Michigan rallied to post an 80-78 win. The Brown-Hawkins story is a bit different, because in that case the star who was being outplayed fouled out but his team--which was much deeper--won anyway. The New York Post's Pete Vecsey notes that Boys' Coach Howie Jones assigned Hawkins to guard Brown, with the idea that Hawkins' length would force Brown to alter the arc of his jump shots. Instead, Brown either shot over Hawkins or drove right around him and Hawkins fouled out just before the end of the third quarter.

Hershey: "Brown had an unbelievable game. The other thing that you have to remember about Brown is that, while Hawkins was long and lean and a great player and just smooth, Brown looked like an adult playing with kids. If you picture a schoolyard game in which someone's father is playing, Brown absolutely looked like a premature adult in some respects. Obviously, he kept improving. He wasn't like the player from Ohio State that the Blazers drafted."

Friedman: "Greg Oden."

Hershey: "Yeah, Oden. Oden looked like he was 30 when he was 16 and, unfortunately, he reached his physical maturity prematurely. I don't think that was the case with Roger but Roger just looked better than everybody else."

Friedman: "In what capacity did you attend the game?"

Hershey: "I was only 15 years old at the time. As a kid I knew that I wanted to be either a broadcaster or a writer and I was realistic enough to know that writing was probably going to be it. When I was 11 years old, I didn't make the Little League team but instead I agreed to be the league's official scorer. At the end of the year, they gave me a trophy as big as the MVP trophy; I did every game, without computers, and I printed out everybody's statistics to give to all of the coaches. So I knew that was what I wanted to do; I was not a player. When I was 14 I started covering sports for my high school paper, Lafayette High School. I sort of talked my way into where the other reporters were and met a couple of them and I became their correspondent. By the end of that year I was introduced to a guy at the Journal-American, Morry Rokeach--there were seven newspapers in New York at that time and one of them was the Journal-American--and I became his assistant. By the time of the Brown-Hawkins game, I was sort of a permanent hanger-on. I was the equivalent of a gym rat, except I was kind of a city room rat. One of the things that this fellow did was arrange was for me to be a spotter for the P.A. announcer and scorer: John Condon, the long-time voice of the Garden, and a guy named Jimmy Wergeles, who was from the boxing department. I sat next to John Condon and Jimmy Wergeles and did the spotting for the announcers. I was at the scorer's table for the whole game and for every other game in the tournament, so I was in heaven. For somebody that age, I was really tuned in. I worked at the newspaper and I was younger than some of the kids who were calling in the scores, though they didn't know it. Very little money--sometimes no money--but a great experience. Nowadays they call it being an intern. When I saw the movie Almost Famous I kind of identified with it. It wasn't Rolling Stone but it was the same idea."

Friedman: "You were keeping track of fouls and who was in the game and that kind of thing and then giving that information to the announcers?"

Hershey: "That's right. As hard as it may be to imagine in this day of computerization and technology, in those days everything was done with paper and pencil."

Friedman: "I understand. I remember the pre-digital era. It's interesting that when you deal with people who are younger than I am they often have no concept of how different things are now."

Hershey: "When you go to work in a small town or a university town, you can live out some of your fantasies. I was at Cornell for 11 and a half years and for 10 of them I was the P.A. announcer for men's and women's basketball. Somebody left, I volunteered for the job and they paid me nominally but I was doing it for fun, really. Condon was such a classy guy. Only in the slightest way did you know that the home team was getting an edge on the P.A. When you came into the Garden as an opposing player--especially if you were a great one--you were treated very well. Nowadays, when I go to the Blazers' games here (in Portland), I feel like it is so bush league. All of the NBA teams seem to do this; when a home team player scores, the announcer sounds like a ring master but when an opposing player scores, they sort of slur the name. I just think that is so bush league. On the other hand, I remember something that happened not too long after I took the Cornell gig, when I was doing one of the women's games. Harvard was for many years the class of the Ivy League in women's basketball; that year (1998) they went on to beat Stanford in the NCAA Tournament, the only time that a 16th seed has beaten a number one seed. Allison Feaster had a big night against Cornell, so I gave her a curtain call when she came out of the game with about two minutes to go. The Cornell coaching staff looked at me like I was crazy but that was the kind of thing that Condon would do for opposing players. Dave Zinkoff was the first hometown announcer like that.”

Friedman: "The Zink."

Hershey: "The Zink. He was a character and Philadelphia wasn't New York, though that may sound like New York hubris even all these years later."

Friedman: "I was a big 76ers fan growing up and a big Julius Erving fan and I know that Zinkoff had very distinctive calls and a different catchphrase for each player. He was the one who came up with the elongated 'Julius the Doctor Errrrrrrrrving.'"

Hershey: "Nowadays, in my estimation, they go beyond the pale. The Celtics had one of the all-time homer radio announcers, Johnny Most."

Friedman: "Right. I know. I remember that during the 1980s when the Celtics had that rivalry with the Pistons he would be getting on Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. I think that he called one 'McFilthy' and the other 'McNasty.'"

Hershey: "He was most famous for 'Havlicek stole the ball!' That was probably the most important snippet of announcing in the history of the NBA."

Friedman: "No question. The Havlicek call was from before I was born but of course I have heard it and then he also had Henderson stealing the ball from Worthy in the 1984 NBA Finals. Getting back to your career, you started working at the Garden in this kind of intern capacity when you were still in high school."

Hershey: "It was an unbelievable experience. In those days in New York when you were in high school you got a GO card, which was a General Organization card. So even as a freshman I got to go to the games for 50 cents or 75 cents and if you got there early enough you could sit in the front row, which were the best seats in the house. But to suddenly be in this situation where I was kind of interning as a high school sports writer, that was a big thing."

Friedman: "So you were basically working at the Garden from the late 1950s until--"

Hershey: "I started in 1960 and I just stayed with it; when I went to college for two years I got a formal internship with the New York World Telegram & Sun. For $25 a week you would take scores and compile statistics in the office for five days a week. People did that and if they did OK it was actually a route to get a job after you graduated. And I did in 1966 but that didn't last long. Three months later, three papers--the World Telegram, the Journal and the Herald-Tribune--combined to form something called 'The Widget.' Without seniority, I was out on the street. The following fall, I got a job at a little paper called the Suffolk Sun and then eventually I went to Newsday, where I covered sports for a couple years and then covered general assignments for about a decade. In one capacity or another, from about 1960 until 1970 I went to the Garden."

Friedman: "So, you covered the early part of the era with Holzman, Frazier and Reed?"

Hershey: "My Knicks' teams had Howard Komives. I saw Frazier play for Southern Illinois. Bear in mind that I was at LIU. We actually went to Evansville two years in a row. I saw Phil Jackson play for North Dakota. Those trips were unbelievable. The second year I had graduated from LIU but I was teaching and I was sort of interning in the LIU P.R. department. I actually broadcast the game back to the LIU gym on a sort of closed circuit. That was the year that Earl Monroe beat us. We had a really great player named Barry Leibowitz; he ended up playing in the ABA before going to Israel. Barry turned his ankle in a game against Cheney State, so he was really in no shape to guard Earl Monroe."

Friedman: "I'm not sure if anyone was really in shape to guard Monroe at that time."

Hershey: "The first time down the court, Monroe made a move, left Leibowitz just standing there and put the ball off of the backboard. It would have been funny, if Leibowitz hadn't been hurt."

Friedman: "The Knicks won their first championship in 1969-70, which was at the end of your sports writing career. Did you have a chance to cover that team?"

Hershey: "I covered some of the training camp and I remember having an unbelievable conversation with Bill Bradley. I covered the first Knicks team from the bad days that finally made the playoffs (in 1967). I remember we went up to Boston. I was teaching then at a junior high in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I was in heaven: a 23 year old covering the playoffs. I covered that team. Bradley had been drafted and he went into the service (before joining the team in late 1967). I went to the locker room to talk to him, looking for a story, and I asked him some kind of sociological question about how a privileged kid, the son of a banker from Crystal City, Missouri who went to Princeton, made it to the NBA, alongside guys like Reed and Frazier. He looked at me and he said, 'Listen, if you want to talk politics, let's go have lunch sometime. In here, I only want to talk about basketball.' I just thought that was so cool. That must have happened in 1967 because in 1968 I was still writing about sports for Newsday and a guy named Allard Lowenstein was running for Congress. A mutual friend introduced us and I became very friendly with him. He was a peace candidate. He had founded something called the 'Dump Johnson' movement, which was one of the things that convinced Lyndon Johnson to not run for reelection. A week after Bobby Kennedy was shot in California, only the die-hards came out for the primary and Lowenstein upset the establishment Democratic candidate. I became a little active in Lowenstein's campaign; I figured that as a sports writer I wasn't betraying my journalistic commitment. I actually sponsored something called 'A Sports Night for Lowenstein.' I contacted some of the politically hip athletes, including Bill Bradley and a guy who played in the ABA named Bobby Lloyd. He had been an All-American at Rutgers. Also, Jim Bouton, who was still with the Yankees. He hadn't written Ball Four yet but would come down to Greenwich Village to hang out with the writers at a wonderful bar called the Lion's Head. We showed a movie called 'Goal,' which was a documentary about the 1966 World Cup. So, if I covered that 1969-70 New York team it was probably only for a couple games. In the summer of 1969 I was away--I had joined the Reserves as a way of staying out of Vietnam--and then I came back in the fall and did the book with Cleon Jones. In the beginning of 1970 I left sports, so I really wasn't there (when the Knicks won the championship).”
Friedman: "Did you take Bill Bradley up on his offer to have that lunch conversation about politics?"

Hershey: "I invited him to speak at that rally for Allard Lowenstein and he was terrific. But, no, we never had that lunch conversation. Years later, Lowenstein was assassinated. He was killed in 1980 by kind of a crazy guy. It is a very complicated story but I am sure that it is on the internet. In the late 1970s, Lowenstein told me that he had met Bradley on a plane and they had a great conversation about what happened at the rally. Of course, Bradley became a big-time progressive and he ended up serving in the Senate and running for President. So, I can tease myself and say that I gave Bradley his political start."

Friedman: "You transitioned from covering sports to doing general assignment writing. In what way did covering sports prepare you for becoming a general assignment writer?"

Hershey: "I can tell you that I really had to adjust when I left sports. After 1968, there were so many things happening in the world and I got it in my head that there were more important things to do than cover sports. I thought that because I was a good writing stylist I could make the change but I didn't really have the discipline that I needed and that takes time. The very first story that I covered from the city room took place during the start of the school year. It must have been in the fall of 1970. A mother of a little girl in Hicksville had bought all of her school clothing and then after the girl showed up at school she discovered that all of the skirts were two inches too high. So none of the clothes could be worn at school. This might have been in the fall of 1969. In any event, she and the ACLU sued the school about the dress code. I went there and I covered this story like a blanket. I talked to the lawyers and the principal and the members of the school board and the mother. I came back to the office after spending a day doing this, I briefed the editor and he said, 'OK, Ed, six inches and make it sing.' I looked at him like he was crazy. He thought that this was just a funny, quirky story. I had been treating it like I was covering the Supreme Court. I was used to doing 700 words on a rained-out game; I would go into the locker room or the clubhouse and find something to write about because they had allotted 700 words in the sports section for my story whether or not it rained."

Friedman: "You had to fill that space."

Hershey: "Right. Here this guy is telling me to write six inches (of copy). The very first story I did was rewritten, because I just couldn't get what he was looking for. But I learned pretty quickly, I think--I hope. I won some awards and had a pretty good time covering everything from the Son of Sam case to Geraldine Ferraro's first campaign for Congress and a whole lot of other stuff. I covered the Attica prison riot, which was the turning point in my career."

Friedman: "The Attica prison riot was the turning point?"

Hershey: "Yes, in terms of being taken seriously. I did several stories of investigative journalism, too."

Friedman: "The Attica prison riot is pretty famous. How specifically did that story impact your career?"

Hershey: "I actually got there a few days after it was over. We spent about six weeks doing a post-mortem and it was really interesting. The thing that made it great for me was that I was put on a team with about four or five veteran reporters, so that was an invaluable education.

One of the things that I did that changed my career was I was very instrumental in starting a journalists union at Newsday. It is one of the things that I am most proud of in my life but obviously it had an impact on how management viewed me. They weren't sending me off to London or even Washington, D.C."

Friedman: "You mean that they were viewing you negatively."

Hershey: "That's right. If you start a union, you have pretty good protection because they can't demote you but that doesn't mean that they are going to give you any good assignments, either. That's what happened."

Friedman: "Were your union organizing activities inspired in some way by Marvin Miller and what he did in Major League Baseball?"

Hershey: "No, that wasn't it at all. There were specific things that happened. It didn't start out being about money. It started out with some things that management was doing but that's a little too complex for this conversation. There were some things that happened that were disquieting to me and to others in terms of journalistic ethics. We didn't join the Newspaper Guild; we had some other issues with the guild at that time. We joined the Pressman's So it was a blue collar professional amalgamation from the start, in 1973, and it took a long process before we were finally recognized in 1975. But that is one of the reasons that I ended up doing what I did; in 1979, I received an offer to be the Assistant Commissioner of Correction for Public Affairs for New York City based on a lot of the journalism that I did covering the jails."

Friedman: "Yes, that was one of the questions I was going to ask you. You have had such a diverse career, from sports writing to general assignment writing to working in college administrations. What stands out from your six year tenure in the Koch administration as the Assistant Commissioner of Correction for Public Affairs?"

Hershey: "Some people leave journalism and they go into P.R. for the money. The salary I went to was precisely almost to the dollar the salary that I left. So that part was not an issue. The other thing is that working for the jail system is a difficult job. It is a very strong public policy job. The last thing that a politician wants to do is work with the jails because it doesn't resonate with voters. There are many things that voters are concerned about but prisons rank at the bottom. Street law enforcement is high up there, schools, even sanitation but not the jails--you lock them up and people don't want to know about it. Being in position to be the spokesperson for the city's jail system--which I called, tongue in cheek, 'the largest municipal jail system in the free world'--gave me the chance to put a good, positive public face on the system and campaign for resources and it also gave me the chance to bring in entertainment for the prisoners to humanize the environment.

Before I took that job, when I was a reporter I assumed that P.R. people had two missions: get into the paper stories that didn't belong there and keep out the stories that did. It took me a while to understand that not all reporters are angels and not all P.R. people are devils. Rupert Murdoch had bought the New York Post only a year or two before and it was an interesting environment to be a P.R. guy in New York with that sort of Australian/British level of journalism. It was a different kind of tabloid journalism than we had ever seen before. So, on one level it was not a question of if you were a journalist or a P.R. guy but it was a question of how well you did your job. There were times that I knew that there was a story that, if it got out, could make us look bad. When you are a flack for the government you don't want to look bad, even if you should. You never lie but you don't volunteer these things. There were times when I was talking to a reporter and I was just waiting for that next question that would make me have to give the answer that I did not want to give. Sometimes, that question would never be asked. It reminded me of the old joke about mixed emotions: a guy watching his mother in law drive off a cliff in his Cadillac. On the one hand I was relieved but on the other hand I was just horrified for my profession that this lazy reporter did not ask the right question. I really felt that when I went to work every day that my heart was in the right place and that I tried to create a better system for everybody, including the inmates.

The other thing I did was call Lou Carnesecca, who I had known back in the day when he coached at St. John's. He also coached the Nets in the ABA for three years. Now he was back at St. John's and he had the number one team in the country, though that didn't last long. So I called him up and asked if he would bring the team to Rikers Island to the facility for the kids who are under 18--and there were plenty of them in the early 1980s. I asked him if the team could either practice or scrimmage there and the thing that I stressed to him was that he, like Joe Lapchick before him, tried to convince these young players to stay away from bad influences. There is nothing that can reinforce that point more than for them to come to the jail, hear those doors clank behind them and get a sense of where they are at. He agreed to do it. The amazing thing about that trip and about those St. John's kids scrimmaging and practicing in the Rikers Island jail for adolescents was that several of those St. John's kids knew some of the kids who were inmates. It was just fascinating to me."

Friedman: "I have a few more questions that are related to sports, though I am also interested in the other aspects of your career. I noticed that you covered pro football and that you wrote some articles about Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi. I am interested to hear your personal impressions of both coaches."

Hershey: "It was an amazing two weeks. I left the Suffolk Sun to go to Newsday. George Vecsey, the wonderful New York Times columnist who left sports for a while to cover Appalachia and who wrote Coal Miner’s Daughter which became a movie about the country singer (Loretta Lynn), leaned over to me in the pressbox and gave me a heads up that he was leaving Newsday to go to the Times. So I applied for the job. When I arrived at Newsday they didn't know what to do with me, so one of the things that they did with me was send me to do two stories that to this day I think are among the best stories of my career. First, I spent three or four days living in the dorm at Wilmington College covering the first season of the Cincinnati Bengals. Then I went to Green Bay and I covered the first year that Vince Lombardi was no longer the coach; Phil Bengtson was the coach and Lombardi was the general manager. I have one great anecdote about each of those experiences. It might take too long to write about but I will try to consolidate them for you.

I interviewed Paul Brown after being there for a few days. We were sitting in his office and at some point I said, 'During those years that you spent in California after you split with Art Modell and the Cleveland Browns, they wrote that the game had passed you by. They wrote that you were a great innovator but that you were unwilling or too prideful to adjust.' He looked at me--and I'm this 24 year old kid talking to a legend--and he said, 'You really know how to hurt a guy.' I'm thinking to myself, 'Oh my God, the interview is over. He's never going to talk to me.' Just then there was a knock on the door and it was a quarterback named John Stofa who had been hurt that day and was seeking permission to get an X-ray. So Brown spent a few minutes with him and then he came back and said, 'Where were we?' I said, 'I asked you a question and I think that you took umbrage at it. You have to understand that I would much rather ask you the hard questions here than not ask them and just write a story.' I took out an article that Bill Wallace from the New York Times wrote. I told him, 'Bill Wallace was here and I'll bet he never asked you the question that I just did but look what he wrote.' My question was literally lifted word for word from the New York Times' story. He looked at the story and he looked at me and he said, 'Ask any question you want.' We spent an hour talking and after it was over I went back to the dorm for dinner. At about 10 o'clock at night there was a knock on my door and it was Paul Brown. He said, 'There was another thing I didn't tell you' and then we continued the conversation. I did a four part series for Newsday that was excerpted in Football Digest and then I signed on to do a magazine piece. I met him again in December when they came to New York to play the Jets. That was the last time we met but I never forgot that and I just thought that he was a classy guy.

I'll shorten the story about Green Bay. I showed up on Sunday at a meeting for the coaches and the press at St. Norbert College, the facility where the Packers trained. I met an assistant coach earlier in the day; I had just gotten there and I didn't know where to go but he said to stop by at around five o'clock at such and such room and we'll all be there. So I get there and Lombardi is across the room and I can see him whispering to whoever is sitting next to him and I could tell that he was asking, 'Who is that guy?' Meaning me. It was like that scene at the end of Ocean's Eleven where one guy whispers to the next guy, who whispers to the next guy. After four or five guys it finally reaches the coach who I talked with earlier in the day and so the whispering goes back down the line. So Lombardi looks over to me and says, 'I don’t believe that we've met.' I introduced myself. I wasn't able to stay on the St. Norbert campus like I did in Cincinnati because Lombardi did not allow the press there, but I got a hotel room in Green Bay and I arrived at St. Norbert's at seven in the morning to watch practice. So I got to know all of the players--including Bart Starr and Dave Robinson--and, again, it was just wonderful for a 24 year old kid. I was watching Lombardi every step of the way, because that was the main reason I was there. I knew that he didn't know who I was--he couldn't know who I was--but for three days I was watching him from afar and paying attention to him. The story wasn't about Phil Bengtson but it was about how Lombardi adjusted to not being the coach. So, now it's my last day and it's another one of those five o'clock meetings. The Mike Douglas show was on TV. I was planning on walking over to Lombardi at the end of the night, introducing myself again and telling him how much I appreciated how well I had been treated. George Hamilton, who was then dating President Johnson's daughter, was a guest on the Mike Douglas show. From across the room, I hear this booming voice say, 'That guy’s hair is almost as long as Ed Hershey's!' It was Lombardi. That was his way of saying that he knew who I was and just what I had been up to the whole time. I never forgot that.

I'm glad you asked me about Brown and Lombardi, because I have such distinctive memories of both of them. It was so great, at that age, to meet those guys and to write the book with Cleon Jones. One of the reasons I left sports with a clear conscience was that I felt I had done it all. When you achieve your life's dream and you are only in your mid-20s you are either going to be bored for the rest of your life or you are going to look for new dreams. I looked for new dreams."

Friedman: "That's great. I have two more questions. You worked during a very interesting time in sports journalism when there were so many newspapers. I know that most of them folded. I wondered, as you were talking about this, if you ever crossed paths with Dick Schaap."

Hershey: "I worked for Dick Schaap. Dick Schaap had something called Maddick Enterprises. He was a book packager. He did a bio of (Tom) Seaver. Cleon Jones' agent were Paul Goetz and Matt Merola and their lawyer was a guy named Charlie Simmons, a very well-placed lawyer who now mostly does high end tax work. Charlie is my first cousin. He called and said that they were looking for a guy to write a biography of Jones, who hit .340 and caught the last out in the World Series as the Mets won the championship. So I met with Cleon and eventually wrote the book for the publisher Coward McCann but the guy who put the whole deal together was Dick Schaap. I knew all about Schaap, who had been a widely-read columnist and then city editor at the Herald-Tribune. When he went to graduate school at Columbia he talked to basketball scouts in New York about how they were recruiting players and they opened up to him. He didn't tell them that in addition to the research being his thesis project he was going to sell the story to Sports Illustrated. It became a famous article called "Basketball's Underground Railroad." The story focused on two guys in particular: Mike Tynberg, who recruited for North Carolina, and Howard Garfinkel--"

Friedman: "He later became famous for the Five Star camps."

Hershey: "Yes. He recruited for Everett Case at North Carolina State. So, yes, I knew Schaap and I actually worked for him. Of course, I watched him on the Sports Reporters and he was wonderful. He died much too young. He went in for a hip replacement."

Friedman: "At Lenox Hill Hospital."

Hershey: "Very, very sad. His daughter was at Cornell just before I left there and I sent her a note saying how much I admired her father."

Friedman: "I followed his career very closely and he is one of my all-time favorite sports writers. Like you, he had a very diverse career and I think that he was the only person who voted for both the Heisman Trophy and the Tony awards. He just had a fascinating career and a great way with words."

Hershey: "Another person who I crossed paths with, who was a protégé of Dick Schaap's, was Tony Kornheiser. Tony and I were young colleagues at Newsday. The year after Dick died, Tony came up to Cornell--Dick used to come up every year and speak at the fundraiser that the football team had. I took my stepson--well, he was not my stepson yet, he was my girlfriend's son--to the dinner and I think that I moved up about 17 notches in his eyes because Tony greeted me like a long lost friend, talking about when I started the union and saying that I was a great man. I loved Tony's radio show and I think that his TV show ("Pardon the Interruption") is one of the better shows on TV. It is not easy to do that five days a week. I admire those guys."

Friedman: "I was very young but I remember reading Kornheiser's articles in what was then a fledgling magazine created by Newsweek called Inside Sports, which does not exist anymore. I remember some of the long articles he wrote for them. I know that he wrote about Nolan Ryan when Ryan became the first million dollar baseball player. He wrote an article about Julius Erving when Erving was in the twilight of his career with the 76ers. I know that a lot of people don't even realize or remember that Kornheiser had such a long, distinguished career in journalism before he became a TV personality.

The last thing I wanted to ask you is, who is the greatest--or the most interesting, whichever direction you want to go with this--athlete you covered during your career, someone with whom you personally interacted?"

Hershey: "Of the people who I covered or got to know, I like to say that there are three people who are heroes of mine who turned out to be even better in person than they were in my imagination: Pete Seeger, the folk singer; another is Murray Kempton, very liberal, a brilliant guy and a brilliant writer; the third is Gil Hodges. I think that it is such a crime that Hodges is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. What a great fielder he was. What a great clutch hitter he was, even though he did not have a great average. What a great clubhouse guy he was and then he turned around two teams (as a manager). He turned around the Senators before the Mets hired him. He died at such a young age. So, as a manager, as a player and as a human being it is really unbelievable that he is not in the Hall of Fame. I understand why he didn't make it the first time around, because the stats are not entirely there and it's a very stat-oriented vote, but the fact that the old-timers did not vote him in is just baffling to me. I remember sitting in the city room the day in spring training when it came over the wire that he had died. I sat there and cried. Tom Hanks said that there is no crying in baseball in A League of Their Own but I just sat there and bawled. Hodges was an unbelievable person.

I guess that I must have covered that Knicks' championship team that you described earlier, because I remember Dave DeBusschere coming to the team from the Pistons. I think that is one of the deals that the NBA kind of put together because they thought that New York needed to have a strong team; it made no sense for Detroit to trade him and I think that he was dealt straight up for Komives."

Friedman: "Walt Bellamy was in the trade, too."

Hershey: "I remember going into the locker room after Knicks' games and seeing DeBusschere sitting there drinking these three 12 ounce cans of beer while he was being interviewed. Later, it turned out that he was an alcoholic. So, there are so many things that you look back on and you think about, little snippets that maybe did not even register so much at the time.

Another person is Arthur Ashe. I did a piece with him that was included in Best Sports Stories of 1969. He won the first U.S. Open (of the Open Era). Of course I never forgot Ashe. I loved covering tennis because that was one place where you couldn't hide behind the team. I covered the U.S. Open when it was still at Forest Hills; I'm an old guy. I remember that Ashe was really classy. Pancho Gonzales was unbelievable. I did a story on him for Signature magazine the year that he made a mini-run at the U.S. Open. There was usually a veteran guy that advanced a few more places in the draw than maybe he should and the fans really love it."

Friedman: "Like Connors in 1991."

Hershey: "Yes. Gene Scott was another guy like that (reaching the U.S. Open semifinals in 1967 at the age of 30). Pancho did that (reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 1968 at the age of 40), I did a story on him and I loved it. The nicest part about that story is that the next spring I was still covering sports, I went back to the U.S. Open and Bud Collins said, 'Gee, that was a great story.' It was in Signature magazine, which was a Diner's Club magazine, so it was not a famous magazine but it was very well-placed. Bud Collins found me and said that he really liked the story about Gonzales. I loved that."

Friedman: "Yeah, that is a great endorsement."

Hershey: "It was really wonderful. I've had some very good moments. Billie Jean King was another tennis player who was really unbelievable. She was really enthusiastic. By the time she did that stupid thing with Riggs I was already out of sports but I remember after a match at Forest Hills she was complaining even then that women were not treated as well as men and so forth. She also talked about how the American fans were not very hip and that the tennis players were not treated as well at Forest Hills as they were at Wimbledon. In those days, not a lot of sports writers from the U.S. went to Wimbledon and she said you could not understand the difference unless you have been to Wimbledon. I thought that she was amazing. I wasn't exactly a tennis writer but I covered those tournaments and those players stand out in my mind. There are a whole lot of moments and people who stand out, though--like the time I recently wrote about in the Times about encountering Red Holzman in Sunbury, Pennsylvania when he was a scout in between coaching gigs. On the other hand, you get jaded pretty quickly, David. I remember sitting in the pressbox at Yankee Stadium doing crossword puzzles; I had the crossword puzzle on one side and my scorebook on the other side. At 25 I was getting jaded already, so (when I left sports writing) I felt this great sense of liberation.

In those days, Madison Square Garden had five wonderful indoor track meets every year. They were really big social events and they filled the Garden. There was a band that played and the announcers on the floor wore tuxedos. The one that was really the best one was the Millrose Games. It received a lot of attention every year. I remember going there the first year that I was not covering sports and buying tickets. Paying for them actually felt liberating. Of course, the unbelievable thing now is how many sports events you can watch. By the end of September I have seen enough college football for the entire season. I watch all of these games, especially since I live on the West Coast now, and they start at 9:00 in the morning and they end around midnight."

Friedman: "It is such a change from when I was a kid. ESPN started in 1979 and we didn't have it at my house, so when I was a kid we had the three network channels and you could only see certain games. People who are younger than 25 or 30 cannot even understand the sports world that you grew up in or even the sports world that I grew up in a generation later. Everything has changed so much. Some of it is for the better and some of it is for the worse but you can't turn back the clock."

Hershey: "There was one pro football game a week."

Friedman: "Right."

Hershey: "The Atlantic Gas Company sponsored it."

Friedman: "You're talking about before 1970, when Monday Night Football began."

Hershey: "That's right. Thinking back, the changes that have happened since then are unbelievable. I used to love this half hour program that the NFL had. Jim Leaming was the announcer. It showed the highlights of the previous Sunday's games. That was golden! Nowadays I have channel 799, the Red Zone, that switches between all of the NFL games. This was like the 1960s version of Red Zone."

Friedman: "I remember when I was a kid the big thing was the halftime rundown that Howard Cosell would do on Monday Night Football. There was no ESPN, no cable TV, no satellite or internet, so if you wanted to see the highlights of the games that weren't shown in your area the only way you could really see that was to watch Howard Cosell's halftime rundown. I remember years later, I read about or heard about people complaining that Cosell showed more highlights of certain teams. Everyone was so dependent on that because there was no way to see the highlights of other teams; whatever region of the country you lived in, you saw that team's games and if you liked another team or were interested to see how another team did you had to wait until Monday night."

Hershey: "The other thing about sports is that I came up at a time when the younger sports writers were called Chipmunks. Sports writers were beginning to write about that sociology that Bill Bradley didn't want to talk to me about. People like Larry Merchant and a wonderful guy at the New York Post who died too young named Leonard Shecter. There was a guy who I worked with at Newsday who just died last year, Stan Isaacs. A guy named Stan Hochman in Philadelphia. These guys were doing good stuff, putting political tinges on things. They drank at the Lion's Head. The Village Voice was two doors down. It was a wonderful bar for a kid reporter like me to meet these people. At the same time that this was going on, I was able to see and work alongside two of the legends in their final years, Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon. I have one (special) memory of each of them. In the case of Cannon, he hated the idea that a radio guy would stick his microphone into a Q&A in the clubhouse and effectively expropriate questions and answers. So, there was this guy who was a stringer for a radio station and he puts his microphone out and Cannon leans into the microphone and says (a string of profanities)."

Friedman: "Right. I’ve heard about that story. That was Cannon's way of making sure that it was not going to be aired."

Hershey: "That’s right. I'm not sure that it was a such a good idea, but that's Cannon. He was a great writer. As for Smith, I remember that I was interning at the Herald-Tribune on a Saturday afternoon covering high school sports--Sam Goldaper was the guy in charge of high school sports and he actually got me some nice assignments. The World Series was going on. The Yankees were playing and it may have been the Mazeroski Series (when Mazeroski hit the game-winning home run as the Pirates beat the Yankees in seven games in 1960). It was the game in which Andy Carey picked up a grounder and threw the ball to Moose Skowron and Skowron lost the ball in the whiteness in the stands. Instead of losing the ball in the sun, he lost it in his shirt. Everybody was wearing white, because it was a hot day in New York. I watched Smith write his column in the paper. The game was over at 3:00 or 3:30 and when I read the column the next morning, it said, 'The ball whizzed past Skowron's head like the A train at 135th Street.' I knew immediately that Smith had taken the A train from Yankee Stadium. Of course, there was an express stop at 145th and an express stop at 125th. So I knew immediately where that image came from. He had just gotten off of the subway. That is just one of those silly little things that you remember years later. I am so grateful to have been part of that (era) even in some small way. I am very honored that you are interested in any of this."

Friedman: "I am very interested. I know that, regarding the Jimmy Cannon story, in Flashing Before My Eyes--Dick Schaap's autobiography, which was also made into a documentary by ESPN--Schaap talked a lot about Jimmy Cannon and how much Cannon influenced him and what a great writer Cannon was. I've heard the story about Cannon's interaction with the radio reporter and it probably was in Flashing Before My Eyes. Dick Schaap described Cannon as someone who could be gruff but who was a wonderful writer."

Hershey: "Both Cannon and Smith were in that backdrop--I don't know what you call it--but at the start of the original Sports Reporters show there were visuals in the background and they were both pictured there."

Friedman: “You mentioned Sam Goldaper in connection with high school sports but I am familiar with him writing for the New York Times and covering the NBA."

Hershey: "That was later."

Friedman: "Of course."

Hershey: “He was working for the Herald-Tribune. His family had a sports trophy business. He was very nice to me. He gave me one assignment when I was very young, to cover Allie Sherman--who was the coach of the New York Giants--when he was doing a coaches' clinic for high school coaches. There were no bylines then but there it (my article) was in the paper and it showed me that it could happen, that I could write for the paper. In any event, I really appreciate your interest."

Friedman: "Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and with all of the stories that you told me." 

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:12 AM

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