Sunday, April 19, 2015

REMEMBERING MEMBERS OF THE GOLDEN AGE (and This Week's Most Influential List)

This week I want to remember great Philadelphia sports columnists Stan Hochman and Sandy Grady, who died in recent days. I worked with Stan at the Philadelphia Daily News from 1974-1980. He covered all the incredible Philly sports moments and characters for decades. Not just the wins and losses of the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and other teams, but people like Joe Frazier and his classic fights with Muhammad Ali. Others have written better than I about Stan, who also was well-known for his local TV and radio work, but what I recall most was how focused Stan was when it was time to write. He knew what the story was, what he wanted to say, and could type it out faster than anyone I can recall. People like me, editing copy and designing the pages and worrying about deadlines, really appreciated that! 

I didn't know Sandy well. He was at the Daily News before my time, then went to the rival Bulletin. When that paper folded, he came back to the News, but I had left for CART by then. 

Stan and Sandy were iconic examples of what has been called the Golden Age of sportswriting, especially in Philadelphia, a great, Great, GREAT sports town. (When I was there we actually had FOUR competing daily papers. What competition! What a challenge! What fun!) They came to town in the late 1950s, hired by a young Daily News sports editor named Larry Merchant. You've probably heard of Larry because he went on to acclaim, in part, as a Big Time boxing commentator.

What a treat it was for me, as a kid, to read these guys and later work with Hochman, Tom Cushman, Bill Conlin, superstar-in-the-making Gary Smith, Ray Didinger, Dick Weiss, Jack McKinney, Phil Jasner, Ben Callaway, Joe Greenday, very controversial harness writer/handicapper Jack Kiser (who liked auto racing, too) and trailblazing (although she was low-key about it) Mary Flannery. Still with the Daily News is Bill Fleischman, who recommended me to sports editor Mike Rathet for my job with the paper, and Bill still covers racing although he's not a full-time staffer. We also had some legendary broadcasters to know and appreciate, like Harry Kalas, Bill Campbell, Andy Musser, Tom Brookshier (always very kind to Mario Andretti), Gene Hart (the Flyers' announcer who became something of a Michael Andretti fan because Michael was a Flyers' fan) and Al Meltzer.

The news of Stan's and Sandy's passings (which came from Fleischman) was yet another reminder to me of how much the media has changed. And, in many ways, not for the better. (Look no further than the garbage that is Around The Horn and First Take. Empty Suits with Big Mouths.)

I am so thankful I was around for that other era of real sports journalism. If you weren't, you have my sympathy.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  19: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Richard Buck -- Did the Sprint Cup race director push the envelope by going green at Bristol on a not-completely-dry racing surface and with moisture in the air? Early crasher Brad Keselowski, who took out Penske teammate Joey Logano, said light rain had been falling from the start. Shades of Brian Barnhart at New Hampshire?

  2. Brian France  -- What is NASCAR's chairman thinking about entertainment value of Sprint Cup races after all-time Fox record low rating -- first-ever under a 3.0 -- for Texas? And what's the future of Saturday night races since 13 of the 18 lowest-rated NASCAR-on-Fox telecasts have been under the lights?

  3. Joe Gibbs: Wins Bristol with Matt Kenseth, but what move can he make to keep The Next Big Thing Erik Jones in his team, with no Cup seat apparently open?

 4. Scott Dixon -- North American motorsports' most relentless driver wins Long Beach, IndyCar's second-most important event of the season. 

  5Steve O'Donnell -- First, NASCAR's executive VP and chief racing development officer will fix the rule book to clearly definite what "post-race inspection" means. But will he make Kyle Busch Chase eligible upon his return from leg and foot injuries?

 6. Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial leader wants a return to 1,000 horsepower V-8 engines as a way to counteract declining TV ratings and spectator attendance.

  7. Danica Patrick -- Bristol top 10 means she's Chase eligible on points after eight races. 

  8. Lewis Hamilton -- Win in Bahrain, despite Ferrari performance improvement, sets tone not only for his possible third world championship, but . . . also so much dominance from him and Mercedes that worldwide TV audience will decline again this season?

  9. Rick Hendrick-- Chase Elliott, not having the Xfinity Series success he had in claiming a championship last year, can use the legendary people "touch" from his Cup team owner-to-be.

 10. Richard Childress -- Loses appeal in the No. 31 Tiregate scandal although points and money penalties reduced. 

more next week . . . ]