Sale of Sporting News Sparks Memories
Pollack, Joe, St. Louis Journalism Review
First it was Tom Mix and his Wranglers, and a secret decoder ring, available by mail from a place called Checkerboard square in a city called St. Louis, in exchange for some Ralston box tops, making cereal palatable to a grade school kid. Then it was the Sporting News, which also came from St. Louis. In my high school days, it was a broadsheet (full-size) newspaper, and my friends and I would stand in the rear of Schifrin's Candy Store and Newsstand on Flatbush Avenue to read it, checking batting averages and standings of Brooklyn Dodger farm teams from Class AAA Montreal in the International League to Class D Cairo, Ill., in the Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee) League.
The Schifrins didn't mind much because their son, Joe, was a high school classmate of ours, and he and George and Sandy and Jerry and I hung out together. Jerry, however, was a St. Louis Browns fan and shareholder. His father had bought him one share of stock after the Browns won the pennant in 1944 and went public in hopes of raising some money.
Later, in the spring of 1948, as a pre-journalism, would-be sportswriter freshman at Mizzou, I wrote a term paper on the Sporting News for an English composition and rhetoric class. I sent a letter to John George Taylor Spink, owner, publisher and editor, informing him of my project. In return, I received a torrent of material, including books, a subscription and an invitation to a baseball game. The letter was signed in the unreadable scrawl that was one of Spink's many trademarks.
The term paper is long gone; even a packrat such as I can't keep everything, but the memories are strong, from the first time I rode the rackety elevator to the seventh floor of 2018 Washington Ave. and crossed the old, creaky, rutted wooden floor to visit the jowly, gnarled, gravel-voiced, profane, cigar-chewing little man in the corner office.
I saw him a few times a year, even introduced him to my father, a baseball fan from the days before World War I. The two men got along fatuously, swapping old stories. When my father retired, Spink was shocked. He was of the old school, where people worked forever. But dad sent him postcards from Tokyo, and from Paris and Rome, and Spink would send them along to me, with a carbon of the thank-you note he had sent to dad. My folks traveled a lot by ship in those days, and I remember a letter Spink sent to the president of United States Lines, a man he somehow knew. Spink said he didn't understand Samuel Pollack, because he sailed on small ships, but he wanted all courtesies extended to his friend.
Dad often recommended retirement and travel to Spink, but it fell on deaf ears; Spink was a man so dedicated to his work that when he took a rare evening off and went to the Muny Opera, it was a real event when he stayed beyond intermission. Sometimes he left at the overture, recalling a phone call he had to make. The portable phone was invented too late for him.
Spink was one of the last of the personal journalists. He inherited the Sporting News from his father and uncle, who founded it in 1886. He left it to his son, Charles C. Johnson Spink, named for an elder Spink and for Ban Johnson, a sportswriter who founded the American League. All have died, and Johnson's widow, Edythe, former mayor of Ladue, is the sole survivor.
And now the Sporting News is leaving, too. It's being sold by the Times Mirror Corporation, which bought it from Johnson Spink in 1978. It was one of a trail of acquisitions (including C. V. Mosby, a technical publisher based here) that seemed to reach an end at the feet of Mark H. Willes, chairman and chief executive. It now seems time to divest (Mosby went two years ago, for some $415 million; some 700 people reportedly lost their jobs) its "underperforming assets," a superb piece of corporate double-speak to obfuscate "properties that just don't make enough money."
The Sporting News, known as 'the Bible of baseball" for its massive coverage of professional baseball teams, with complete statistics and weekly "letters" from a group of correspondents across the country, came to accept other sports the way baseball came to accept African-Americans very slowly. …