RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now to commentator Frank Deford, who has some thoughts on something else facing challenges - the sports page.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: It's plain and simple. Baseball is a radio game, so said Milo Hamilton, the longtime play-by-play man for the Houston Astros who died the other day. And yes, radio and baseball have so long gone together. The familiar voices in the booth, perennials, like flowers, announcers like Hamilton and Vin Scully, who, at the age of 87, just signed on to broadcast Dodger games for another year, often have been more identified with their teams than the players who merely come and go. But long before Signor Marconi gave us his inspiration, it was already plain and simple that baseball was a newspaper game, two daily institutions that fed on one another.
I could not help but think of this when the word came the other day that the New York Daily News, struggling like so many American newspapers just to survive, cut payroll again, this time, finally, even desperately, eviscerating the sports staff. Among the victims was Bill Madden, who is, yes, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. You don't have to live in New York to feel grief. The Daily News once had the largest circulation in the country. Its lead sports columnist was a tough guy named Dick Young, and it was he who was the face of the paper. But then, that was the case all over the country.
It was so often that a sports columnist was very likely the best-known personality in the burg, back when we called towns burgs. Men like Furman Bisher in Atlanta, Fred Russell in Nashville, Shirley Povich in Washington - and never mind that that's alleged to be a political place - Jim Murray in LA. Yeah, sure, Vin Scully has been the voice of the Dodgers, and you listen to him, but you had to wake up with the Times to read Murray to get the real feel of the Dodgers. And it wasn't just baseball. Did you read Murray today? Can you believe what Dick Young said? How about that Povich column?
In every town, whatever the size, the sports section was what drove newspapers. Read all about it, our paper, our teams, be they the pros, college or high school. Maybe that was an unfortunate American perspective, highlighting young boys, and maybe a few girls, who just happened to be good athletes, but it was our way. Oh, how many scrapbooks then, sports section articles about kids, carefully clipped and pasted, saved for posterity. Remember scrapbooks? Well, remember newspapers?
Yes, there are blogs now, and lots of information is online, but sports were different then, back when everybody got up and read all about it, the same stuff, the skinny on our teams. It was before sports were equal parts television and fantasy.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.