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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

His Career Touched 'Em All

November 01, 2004|Ross Newhan

Contrary to the belief of many colleagues who enjoy needling me about my longevity on the baseball beat, I was not covering in 1920 when the Boston Red Sox sold the Bambino to the New York Yankees, bringing down the curse that they mercifully exorcised Wednesday night.

I mean, do I look that old?

For the record, I made my official debut covering baseball April 11, 1961, coinciding with the official debut of the expansion Angels, who defeated the Orioles, 7-2, at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium as Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs, Bob Cerv hit one and Eli Grba pitched a complete game, which was soon to become a threatened species.

The late Irv Kaze, then the club's publicist, celebrated the auspicious start by treating reporters to champagne at their Baltimore hotel, and Gene Autry, during a long search to recapture the high, would always call that victory his favorite moment as owner.

If my ensuing 44 years on the baseball beat were not nearly as innocent, if cynicism and dispassion inevitably intruded on my approach and coverage, it has been a grand-slam ride that I am now bringing to a close.

My byline will appear periodically in The Times next year, but not as the senior baseball columnist. I am handing the reins to Tim Brown, who is eminently qualified, having most recently spent several seasons chronicling the soap opera known as the Lakers.

A longtime New York reporter named Leonard Schecter wrote in his book "The Jocks" that he knew it was time to get off the baseball beat when he had memorized the menu at the Minute Chef in Cleveland.

I have outlasted the Minute Chef, but not before devouring enough postgame cheeseburgers in Cleveland and elsewhere -- I always thought it was a job requirement -- to fuel a quintuple bypass, the cardiac equivalent of hitting for the cycle.

That was eight years ago, and I have finally decided to ease the stress of deadlines, SigAlerts, security lines, amped-up PA systems at the Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium rock halls, and another foreboding and fast-approaching labor negotiation.

Bud Selig, a favorite sparring partner, may choose to remain commissioner until the next millennium, insisting along the way that his current contract will be his last, but when he next confronts union chief Don Fehr on revenue-sharing percentages and other inspirational topics, I'll be monitoring them from someplace like, well, Waikiki.

Only the accountants here know for sure how many miles and meals I have eaten up covering labor negotiations that went nowhere. I mean, listening to Fehr entertain reporters by playing the lobby piano at the Arrowwood resort near Rye, N.Y., during the protracted strike of 1994-95 while management lawyers conducted a midnight caucus over a union proposal they had no intention of accepting wasn't the same as hearing Horowitz play the "Moonlight Sonata."

I don't mind lobbing questions at Milton Bradley while preparing to duck. I could tolerate the angry phone rants by Tom Lasorda and the libel threats from Kevin Malone. I thought it amusing while spending a couple of seasons covering the tormented Alex Johnson of the Angels that he kept insisting my first name was "Four Eyed" and my last name was a hyphenated obscenity. I never thought Gene Mauch was really serious when he often accused me of "fomenting" trouble, and I was only slightly nervous on that Sunday afternoon in Anaheim when Brian Downing stuck a bat within an inch of my nose and threatened to deviate my septum merely because I had written that all of his weightlifting had left him muscle-bound between the ears.

All of that is part of the job, the fallout of doing it right. But writing those often dull and deflating labor stories while wanting to write only about the wonders of the game and the men who play it has been a mind-numbing challenge.

Yet, I have been fortunate to chronicle the most historic and tumultuous four decades in the game's history in regard to labor and economics, franchise movement and ownership turnover, and I take pride in the depth, extent and often news-making aspect of my coverage.

From the birth of the union to the pioneering and too-long-delayed progress under Marvin Miller; from the introduction of free agency to the sweep of high-powered agents who ruled the market; from the soaring salaries to the obvious, illegal attempt to control them through collusion; from the greed-motivated expansions to the lamentable attempt at contraction; from the end of family ownership amid rocketing costs to the short-lived (in several cases) takeover of corporations whose stockholders quickly railed about the impact on Wall Street, leading to the return of family ownership; from the innovative and successful changes under Selig (divisional realignment, interleague play, wild-card extended playoffs) to repeated work stoppages; from a new parity amid the current labor agreement and a fresher relationship between management and union to the infuriating inability to hammer out a tougher steroids policy.

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