For some time now I have been exposed to the unique personality of Mr. J. G. Taylor Spink of St. Louis, 72-year-old publisher of the 75-year-old Sporting News, a weekly journal long acknowledged (by itself and almost everybody connected with the game) to be baseball's bible.
I feel it necessary to confess at the outset that, in consequence of my exposure to Mr. Spink, I am not now a well man. I jump when the telephone rings in my apartment, for I know it will be Mr. Spink. I have an unlisted number that the telephone company assured me would be given to no one—with the possible exception of the New York Police Department in the event of an emergency. Mr. Spink got the number, Heaven knows how.
I am at present living on canned soups. My living room is littered with papers and documents sent to me by Mr. Spink. The desk in my office is buried under messages to call long distance operators in St. Louis. I have given up trying to shave because I keep cutting myself.
I brought all this on myself. There is no one else to blame. I had been warned that in volunteering to prepare a monograph on the career of Mr. Spink I was asking for a kind of editorial harassment that is unmatched in the annals of any form of journalism. Scores of Mr. Spink's own correspondents, working newspapermen in major and minor league cities, had told me how they were awakened at all hours of the night by calls from Mr. Spink. They said there was no way to hide from him if he went all out to track you down.
February 27, 1961
I had a call from Mr. Spink only a few hours ago.
"Hello," he bellowed in the gravel-voiced tones that are instantly recognizable to baseball people everywhere. "How are you, sweetheart?"
"Better, sir," I said.
"Food poisoning, was it?"
"Yes, Mr. Spink, sir," I said, "plus what the doctor called an acute anxiety neurosis. But everything's fine now, sir." (I had invented these ailments in earlier attempts to placate Mr. Spink.)
"O.K., O.K. Did you call Larry MacPhail?"
"Well, not yet, sir," I said.
"I just talked to MacPhail on the phone. He said he hadn't heard a word from you. Now take this down."
"Larry will be coming up to New York from his Maryland farm this weekend. Try him at the Essex House. If he's not there, he'll be at the New York Athletic Club."
"I'll contact him sure, Mr. Spink, sir."
"Good. Talked to Willard Mullin yet?"
"You mean the sports cartoonist on the New York World-Telegram and Sun?"
"Well, certainly, hell, yes!"
"Oh, I've got him on my list, Mr. Spink."
"Well, get moving there, boy. Mullin's going to Puerto Rico in a few days."
"I'll nail him before he gets away, sir."
"Good, good. Now is everything all right with you, kid? You're sure that bellyache is O.K.?"
"I feel fine, just fine, Mr. Spink, and I want to thank you for calling. I certainly do appreciate your help. Please give my very best regards to Mrs. Spink."
"I'll do that. Look, why the hell haven't you gotten in touch with Shirley Povich on the Washington Post?"
"I'm going to, sir, really I am. I've already talked to Bob Addie of the Post. Great fellow, does a wonderful column for you, sir."
"Povich," said Mr. Spink, "has been writing for me for 25 years. He's got a million stories about me. You ought to get on the ball here, boy. Before you know it, these fellows will be taking off for spring training."
"Oh," I said, "you can count on me, Mr. Spink. I'm really rolling now. I'll contact MacPhail this weekend, I'll get Mullin and Povich on the wire right away and, Mr. Spink, I can't thank you enough for your interest and I'm certainly grateful for this call. Give my best to your son, Johnson, and goodby, Mr. Spink."
"Hold the wire!" yelled Spink. "Don't hang up there! I'm not finished!"
"Sorry, sir," I said.
"What did Branch have to say?"
"Who was that, sir?"
"Branch!" roared Spink. "Branch Rickey!"
"Is Mr. Rickey in town, sir?"
Mr. Spink swore an oath.
"Hell, no," he cried, "he's not in town, he's in Fox Chapel outside Pittsburgh. I gave you his private number last time I called. Do you mean to tell me you haven't contacted him yet?"
I was breathing heavily. "Mr. Spink," I said weakly, "this virus condition of mine—"
"Take this number down again," ordered Mr. Spink.
He read off the number slowly enough for a child to get it right the first time.
"Yes, sir!" I exclaimed, "and I'll call Mr. Rickey as soon as you hang up."
"O.K., kid," said Mr. Spink, "you ask Branch about the old days. I've known him for 50 years. Take care of that bellyache, boy. You're no spring chicken."
"No, sir," I said, "I certainly am not."
"O.K." said Mr. Spink, "I'll be in touch with you."
"Yes, sir," I said, "I know you will."
There was a click in the phone and, for the time being, Mr. Spink was gone.
Shaken, I put down the phone and fell back in the chair. I felt like a man trapped, almost like a criminal against whom damning evidence was slowly being accumulated. Why had I not called Povich? Where was my mind when MacPhail sat waiting on his Maryland horse farm for the call Mr. Spink had told him to expect? Was it just possible that Branch Rickey would put out a public statement of the bald truth: that I had lost his private telephone number? What of Mullin, the cartoonist? Suppose he had decided to take an earlier plane and was even now on his way to Puerto Rico?
How in the world had I painted myself into this corner? I thought I had planned everything so carefully. I had decided, based on what I knew of Mr. Spink, that it would never do for him to learn secondhand of my intentions to write a story about him. So I had set out to do all the preliminary research I could, working secretly.
I examined all the back issues of The Sporting News that I could lay my hands on. When I had finished, one impression stood out above all others. It was this: few men in their lifetimes have seen themselves acclaimed in print as frequently and as extravagantly as J. G. Taylor Spink. The fact that the print was his own scarcely diminished the validity of the tributes paid to him.
The high commands of the Army and Navy and Air Force had saluted him for getting 400,000 copies of The Sporting News into the hands of baseball-hungry servicemen every week during World War II. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself had written Mr. Spink a fan letter.
The Elks had hailed Spink. The Rotarians had praised him as a good neighbor. His own contributors (and other writers) had vied with each other in trying to express precisely the exalted position of Mr. Spink among the great figures connected with our national game.
One man compared Spink to Paul Revere. Another described him as "baseball's violent Vesuvius." Still another compared his editorial energies to those of "a souped-up bulldozer." He was called "the watchdog, the conscience of our national game." The final accolade seemed to come when somebody coined the phrase, simple but all powerful in its eloquence: Mr. Baseball.
It did not seem likely that this title would ever be topped. But it was. One of Mr. Spink's most trusted contributors (one of two he keeps on a guaranteed annual retainer) at last conceived what all the other admirers had been groping for through the years. Dan Daniel, a New York sportswriter, envisioned Mr. Spink as Moses on Mount Sinai, clutching to his breast the Ten Commandments of baseball.
Having completed this much research, I felt it was time to swing into action. So I sat down at my typewriter and wrote a letter to Mr. Spink, boldly stating my intention to write a story about him and The Sporting News.
Twenty-four hours later I came to my desk and found five messages to call Mr. Spink. I decided to pretend to myself that I was out of town. That afternoon I received a telegram which said that Mr. Spink would have no objection to a personal interview in St. Louis.
Now I was free to tip my mitt here and there. I confided in some New York sportswriters.
"Tell me," I asked one sportswriter, "what real purpose does The Sporting News serve? Is it absolutely necessary, essential to baseball?"
"Well," said the sportswriter, "can you imagine show business getting along without Variety?"
"Impossible," I said. "Nobody would know what was going on in show business all around the country."
The sportswriter held up a hand, signifying that the point had been made.
"Well, why do you write for Spink?" I asked. "Is there a lot of money in it?" The sportswriter shook his head. "Three bucks fifty for a one-line note, $10 for a paragraph lifted from a story or column, $50 to $75 for a full-page original piece. Spink makes out the weekly payroll personally. He may throw in a $100 bonus at Christmas time. It adds up. But the important thing is that by writing for Spink I can go anywhere in America and baseball people know my name—not from my New York job, but from the stuff I write for Spink."
I called up a man I knew to be a lifelong friend of Mr. Spink.
"Spink isn't speaking to me," he said.
"Oh? What happened?"
"I wrote a letter to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED complimenting the editors on one of the special baseball issues. Spink saw it and considered it an act of disloyalty. He wrote me a blistering letter asking if I had ever heard of a publication called The Sporting News. He doesn't mind what you people do with golf or sailing, but when you mention baseball, he considers it an invasion of Sporting News privacy."
There was a few seconds' silence and then the man said, "I don't know any man so completely dedicated to his paper as Taylor Spink. I think he is one of the last of the great personal journalists. He has given his paper every ounce of his energy for half a century. He knows his field more thoroughly than many editors of big-city newspapers know theirs. I think that, working with the same resources, he could have whipped William Randolph Hearst in any big city. Spink is in a class by himself. If he had covered the theater he would have produced something like Variety. Hell's bells, if he had started with a peanut stand in Times Square, he'd probably own both sides of Broadway by now."
I put in a call to J. Roy Stockton, the former sports editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch now living in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"Roy," I said, "what about Spink?"
"He's sore at me right now," said Stockton.
"What did you do to offend him, Roy?"
"I accepted a place on a baseball committee. Spink had another candidate for the spot."
"Do you hold any grudge?"
"Grudge? Look, if I held a grudge against Taylor Spink for every time he got sore at me, I would never have lived to enjoy my retirement down here."
"It must be sheer hell to work for him."
"No," said Stockton, "he's essentially a fair guy. I don't say that most of his employees aren't terrified of him, but they've learned that no matter how tough he gets with them, he'll come around later and apologize. Give them a raise or a free trip or a due bill on a local hotel. Deep down, Spink is really kindhearted."
"Roy," I said, "I can't quite square that with what I've heard so far."
"Well, listen," said Stockton. "Some years ago Lloyd McMaster on the Post-Dispatch had a terrible misfortune. He was living out in the country and his house caught on fire. It was the dead of winter, and Mac barely had time to grab up an old pair of pants and get his wife out safely. Together they stood shivering in the bitter cold and watched their home burn to the ground."
"Go ahead, Roy," I said, "I'm taking notes here."
"Well, when the news reached the Post-Dispatch office all of us stood around shaking our heads in sympathy. Poor Mac, we said, what a lousy break. Out at Sportsman's Park, I'm sure that Branch Rickey said a prayer for Mac. But nobody did anything—nobody but crusty old Taylor Spink. He roared up to Mac's house in his big Cadillac, ordered Mac and his wife into the car and took them to his own home and kept them there until they could find another place to live. That's Spink for you; he's always there in the clutch."
"Well, thank you, Roy," I said, "I'm looking forward to meeting Spink."
"Just do what he tells you and you'll be all right," said Roy.
"Oh no, Roy," I said, "maybe I didn't make myself clear. I'm not doing this story for Spink. I'm doing a story about him. He can't tell me what to do."
"My friend," said Roy Stockton, "that's what you think."
We said goodby and I put down the phone. It was time to go to St. Louis and face Spink in his den.
I arrived late in the day and put in a call to Mr. Spink. He could not have been more cordial. He said he would pick me up at 9:30 the following morning and take me with him to the offices of The Sporting News.
At 9 a.m. I was having breakfast when a bellboy handed me a message. It was a confirmation that Mr. Spink would be coming by at 9:30. I began to eat a little faster. At 9:15 I received another message. This reported that Mr. Spink was on his way from his home in Clayton, a fashionable suburb of St. Louis. I gulped down my coffee, hurried to my room, grabbed my hat and overcoat and rushed back down to the lobby.
At 9:29 a.m., a uniformed chauffeur entered the lobby. "Mr. Spink's car," he announced. I sprang forward and revealed that I was his man.
Outside, seated in the front seat was Mr. Spink. I had not seen him for years (as a native St. Louisan I had been aware of him all my life), and I saw at once that he had lost a great deal of weight. His face was lined and there were bags under his eyes. But the fire was still in them.
"You remember me as being fat," he said, reading my mind. "Well, I used to weigh 220. That was when I was a beer and ale drinker. Twenty years ago Paul Rickert, one of my editors, and I made a pact between us that we'd quit drinking and smoking. I've never had a drink of any kind since that day."
Mr. Spink introduced me to my companion in the back seat. He was Carl Felker, for 30 years an editor of The Sporting News and its highly prosperous sister publication, The Sporting Goods Dealer. Mr. Feiker is now retired, but he had been drafted by Mr. Spink to assist me in preparing my story.
At his Washington Avenue headquarters Mr. Spink was greeted brightly by a pretty receptionist. "Good morning, my dear," he said, then added out of the side of his mouth: "Do I know how to pick 'em or not?"
Inside, we marched down a long row of desks leading to Mr. Spink's private office. Loudly, he hailed the workers by their first names. "Good morning, Joe, how are you, Susan, hello, Mabel." Shining faces smiled happily back at him: "Good morning, Mr. Spink, good morning, sir, beautiful morning, sir!" Everybody had a sort of well-scrubbed look, the girls were uniformly attractive, the men resplendent in their white shirts that seemed starched to their limit of tolerance.
We entered Mr. Spink's handsome private office. Frances Schriever, his secretary, rose from her desk to greet us. She is a handsome lady with a rosy-cheeked complexion that owes nothing to Arden or Rubinstein. (I was later to conclude, after hearing some of the robust language Mr. Spink uses in her presence, that her complexion might well be a sort of permanent blush.)
"They say I'm tough," growled Mr. Spink. "Well, how about this—same secretary for 34 years, same wife for 46." He plucked a fresh flower from a vase on his desk and put it in his lapel.
There were several manuscripts neatly arranged on Mr. Spink's desk. "Give me just a minute to look this stuff over," he said. I sat down in one chair in front of the desk, and Carl Felker took the other. "Here's something for you," said Mr. Spink, turning around and taking a book from the shelves that line one wall of his handsome paneled office. The other walls are filled with plaques and scrolls and citations in praise of Mr. Spink. "I'll autograph this and you can take it with you," he said, signing the flyleaf of the book.
"Thank you, sir," I said, taking the book. It was entitled Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball by J. G. Taylor Spink. I knew this book well. I knew, too, that, strictly speaking, it had not been written by Mr. Spink. According to the testimony of dozens of sports-writers, it was the work of one of Spink's oldest contributors, a former newspaperman named Fred Lieb. But, the legend goes, when the book finally went to press, Spink himself had so worried and fussed away at the manuscript that he considered the book to be his alone. Grandly, on publication day he had presented an autographed copy to Fred Lieb.
Mr. Spink has written almost nothing himself, although his byline is a familiar one both in The Sporting News and The Sporting Goods Dealer. There is a column in The Sporting News known as Looping the Loop with J. G. Taylor Spink. It has been written through the years by a succession of sportswriters. Once, in The Sporting News, there was a lively three-part series by J. G. Taylor Spink about Larry MacPhail. It described vividly a visit by Mr. Spink to MacPhail at his farm in Maryland. It told of Spink driving down the long driveway to MacPhail's front door and quoted MacPhail himself greeting Mr. Spink with loud cries of "Hello, Taylor, old man, come in, come in and meet the family." In subsequent installments, MacPhail showed Mr. Spink around his stables, sat up half the night with him, recalling old baseball yarns and discussing the future of the game. It was "Taylor" this and "Taylor" that for three straight issues.
Mr. Spink had not visited the MacPhail farm at all. The series was the work of a New York sportswriter who actually did make the pilgrimage to the MacPhail estate.
The knowledge of these journalistic deceits certainly did not shock me. Newspaper proprietors have been signing their names to the work of underlings almost since the invention of the printing press. As a matter of fact, J. G. Taylor Spink has a clearer title than most purchasers of ghostly manuscripts. He demands revisions and rewrites—frequently with the simple objection that "this doesn't sound like me." By the time the thing is done to his entire satisfaction, it is not surprising that he truly believes the work to be his own.
Mr. Spink cleared his throat. I looked up. He was holding one of the manuscripts in his hand and peering at it through eyeglasses halfway down his nose. I judged that the work in hand was a piece scheduled for publication in the next issue of The Sporting News. It was not. It was an "autobiography" that had been prepared overnight for my benefit.
Raising his voice, Mr. Spink began to read aloud. "I was born," he boomed, "in St. Louis on November 6, 1888, the day that Benjamin Harrison was elected president of the U.S. My father was Charles C. Spink and my mother, Marie Taylor. My father, before coming to St. Louis, had been homesteading in North Dakota with his brother, Fred. Another brother, Al Spink, had come to St. Louis. It was Uncle Al who founded The Sporting News in the year 1886. He conceived it as a weekly paper that would cover baseball, racing and the theater. Uncle Al was crazy about the theater and, as a matter of fact, was destined to go broke producing a theatrical turkey entitled The Derby Winner.
"Uncle Al did not smoke or drink nor did he always pay his bills promptly. When he got The Sporting News under way, he telegraphed my father and offered him a job at $65 a week. My father accepted the offer promptly. When he arrived in St. Louis, Uncle Al met him at the train, promptly borrowed his watch and took it to a pawnshop. With the $10 obtained as a loan on the watch, Uncle Al took my father to a restaurant and blew the tenner on a dinner of celebration."
Mr. Spink read on. He told how eventually his Uncle Al devoted more and more time to his racing and theatrical interests and how control of The Sporting News passed to his father, Charlie. It was Charlie's vision (although his circulation was only about 3,000 copies a week at the time) that The Sporting News' best chance was as a straight baseball paper.
The elder Spink fought hard for the establishment of the American League in 1901. He became a fast friend of the league's founder, Ban Johnson, and young Taylor—soon to join the paper as office boy—made Johnson his hero. Spink's one son (he has a married daughter) is named C. C. Johnson Spink, after old Ban. For years Spink encouraged the legend that he made an annual pilgrimage to lay a wreath on Ban Johnson's grave. Cynics say he may have made the trip once.
It was a lively manuscript that somebody on the staff had prepared for this reading. But throughout Mr. Spink gave no hint that the work was not his own. He told of meeting his wife, the former Blanche Keene and how he had been smitten at once. He recounted how he had hurried home to tell his mother on the night he had proposed and had been accepted. His mother did not congratulate him but picked up the telephone and called Blanche to congratulate her. Mr. Spink's mother, a five-foot fireball who weighed no more than 100 pounds, was a great character in her own right. She worked at her desk at The Sporting News almost until the day of her death. Like her son, she could swear like a Marine sergeant, and old hands recall memorable occasions when mother and son stood together, roaring their oaths and shaking their fists—not at each other—but at some injustice done to baseball or The Sporting News.
An hour had passed and Mr. Spink read on and on. At one point, when he referred to the death of his father, 47 years ago, he choked up and handed the manuscript to Carl Felker. Felker read a paragraph or so before Mr. Spink recovered and gruffly ordered Felker to return the document.
He read of the days when the immortal Ring Lardner worked on The Sporting News. He was a miserable failure as a desk man. It was young Taylor (as he now recalls it) who encouraged Lardner to write some of the stories about his travels with the Chicago ball clubs. These were published in The Sporting News as Pullman Pastimes and were destined later on to grow in Lardner's mind into his classic You Know Me, Al. Even so, Lardner could not take the inside work under old Charlie Spink, and he left the paper to work in Boston and go on to his triumphs in New York.
I glanced down at the Landis biography in my lap. I recalled that it told of Taylor Spink's famous feud with baseball's sainted hambone, its first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis, a vain man, became infuriated when a Saturday Evening Post article written by Stanley Frank in 1942 referred to Mr. Spink as "baseball's bellowing Boswell" and, for the first time in a mass circulation magazine, as "Mr. Baseball." It was in reviewing the Frank article for The Sporting News that Daniel, the New York sportswriter, referred to Spink as Moses on the Mount. This was too much for the judge. He took away from Spink the right to publish baseball's Official Guide (along with the $10,000 subsidy that went with it) and undertook to publish the indispensable record book out of his own office. He made an unholy mess of it. Whereas Spink had had the Guide in the pockets of sportswriters in time for spring training, when they needed it most, the first Landis version did not appear until July.
Spink had pleaded his case before the judge. He said he had no control over the Saturday Evening Post article and he had promised Daniel not to change a word of his review. Thus, he was powerless to delete the reference that depicted him as baseball's Moses.
Moreover, Spink said, his own mother had been angry both at the Post article and at Daniel's review for the reason that neither made mention of her at all. The judge was adamant; he threw the case out of court, and Spink did not find favor with the commissioner's office again until A. B. (Happy) Chandler had taken over the job. This time Spink took no chances. He flattered the new commissioner in print, complimented him roundly in person on his singing of My Old Kentucky Home. He became Chandler's court favorite and was rewarded with exclusive news stories that sometimes infuriated his own correspondents among the working newspapermen. Dan Parker of the New York Mirror proposed in his column that Chandler move his offices to The Sporting News building in St. Louis to save stamps and telegraph tolls.
Mr. Spink raised his voice. Perhaps he had noticed that my mind was wandering. I snapped to attention in time to hear the concluding paragraph of his manuscript.
"Taylor Spink," he read unblushingly, "is first-class. Everything he does is first-class. He travels first-class, he works first-class. He nightclubs first-class and he tips first-class. His paper is first-class. He demands the best and he gets it. Those who comply are well rewarded."
The reading was over. It had taken about 90 minutes. Mr. Spink shuffled the papers, fastened them with a clip and handed them across the desk to me. The implication was clear: my work was done. With the Landis biography and the prepared manuscript all I had to do was use a modicum of common sense in putting the two together.
At this point, Johnson, Mr. Spink's mild-mannered 44-year-old son and heir apparent, spoke up respectfully. He had been snapping pictures during the reading of his father's life story.
"Papa," said Johnson, "we're all invited to a luncheon the major leagues are giving for all the managers and the press."
We were off in a few minutes. At the luncheon, held in a banquet room atop the Chase Hotel, sportswriters covering the winter meetings crowded around Mr. Spink and greeted him loudly and affectionately as "Colonel," a title conferred by "Happy" Chandler when he was governor of Kentucky.
After the luncheon I proposed that we get a picture of Mr. Spink with Joe Cronin, the president of the American League, and Warren Giles, president of the National. Now these men were in separate and secret sessions, wrestling with their summitry. To interrupt them was a sacrilege roughly comparable to breaking in on a band of bishops at prayer. But Mr. Spink caused word to be sent in by courier and, in a twinkling, the league presidents emerged and soon were posing, arms locked in fond embrace, with Mr. Spink.
That evening I had dinner with Lloyd McMaster of the Post-Dispatch, the writer and editor who had been taken in by Mr. Spink on the night the McMaster house had burned.
"Spink called me today," said McMaster over a cocktail. "He heard I was having dinner with you."
"How did he get wind of that?"
"Spink gets wind of everything."
"What did he say?"
"He said for me to tell you something good about him."
McMaster sipped his drink and added: "It was the first time I had heard from him in over a year."
I stared at him incredulously. "But I thought that you and Spink were pals. I thought you used to help him out in the evenings, reading copy and writing headlines for him."
"I did," said McMaster, "for years. But about a year ago he got mad at me."
"What did you do?"
"I went on vacation, and when I got home I let 24 hours go by without calling him."
"Are you sore at him?"
"No," said McMaster. "I understand him. He'll get over his peeve."
"You still like him?"
"You can't stay mad at Taylor," said McMaster. "If I needed a real friend tomorrow morning, he'd be the first to come banging on my door."
Next day I visited the Post-Dispatch offices and went to the morgue and asked for the file of clippings about Mr. Spink. There wasn't anything in them I didn't already know. On the way out, I stopped in the sports department to say hello to some of my old colleagues.
"Spink just called," said the sports editor, Bob Broeg.
"Yes?" I said. "What did he want?"
"He wanted to know what you were up to snooping around our morgue. I told him he had nothing to worry about. I said you were harmless. O.K.?"
"Fine," I said, "fine. I'm beginning to feel more harmless every minute."
I had a luncheon date with Carl Felker, Spink's retired editor, at a restaurant on the western edge of town. Halfway through our chopped steak, there was a call from Mr. Spink. Felker went to the phone. When he came back he said that Mr. Spink had suggested that we pay a visit to Mrs. Spink at the Spink home.
Spink lives in a mansion on Polo Drive, just past the western city limits. There are three cars in the garage: a Chrysler New Yorker, a Thunderbird and an Eldorado Cadillac. Spink is a rich man, though The Sporting News, the love of his professional life, did not make him rich. His wealth comes from The Sporting Goods Dealer, the trade journal whose advertisements sometimes swell it to the proportions of a big city telephone directory. There has been some income from Spink's shelf of books, mainly statistical, but these are more of a service to baseball than moneymakers.
We sat in the great and lovely living room of the Spink home with Mrs. Blanche Spink, a most attractive lady of charm and vitality. With typical Spink forthrightness, she smiled and said, "I don't know why you're doing a story about Papa. We all loathe and despise SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S special baseball issues."
I didn't know what to say. Mrs. Spink smiled again and said, "I like people who speak up, who have something to say. That's why I like Frank Lane [the new general manager of the Kansas City Athletics] and that's why I was attracted to Papa when we first met."
"Papa—Mr. Spink," I said, "certainly speaks up and I find him fascinating. On the other hand, Frank Lane never shuts up and I consider him to be the biggest bore in Christendom."
That impressed her. We were getting someplace now. "Tell me, Mrs. Spink," I said, "about some of your vacation trips. I've heard that Mr. Spink once flew to Florida to see War Admiral run. When he arrived at the Miami airport, he was told that War Admiral had been scratched, so he got on the next plane, without visiting the race track, and flew home."
Mrs. Spink nodded. "Papa," she said, "can be very restless. He loves the theater, but I don't think the two of us have ever seen a complete play together. Either he misses the first act or gets an idea between acts and rushes back to the office."
Mrs. Spink thought a moment and then she said: "Yes, I like people who aren't afraid to speak up. One time, I remember, Papa and I planned to fly to Carmel, Calif. for Thanksgiving. The plane was delayed more than an hour at the St. Louis airport. This made Papa fretful. Then we finally took off, but at Kansas City there was another long delay. Papa was fit to be tied. Again we took off. We hadn't been in the air 15 minutes when the announcement was made by the captain, 'We are returning to Kansas City because of mechanical difficulties.' Do you know that nobody on the plane had gumption enough to speak up—except Papa?"
"Did Papa have something to say?"
"Papa," said Mrs. Spink as graciously and as charmingly as if she were entertaining the local minister, "Papa jumped to his feet and cried out, 'Son of a bitch! This is a hell of a way to run an airline!' "
Happily, my teacup did not break as it fell to the richly carpeted floor. I stammered my apologies, but Mrs. Spink comforted me in her soft, cultured voice and rang for the maid and asked if I would like another cup of tea.
I said I thought not. I thanked Mrs. Spink for the visit and made my way unsteadily to the door. At the door, I turned and asked my final question: "Did you ever get to California on that trip, Mrs. Spink?"
"Oh, no," she smiled. "Papa was fed up. We took a plane back to St. Louis and had Thanksgiving dinner at home."
"Oh. Well, goodby, Mrs. Spink. It's been wonderful meeting you."
"Come any time," said Mrs. Spink.
I told the waiting cab driver to drive me to my hotel. There I called the airlines and got a place on a jet departing that afternoon. Back in New York, I settled down to collect my notes and my wits. And then the calls from Mr. Spink began.
Since the last one, described at the beginning of this report, I have pulled myself together. I phoned Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail, too. Then, taking the offensive, I pulled a switch: I called Mr. Spink. I told him that MacPhail and Rickey, those archenemies, who have been feuding for years, agreeing on nothing under the sun, did agree on one thing: that J. G. Taylor Spink had done more for baseball than baseball could ever repay.
What had he actually done? He had won no great crusades. The Sporting News had fought the Federal League, but that was the popular thing to do. He had worked with Ban Johnson to gather evidence in the Chicago Black Sox scandal, he had campaigned for better minor league ball parks, he had opposed the establishment of Rickey's own Continental League—but here again he was echoing the major league party line.
What he had done, principally, was to flog to press each week a journal complete with the story of all baseball from the majors to the lowliest of the minors. He had done this, sometimes, at a financial loss. He had kept baseball's books straight; he had been invaluable to writers, to scouts, to all the more dedicated fans whose appetite for baseball news and figures is never sated. He had stood for good things, he had spoken out against some bad things. He had maintained a great faith in the national game, he had preserved a great personal integrity on the big issues.
Not too long ago, Stan Musial, the great star of the St. Louis Cardinals, made a speech at a testimonial dinner honoring Spink. "He belongs in the Hall of Fame," said Musial. There was applause that rattled the chandeliers.
Of course, J. G. Spink is not eligible for the Hall at Cooperstown under the rules. Journalists, no matter how talented or devoted, are not considered to be candidates.
I asked Branch Rickey about this. "One day," he said, "perhaps not in Taylor's lifetime nor in mine, looking back down the long corridor of the years, someone will recognize the unique contribution of Taylor Spink to the game. The rules will be changed to accommodate him. Of that I am certain."
It would be nice if the rules could be changed a little earlier. For although Spink has been called Mr. Baseball and compared to Paul Revere, to Mount Vesuvius, to Moses the patriarch himself, the one overwhelming impression a man takes away from an exposure to him—despite the plaudits, despite the plaques that fill his office walls—is that John George Taylor Spink feels shamefully unappreciated.