The story of Dick Schaap's start as the man behind the tape recorder—or, at the very least, as the man next to it—comes close to total implausibility. Schaap was simply another journalist and a writing-down book writer back in 1967 when he got a phone call from his old friend and former colleague, Robert Gutwillig.
"How about doing a diary of the pro football season?" Gutwillig asked.
"Sure," said Schaap.
"Who do you think we ought to do?" asked Gutwillig.
March 2, 1970
"Well, I heard him reciting Wallace Stevens' poetry to Jim Taylor one night in their room up at training camp."
Jerry Kramer and Jim Taylor were, of course, Green Bay Packers, and the book that resulted was the best-selling Instant Replay. It was a book not so much written as talked—in thoroughly persuasive tones—by Kramer, with, of course, the expert help of Schaap, Gutwillig and the magic of tape recording. This was followed last fall by two more volumes in which the voices of famed athletes were electronically modulated by Schaap—a onetime SPORTS ILLUSTRATED staffer—and his assistants. A fourth book, Tiger Catcher Bill Freehan's Behind the Mask, has provided the article that begins on page 54 of this issue.
Freehan's book is the only one of the four that resulted from the subject's own initiative. The Tiger catcher had already started his own, handwritten diary at the Tiger training camp in Lakeland, Fla. last year before he got in touch with Schaap. Schaap was tied up at the time in Miami with Kramer and a fellow named Joe Willie Namath, but he arranged to have Freehan meet with Gutwillig and Steve Gelman, another of his editors, in New York. They were impressed by Freehan's conversation and went out that afternoon to buy a tape recorder. The result was half a million spoken words which were edited down to a very readable 80,000 and offered to us by Freehan a month ago.
Finding raw material for processing is the biggest problem at the Schaap factory. Often it takes a bit of luck—such as finding Frank Beard to do the diary of the pro golf tour.
"I had been to six different tournaments looking for the right golfer," Schaap says. "I happened to be sitting in the clubhouse at Oklahoma City when Beard sat down at the next table. I didn't even know who he was. But he talked well enough, and I heard enough, to know he was my man. And it's worked out fine."
Behind the Mask turned out to be a bit trickier. "We thought we'd be involved in a pennant race when we began," Schaap says. "We certainly didn't expect the Tigers to end up 19 games out. So the book depends mostly on Freehan's talk and Freehan's tone, which turns out to be that of frustration. The book really follows a traditional fictional plot, starting with triumph and ending with tragedy. I guess it's a test of whether sports fans are ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
Or written words from the mouths of nonwriters, he might have added.