Ty Cobb's steely eyes stare toward the chair where Red used to sit. The door to which the photo of the Georgia Peach is thumbtacked hasn't been opened often in the last five years. Not since Walter W. (Red) Smith wrote his last column.
Opposite Cobb's gaze, Joe Frazier finishes the vicious hook that sent Muhammad Ali crashing down at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Nearby, Ted Williams leans on a bat. On either side of Smith's typewriter are lithographs of thoroughbreds running in a pasture.
Not long ago Phyllis Smith, Reds wife of 14 years, opened a file cabinet packed with 50 years' worth of clippings. "The columns were turning to powder," she says, "and something had to be done to save them."
Though Phyllis Smith had been approached by many groups interested in her husband's relics, she felt that the collection should go to Red's alma mater, Notre Dame. Officials at the school were delighted to accept the memorabilia, and movers were dispatched recently to clean out his office in the barn behind the Smith house in New Canaan, Conn.
September 13, 1987
As she watched the moving men, Phyllis Smith smiled at a photo of Red wearing a tie. "At home Red never wore a necktie except on Sunday mornings for Mass," she said. "But many Sundays he would say, "Oh, gee, it's too late to go to Mass,' and he would go to the barn to write his column. When he returned, the necktie was never loosened. It was always in place."
Among the items packed that day was a New Yorker cartoon showing a husband and wife watching a game show on TV. In the caption the wife says, "If you know all the answers, Mr. Red Smith, why don't you try to get on?"
Red Smith was generous with his answers. Phyllis Smith admired her husband as a man who would reply to a one-line letter with one of two pages. "He was accessible to people who needed him," she says. "I haven't felt too happy about the office being empty, but it's a relief that the collection is going someplace where people can take care of it and appreciate it."
The memorabilia will be incorporated into the sports research collection at the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame, joining such legendary artifacts as Knute Rockne's practice sweater. Curator Jethrow Kyles says, "Red Smith is the model for all young journalists."
Phyllis Smith may have been thinking about the collection's influence on young writers as she watched the final item being packed away. It was the Olympia manual typewriter on which her husband had pecked out so many of his columns. The carriage had been returned as if waiting for Red Smith to write another column.
Timothy Crothers is a sportswriter for the Durham (N.C.) Morning Herald.