By Dennis D’Agostino
From Keepers of the Game, 2013
In the tradition of Jerome Holtzman’s No Cheering in the Press Box, enjoy this excerpt from Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball Beat Was The Best Job On The Paper concerning the exploits of battlin’ Dick Young:
Bill Madden: I was weaned to be a sportswriter by my father. He owned a plumbing supply company, and he would always talk to me about Dick Young. The problem was, my father wouldn’t allow the Daily News in our house. He considered it a scandal rag. But he had it on the counter down at the Country Plumbing Supply in Hackensack. The plumbers would come in, and they’d all bring the Daily News, and that’s where my father got access to it. He’d never bring the paper home; he’d just tell me how great Dick Young was.
Phil Pepe: There’ll never be another Dick Young. He was a trailblazer, a pioneer, a leader. With all the negative things there’s much more positive than negative. I knew him as a rival, a colleague, and a boss. His influence in the business is still felt today. He had the foresight to see the transition and what was happening with television, how people were getting their information. A lot of the jargon that we use in baseball came from him. Ribbies for RBI, for instance. The way players talked, he’d write it that way.
Bill Madden: What Young would say was, “Don’t be a fucking Hemingway. We don’t need any essayists here. Talk to your readers.” My style has always been to be as much like Young as possible, in that I try to talk to my readers and get to the point.
Phil Pepe: As sports editor, Young wanted his style on the pages but he didn’t want the administrative stuff, and he had somebody inside to do it for him. He wanted to be the voice of the paper, which he was, and wanted to dictate policy. One of the things he kept pounding away on was that he wanted more stories—shorter stories, but more of them. Which is basically what we have today; instead of lengthy stories where people are going to get bored, you want it short and to the point.
Maury Allen: There was a hard core of older reporters. Dick Young was caught in the middle at that time. He was maybe in his fifties by then, so he wasn’t old enough to be totally crotchety, but he wasn’t young enough to be a Chipmunk. But he had gone down to the clubhouse to talk to the players, so he was a transitional guy. But the other guys, like John Drebinger, Dan Daniel, Barney Kremenko, they were all against the idea of going into the clubhouse. That’s where the line was really drawn.
Phil Pepe: Here’s how you covered baseball then. First of all, all the games are at night, just about. You had to do an early story that had to be in by three. Then you go to the ballpark, and you write running. When the game is over, you write a lead. Then you sub it out, and you write another story, and then you go to the clubhouse and write another story. And the next day, you repeat the process. Meanwhile, Dick Young is not only doing that, he’s writing a column as well, every day!
There was a specific dichotomy between the AM papers and the PM papers. I started on an afternoon paper, and you had a different responsibility than the AM paper. Young broke the barrier in that he was the first AM guy to go into the clubhouse to get quotes. I remember reading stories by guys like Dan Daniel and John Drebinger, and there wouldn’t be a single quote. But as a PM guy, you didn’t have to do play-by-play. You’d wait then go down to the clubhouse. When I was with the World-Telegram, it was a snap: one story and you’re done. The toughest part was finding a Western Union office that was open that late when you were on the road.
Maury Allen: I decided this is the guy I want to imitate. But he wasn’t particularly nice to young guys. He had a little insecurity. As big as he was, he was worried about the young guys coming along, especially the Chipmunks, who were changing the game and maybe his standing within it. He had an abrasive, sarcastic personality that I found difficult. I’m pretty much an easy-going guy. Young’s ego and aggressiveness made him overwhelming, so I developed an antagonism toward him.
Then, for whatever reason, he saw me as a threat because I was young and a competitor, writing for a great sports paper. It was just one of those things where we couldn’t be in the same room together.
Phil Pepe: As a boss, he was great. When he was sports editor of the News, he was more interested in the good of the paper than the good of Dick Young. One time, at the World Series, I came up with a tip on something big. l forget exactly what it was, but I went to Dick because he had better contacts than I did. I said, “Dick I just heard about such-and-such.” He said, “Good, I’ll look into it.”
He went out, dug out the story, came back to the press box, wrote the story, showed it to me, and my name’s on it! I said, “Dick! I didn’t write that.” He said, “But you gave me the story. I wouldn’t have had it without you.” That’s the way he was.
Bill Madden: One of Young’s favorite credos was, “Always take care of your beat man.” I never forgot that, especially after I became a columnist at the News and I would make sure that whatever I got, I gave to the beat guy. In 1984, the Yankees signed Ed Whitson as a free agent. Young called me at home and said, “Aahhh, look, aahhh. They just signed this Whitson guy, three-year contract. Just write it.” I said great, is there anything else? “Nahhh, nahhh,” he said. “Just write it.”
“Well,” I said. “I just have one question. What’s our source on this?” “Source?” he said. “I’m your fucking source!” He had gotten it from Steinbrenner, but he gave it to me because I was the beat guy. Always take care of your beat guy. That’s what I was taught to do.
Maury Allen: There were two incidents that became the focus of our antagonism. One, of course, was the Tom Seaver trade in 1977. Seaver had been the first great hero of the Mets, and he got into a contract dispute, just as the doors were being opened for free agency. Young wrote a couple of columns that were very personal about Seaver, including the one at the very end where he said Seaver was jealous of Nolan Ryan and that their wives were also jealous of each other.
So I wrote a story for the front page that was bannered, “Dick Young Ran Tom Seaver Out of Town.” Up to that time, I had never written a word about another newspaperman by name. But I thought it was so important for the readers and fans to know about Young’s fight with Seaver, and Seaver saying to me that he was leaving because he couldn’t play in a town where Dick Young was so powerful. That was the beginning of a relationship that was as bitter as any.
Within that story, I had mentioned that Young’s son-in-law [Thornton Geary] had worked for the Mets, and that was one reason he was so sympathetic to the team and to [board chairman] M. Donald Grant. Young got really, really angry. He went on radio and TV badmouthing me and wrote terrible things about me and the Post.
About two weeks later, we go to Chicago. Jennifer, my daughter, was nine at the time and a red-hot baseball fan. I had always taken my kids to spring training but never on a trip during the season. This time, I decided I’m gonna be a hotshot father and take her on the road. I took her to Chicago, and we had a great time. She went to all the games, sat in a front row seat, really being fussed over.
I come back from the trip, and the next day, Young writes something like, “Maury Allen freeloaded on the Mets charter, taking his daughter to Chicago and not paying any attention to his job” and stuff like that. Now, when I wrote about Thornton Geary, he was a thirty-five-year old man who could take care of himself. But my daughter comes home the day after this article runs, and she’s hysterical because all the kids have seen it and made a big deal out of it. Family is number one with me, and the job is number two, and if my family is attacked, it’s pretty tough. I spent pretty much the rest of my life not speaking to Young. It’s the only relationship I ever had in this business where I couldn’t stand the guy, and he couldn’t stand me.
What happened to Dick Young was that he got old and couldn’t handle it. A lot of people get old and they go through their aging process in a smooth way. They accept that their glory days, their importance and impact, are in the past. He could not stand that. He went crazy over my presence and the attention I was getting, and then later on, it shifted to Mike Lupica, whom he hated just because he came to the Post and then to the News, and he saw him as a threat.
Bill Madden: I had a very tumultuous two years as New York chapter chairman in 1980-’81, which included being in charge of the show at the writers dinner. The problem was that the show was losing its appeal for a lot of reasons. In the old days, the baseball writers didn’t have anything to do in the wintertime. They had plenty of time to put these shows together. They were very good, very clever, and people loved them.
But by the time I took over as chairman, it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to come to the rehearsals. Young would walk in and say, “Ahhhh, I’m doing this song,” and hand you the music, and you had to fit into the show somehow. A couple of the previous chairmen had arranged it so that they would sing the signature song at the end of the show, and it was awful. It just wasn’t working. I made up my mind that we weren’t going to have a show anymore.
Once I made that decision, I said, “Well, what are we gonna do?” We had to come up with something that was both entertaining and baseball driven. Someone tipped me off to a comedian named Dennis Blair, who was playing at Dangerfield’s. He was very clever and funny; he did a lot of baseball stuff. I went to Dangerfield’s with Moss Klein, talked to Dennis, and said, “Look, this is what I need you to do. I need you to save my ass, that’s what I need you to do.”
Blair was delighted to do it because it was an opportunity to get his name out there. I told him that I needed four or five baseball songs with funny lyrics. We went back to Dangerfield’s, and he auditioned for us, and I said, “This is perfect, exactly what we need.” He was great, but the only problem was, he wasn’t the old writer’s show.
At the end of my two-year reign of error as New York chairman, we have this roast for the outgoing chairman at the Diamond Club at Shea Stadium. And here comes Young; he’s the last of the speakers. He had had a few red wines that night and said, “Well, I know at these roasts it’s always traditional to say a lot of funny things about the guy and rip him, and then at the end say we don’t mean any of it and that he’s a really good guy. Well, I can’t do that tonight. Billy, all I can tell you is… you coulda done better.”
There was silence in the room. People were aghast; they couldn’t believe it. Here’s my mentor up there, putting me down in front of the entire chapter. I was crushed, all because I had gotten rid of the show.
For a good year, I was devastated. I never got over it. I talked to Young’s friends and said, “How could he do this to me? I was his guy.” They all said, hey, that’s just Dick. I said, “Yeah. I know, but geez. Getting rid of the show was no big deal. It was lousy, people were walking out. It had become a joke.”
The following year, when we had the next roast, Young got up and said, “Last year, I said a lot of bad things about Billy Madden. I just want to say in front of everyone that I apologize to you.” I said to myself, wow. This had to be the first time Dick Young has ever apologized to anybody in public.