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Hall of Fame pep talk for QMI's Elliott 0

FERGUSON JENKINS, Special to QMI Agency

This is a great idea.

A lot of athletes would love the chance to interview reporters for a change.

So the tables were turned ...

I asked Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, 2012 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing, some questions in an interview.

This was before the Kingston, Ont.-born Elliott was honoured with his award Saturday afternoon at Doubleday Field.

And I made deadline.

When did you hear about winning the award? That’s a question everyone asks me.

At the winter meetings in Dallas in December. Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, called with the news. As I recall, he said, “Well, I have good news: I’ve been waiting to make this call for a long time ...”

He talked for a couple of more sentences and it was my turn to speak before he asked, “Are you there, are you there?”

I said, “I’m here, Jackie ... I can’t say anything.”

Were you happy? Who did you think of?

I was extremely proud, happy and humbled. I thought of my late father, how proud he would be. Then I thought of other writers no longer with us, Terry Johnson in Los Angeles, Vern Plagenhoef in Detroit, Neil Hohlfeld in Houston — all good guys who are gone. I couldn’t carry their typewriters.

Are you the first Canadian to win this award?

Yes. Neil MacCarl of the Toronto Star was nominated twice.

Who was your favourite interview, the guy you looked forward to talking to the most?

You mean besides you? That’s a tough one. Man, you guys ask tough questions. I guess the top three would be Jack Morris, Steve Rogers and Goose Gossage.

When did you start writing and in what cities did you work?

I started writing in my teens, as a part-timer for the Kingston Whig-Standard and then was hired full-time in 1969. Eddie MacCabe of the Ottawa Journal hired me in 1973 and, 41/3 years later after MacCabe moved to the Ottawa Citizen, he hired me again. Wayne Parrish of the Toronto Sun interviewed me at the Harvard Square Book Store before Game 5 of the 1986 World Series in Boston and in January of 1987 I began at the Toronto Sun.

But I was his second choice — someone else turned down the job.

Did you have a guy at your paper who tried to take an extra base on me after lining a ball off my foot in a softball game at the Pitts in 2009?

Ah yes, that would have been Joel Colomby (a Sun sports editor).

He’s still here, he said he made a big turn at first and then ...

I remember what happened — what did he tell you?

Well, he said he was slowly trotting back to first when a ball whizzed by his ear and into the first baseman’s glove. He said you threw him out from foul ground.

He said he looked at the bench (like) “he didn’t just do that did he?” Someone said “a laser all the way.”

Do you remember when my mother (Delores Louise) and your father (also named Bob) posed for a picture in the Kingston paper promoting the Harlem Globetrotters coming to town?

I remember the picture, but not the year. You told me your mother had impaired vision and then lost her eyesight when you were born. I think the game was to benefit the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

I’m not sure why my father was in the picture. He only had one eye, but he was coaching the Kingston Ponies. Could have been for either reason. Both mother and father became organ donors after that. A lady showed up at mother’s funeral and explained how two people could now see.

When did you think you could become a columnist?

That was never a goal, because if you list a writer’s necessary qualities, they are: Work ethic, ideas, news judgment and writing ... my writing is fourth. I shared the Montreal Expos beat with Bob Ferguson in 1979-’80, then covered the team from 1981-’86, shared the Jays beat from 1987-’91.

We had a hockey columnist, Ken Fidlin was our baseball columnist, then Ken became a general columnist covering everything. I only knew one sport.

What was the first book you wrote?

Hard Ball ... a book about George Bell in 1990. Allan Ryan of the Toronto Star always said how George helped me write it. There are still a few copies left for about roughly 99 cents. We sold 17,000 copies.

What does the future hold for you?

You mean if I get through Saturday afternoon? After that, I really don’t plan on packing it in.

I always get asked who will be the next Canadian elected to the Hall of Fame. I say Larry Walker when I’m asked, but he hasn’t had a lot of votes the first two years he was eligible. You’ve got Matt Stairs from out east. Poor Jason Bay gets hurt all the time. If not Walker, who I think belongs, it might be some young kid or a minor-leaguer. Do you foresee another Canadian writing for a Canadian paper winning the award?

Well, if the Expos had not moved, Serge Touchette, who did an excellent job at Le Journal de Montreal, would have been elected. Or Michael Farber of the Montreal Gazette, had he stayed on baseball rather than moving to hockey. Now? Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, Ken Fidlin from our place or Jeff Blair from the Globe. Shi Davidi at Sportsnet and John Lott are very informative and diligent workers. This is an excellent market, not like a lot of one-newspaper towns we visit. I remember when the Dodgers came into Montreal, they’d have eight papers covering the team. I was in Cincinnati last year and there was the Los Angeles Times and MLB.com covering the Dodgers.

Griffin’s name is already in Cooperstown as a winner of the Robert O. Fishel award for public relations excellence. I’d have to be his campaign manager — he was mine.

Most people get a major award and are nervous. I know when they introduced me, I was second after Rod Carew. They played the Canadian anthem and my mind went blank, everyone sang. There were four bands — two from my home town of Chatham — and Canadians were singing. I think for a major award like yours, you should be nervous ... Are you?

Ah, scared witless.

Are you going first or second? Tim McCarver is a broadcaster, he makes his living talking, you make your living writing. Just accept it because you earned it, you wrote all those stories for all those years.

No one is going to confuse me with Sir Winston Churchill or Sir Robert Uecker.

When I did my speech I wrote it out in point form. Make sure you thank your father and mother like I did. Make it come from the heart. I’m still a proud Canadian, are you going to make sure people know you are from Canada?

Mother and father are gone, I’ll thank them. My pal Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star was grilled once at customs at Pearson Airport when free trade started.

He told the officer he was a writer, arriving to write baseball. The agent said, “We have lots of writers here, you know?”

Dutton said he was aware, some were his friends and mentioned my name.

“This guy knows Bob Elliott from the Sun,” the one agent said to another.

“What’s he really like?”

Dutton didn’t know how to answer.

Did this guy dislike the Sun or me? Wondering if he’d be locked in chains with the wrong answer, Dutton said “Oh ... he’s a real Canadian.”

His passport was stamped and off he went to cover the Royals.


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