Friday, August 07, 2009

Hal McCoy: link to a golden age

To my far right in the Great American Ball Park press box sits one of the last great newspapermen, a link to the golden age of baseball beat writing.

As Hal McCoy chomps on his cigar and taps on his laptop keys I can almost picture him sitting in a smoke-filled press box at an old ballpark pounding out prose on a typewriter then hopping on the train to the next town.

After 37 years on the Reds beat, the longest current tenure of any Major League beat writer, McCoy is calling it quits. Only it wasn't entirely his call.

McCoy's "early" retirement from the Dayton Daily News came in the form of a buyout. He hopes to continue to write for the DDN in some capacity, but the paper will no longer cover the Reds as a beat.

McCoy, who has continued to cover the team despite being declared legally blind, doesn't welcome the change. But, he and his lovely wife, Nadine, are looking forward to the dawning of a new life.

McCoy's ouster isn't entirely surprising.

The DDN had upped his time off each season since his illness. In the beginning, he was backed up by DDN staffers, then a stringer. This season, and most ominously, the paper has chosen to run AP wire stories for its Reds coverage. I assume this practice will continue next year.

As a know-nothing rookie stumbling my way through the clubhouse and press box roughly 10 years ago, McCoy took me under his wing. He had no reason to.

Why would a then-future Hall of Fame beat writer of more than 30 years bother to help a cub reporter writing for a weekly paper? Because that's just Hal.

McCoy's influence benefited my writing career more than even he realizes.

I learned by watching how he interacted with players and managers, how he targeted his questions in interviews, how he conducted himself in the clubhouse, press box and at batting practice.

On several occasions McCoy Hal took time to compliment me on stories I wrote. He never hesitated to answer questions, or to offer unsolicited suggestions on how to best handle certain situations.

But, the best tribute offered to McCoy was from the players -- respect. In this age of adversarial relationships between athletes and media, McCoy managed to bridge that gap.

This post reads like an obit. It is not, of course.

Hal has nearly two months remaining on the Reds beat. After that, he and Nadine can jet to their favorite haunts -- Aruba, Key West or elsewhere. They can hang on the back porch at home, savor life, make new memories.

Hal's departure isn't nearly as sad for him (he's pushing 69 years of age) as it is for the business of sports writing.

One must wonder in this age of economic downturn and new media if the role of baseball beat writer is going the way of the dinosaurs. Is Hal McCoy among the last of a dying breed? Let's hope not.


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