Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Peter Gammons

Peter Gammons inspired a generation of sports reporters as the Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe. Now an ESPN TV/website guy, Gammons was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. Here is his entire spectacular speech, lifted from ESPN.com. Sorry, I couldn't help posting the whole thing. Definitely worth a read.

PETER GAMMONS

Steve Job's advice at that time to a graduating class of Stanford this year was "find what you love". I am here today because I found what I love. Understand I grew up in a household where when I got home from school my mother greeted me with, can you believe they traded Jim Piersall for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger".

Ned weaned me on respect and reverence for the history and texture of the game. My sister Anne hit me fungoes in a small New England town where the Red Sox Home opener was an acceptable legal excuse to leave school at ten a.m.. My father found what he loved in music and teaching and the goodness of man. He and Paul Wright, my godfather, teacher and mentor remain the two greatest men I have ever known. Teachers like Juney O'Brien and Jake Congleton by the time I was 18 I knew my role models and my life's mission statement were defined.

When this award was announced, Mike Barnicle left me a simple message. "Tom Winship would be very proud". Winship was the editor of the Boston Globe, a Branch Rickey of a man who changed the newspaper business in Boston and opened a world for kids who were dying for chance. Mine came as a summer intern in December of 1968. It started the day Robert F. Kennedy we was shot. In those days you had a morning Globe and afternoon Globe, and when I walked in, I was introduced to my fellow intern Bob Ryan, basketball Hall of Famer. We were told to call every team in business asked them what they would do for Robert F. Kennedy and write a story. We did. The 3:30 late stocks edition came up, and there on the front page of the entire paper Mr. Ryan and Mr. Gammons had their first by lines. We went to the Erie Pub, raised a couple of 10 cent drafts and decided, you know, what we found what we loved.

My career essentially has been very simple, Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, S.I, ESPN. I have been fortunate enough to work for extraordinary people. There are hundreds, maybe thousands who I should thank, but it was Tom Winship and Fran Rosa who stuck their neck out to hire a kid who hadn't even graduated from college. Mark Mulvoy, who hired me twice at Sports Illustrated. Vince Doria, who brought me back to the Globe and anyone who I ever worked for believes is the best sports editor, if not the best boss who ever lived. John Walsh who had the crackbrained idea to bring a sportswriter into television because, as one of the businesses most creative visionaries, he understood that information is king. I am very proud to say today much of what ESPN is today is because of John Walsh and there are hundreds of people that have gone and followed me out of the print profession to follow a need to ESPN because of Walsh. I am not here as a television personality, but as an ink stained wretch. Publishers and new editors have no clue. They have no understanding that the baseball beat is the toughest beat in the newspaper business. It means severe personal sacrifices. A few years ago Jason Stark and I decided that over a 25-year period we probably talked to one another more than we talked to our wives and no one has sacrificed more than my wife Gloria who saved me in an unpredictable storm of a business that knows no holidays.

The baseball beat today is much tougher now than when I was traveling with Red Sox for the Globe. There is far less access, ten times the bodies in the clubhouse. The Internet, radio, television have broadened the baseball information universe. And yet our business, I am proud to say, keeps producing generation after generation of young reporters who are tireless, good, and fair. Throughout my career I have tried to be guided by one principle, that because I am human I have the right to like people. But because I am professional, I have no right to dislike any one. People ask me, as a New England, what was it like walking out there in the field when Aaron Boone hit a home run. To be honest, my first reaction was, I was ecstatic. I have known Aaron Boone since he was 13 years old and that's my privilege. My second reaction, I saw Tim Wakefield, head down, and I felt despondent. He's one man who did not deserve that. As I walked out on the field to try to get introduced, I turned to my producer, Charlie Moynihan, and said, "look around here, you know what? I just got paid to cover the greatest game ever played in the greatest sporting venue in the world. I think I'm the luckiest man on earth."

Jerry Coleman, I am honored to be in Cooperstown with you, war hero, World Series MVP, announcer, gentleman. Ryne Sandberg, I think 40 home run season, a 200 hit season, a 50 steal season and the ego of a clubhouse kid. But, to be here the day Wade Boggs is inducted is a special thing for me. This is a guy who play seven minor league, hit three something ridiculous six straight years, went through three rule five drafts and kept saying "my success will be measured in terms of dealing with adversity". In the last half century, Wade Boggs is the oldest position player to debut in the major league and make the Hall of Fame. He is the model for overcoming adversity of all kinds. I remember that afternoon in the spring of '86 when you and I were driving with Ted Williams over to have that night of discussing hits with Don Mattingly. Ted leaned forward in the car and said, "hey Wade, did you ever smell the burn of a bat?" Well, there are very few people who have. I have never forgot that. When the all-Century team gathered around Ted at Fenway before the '99 All-Star game, Ted asked Mark McGwire the say question. He retold the story. He said, "did you ever smell the burn of the bat?" There were six national league players in the room at the time around McGwire. What is he talking about? Well, let's face it, the burning of a bat is the lexicon of the gods.

And to stand here in front of the Hall of Fame players is like standing in front of the baseball dieties, and yet I feel so fortunate to have known so many of them as humans. I think of Carlton Fisk and I think of 8 to 10 hours a day of rehab in the winter of '73-'74, mostly in the Manchester YMCA to come back from a knee injury that very few humans could have recovered from. Eddie Murray, I think of the hours he took, watching him take BP which allowed him to know all of those thousands of clutch hits which were only by design, not chance. I think of Robin Yount and the fastest he ever got timed to first was 3.9 seconds, the slowest 4.0. And I remember that George Brett always used to say he wanted his career to end on a ground ball to second base on which he busted his hump down the line. I think of Mike Schmidt mowing and lining the field in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida so he can coach his son's high school team. Then there's Sandy Koufax telling me that I lived in LA the way he lived in Stonington Maine. I think of Bob Gibson's handshake, of Tony Perez, Petuka Perez, I think he lived a quarter of mile from where I lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, and to this day not two weeks to by when someone doesn't say, you know, how are Tony and Petuka Perez? They are the greatest people who lived in this neighborhood.

I think of the hours and I thank Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver for discussing pitching with me. I will never forget the day that Orlando Cepeda hit four doubles in one game in Fenway Park and could barely walk. I think of Reggie Jackson and the two of us wandering around Kenmore Square in Boston after the Angels had lost the 1986 ALCS outraged because Reggie Jackson's team had lost. I think of Dennis Eckersley and I think of his start in the 1978 Boston Massacre when seeing nearly 100 writers surrounded Frank Duffy because he made an error. He started pulling him off. He shouted, "he didn't load the basis. He didn't hang a O-2 slider. Get to the locker and talk to the guy who has an L next to his name". Dennis Eckley defines teammate. I think of Kirby Puckett, my favorite days in baseball while the lights were still off in the Metrodome at two o'clock in the afternoon, Game Six, the night he won the World Series, probably the only guy in the world that called me Petey, says, "Petey get up in your Sports Center and tell everyone that Puck is going to jack the Twins up in his back today". Well, four hits, a game saving catch, and a 10th inning home run later, Puck took us to the greatest seventh game, World Series game. I will never experience ten innings, 1-0, Jack Morris. These players are great players whose success is measured in overcoming adversity, but no one had to be a great person, no one had to be a great player to be a great person stored in my memory bank. So I think from John Curtis to Bill Campbell to Jerry Remy, Buckethead Schmidt to Bruce Hurst, Ellis Hurst to George Lombard, I've been lucky to know thousands of people who loved the game as much as I do. In 1985 the Globe sent me to Meridien, Mississippi to do a story on Dennis Oil Can Boyd's background. I had dinner with his father, Willie James who was once a Negro league pitcher and maintained the field and team in Meridien. He was telling me how he financed his life in baseball by being a landscaper.

He told me a story of a day in 1964 when he was landscaping the yard of the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. He remembered seeing the cars coming up. They all rolled up the street, up the road from Philadelphia to Mississippi to take care of some civil rights workers. Mr. Boyd looked me in the eye. He said, "you know what? This is what makes this country great. Today that man is destitute and crippled with arthritis and my boy, Dennis Boyd is pitching in major leagues for the Boston Red Sox." In my mind the Boyd family represents baseball's place in American society. Jackie Robinson was in the big leagues seven years before Brown versus the Board of Education and we should never forget it, just as we should never forget the important athletes of the Twentieth Century arguably one of the ten most important Americans of the Twentieth Century. I remember waking up to read the story of Roberto Clemente's death, a great baseball idol died taking medical, food and clothing supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. I was with Dave Stewart the morning after he won the third game of the 1989 earthquake series as he crawled through the rubble of the collapsed Cypresstructure to handout coffee and donuts to volunteers searching for bodies.

I walked the streets of Montaguayabo, Dominican Republic with Pedro Martinez and viewed the churches, school, athletic complex, daycare center and houses that he built for poor people in his hometown. I was not far from Fidel Castro when he stood for the American National Anthem at attention, his hat across his heart because baseball came to Havana in 1989. I remember George Bush strode out towards the mound at Yankee Stadium before the third game of the 2001 world series, weeks removed from the World Trade Center attacks, and turned and said to Karl Ravech and Harold Reynolds, we are among the 55,000 people who just experienced one of the great chills of anyone's life time. When Bud Selig asked us to embrace the world cup, it's not t-shirts in Taiwan. It's about celebrating that baseball more than any sport is who we are. It is reflected in our immigration patterns, our history because we're all immigrants. We should want the world to see us not for our politics, not for our business, but for baseball as our metamorphic soul, inclusive, not exclusive, diverse, not divisive, fraternal, not fractionalized. If any of you are familiar with the Cape Cod League you probably might have heard of Arnie Allen, a special needs gentleman who for 40 years was a batboy for the Falmouth Commodores. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2002. 72 hours later a duffel bag of Angels paraphanalia arrived in Falmouth, courtesy of two Falmouth players, Darin Erstad and Adam Kennedy. Of course the Angels went on to the world series in 2002 and after winning one incredible sixth game coming from five nothing deficit in the eight inning. Before game seven Erstad and Kennedy pulled me aside before they went out to stretch, they told me, we know you are going to be speaking at the Hall of Fame in deductions in two weeks on the Cape. They said in unison, "as you speak, could you do us a favor, Arnie will be there probably for the last time. Could you just tell him that Darin and Adam Kennedy said, we are thinking of him before they went out and won the world series?"

Everyday at the ballpark, for me, there's been something that's great. Ozzie Smith fielding ground balls, just seeing Willie Mays, watching Tom Seaver throw three-one change up to Don Baylor in his 300th run, George Gosage in 1980. More important, what I have taken from all of these years is the knowledge that the people who play this game inherently care so much about that game, fellow players and those who love it. I am very fortunate to have baseball as a part of my life for 35 years. I thank you Gloria and all my family for standing aside me and all baseball writers for their friendship, support and maintenance of a great and proud professional. The game is also about players. I thank the thousands of players that I have known for making this ride better than I ever could have imagined. Ted Williams used to tell me, hey Bush, some day you want to walk down the street and have people say, you have the greatest job in America." Ted, it happens almost every day. For that I thank all of you, every one who read or listened to me, allowed me to try to be your eyes and ears, that allowed me to find what I love and hold on to it long enough to experience this, the greatest day of my professional career.

Thank you.

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