I’ve never told this story but it takes me back to 1967. The Savannah Morning News had hired me as a sports reporter. I had no experience. I had no knowledge of the newspaper business or what a reporter should do. I had little writing training. No photography. I didn’t even know how to interview someone.
I was hired because I had the highest score on a super easy test they gave all job applicants. That’s what they said anyway. And then I was thrown into the job without a sniff of training of any kind. Just show up for the night shift, report to the sports editor, and he will tell you what to do. And I have to tell you, I don’t think the sports editor was any too pleased with having such an inexperienced person shoved down his throat.
Months later, we would almost come to blows.
But back to the interview. Savannah, at the time, was pretty much segregated. There were black high schools and white high schools. It was the way it was, and I kind of just went with the flow, my renaissance coming many years later.
The sports staff at the Savannah Morning News, and for that matter also its sister publication, the Savannah Evening Press, had no black reporters or editors or photographers. In fact, I don’t remember the entire editorial staffs of either newspaper having any blacks on board. Yet, a good segment of their sports coverage involved black schools, or, the black community. We were complete outsiders.
That’s where I came in, and consider the sports editor’s distain for me.
A famous athlete (in the black community) was coming to Sarasota and would pitch for a local semi-pro team in a benefit game. I was assigned to cover the game and interview the star – Satchel Paige. The site was in a section of Savannah I had never even known to exist – the black section. It wasn’t as nice as the white section.
I found the ballpark where the game was to be held, stuck inside a mostly residential community, a small plot with buildings all around. There was no grass on the field. Holes punctuated the wire mesh fences and backstop. The dugouts were way past their prime. It was not a pretty sight, but it was here that a cherished black baseball player was going to pitch.
For those of you who do not know of Satchel Paige, he was an astounding pitching talent in the Negro Leagues in the ‘40s and ‘50s, before the major leagues integrated, starting with Jackie Robinson. Yes, there were “Negro Leagues,” as stupid as that may sound today, and many of the sports best players were in the Negro Leagues, their talent compared at the time to Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
Satchel was such a star at that time that many thought he would be chosen to lead the crusade. I recommend searching his name to see the amazing things he did on the ball field, including pitching three hitless innings in the major leagues when he was 49 years old. I think he was with the Boston Red Sox.
Back to my interview. I arrived early at the “park” and took a seat in the shaky stands. I don’t remember taking notes but I probably didn’t because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I watched this guy pitch a couple of innings, and he was flamboyant and all, like the barnstorming performer he was at the time, but the whole deal didn’t really mean much to me. I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
So, after the game, Satchel sat in the dugout for interviews. I think there were two of us. The other person sat close to Satchel and I sat almost at the opposite end of the dugout bench. I had no questions to ask, primarily because I had no idea who I was interviewing. I listened – and took notes. I never asked a question.
I blew what could have been a significant interview and story opportunity. Why? Because I was unprepared. I would love to have that interview opportunity with Satchel Paige back again, knowing what I know now. Man, we could have a great conversation!