Saying goodbye to a rewarding job that was more adventure than work | Sam Carchidi
Every day was different. Every day was an adventure. Every day was filled with surprise.
As I say goodbye after spending most of my life in the newspaper business — covering primarily high school sports, the Phillies, and Flyers for close to a half-century — I must first rewind my story to a simpler time.
Like a lot of little kids growing up in the 1960s, I was convinced I was going to be a major-league baseball player. Just in case that didn’t happen, however, the late, great Jack Carty — unknowingly to me at the time — gave me a wonderful fallback plan.
Carty was my Haddon Heights neighbor and the Phillies beat writer for the Courier-Post, and he would occasionally take me and his son, my best friend, Tommy, to sit near him in the Connie Mack Stadium press box during the Popsicle summer of 1964.
Yes, that was the summer of the Phillies’ infamous late-season collapse.
It was also the summer I got to observe the sportswriters up close and devour every word public-relations director Larry Shenk typed into the fascinating press notes.
As a 9-year-old kid in love with baseball and with Connie Mack Stadium, I was in heaven.
So let me get this straight: You get to read all this great stuff PR whiz Shenk had prepared. You get to eat free ice cream and free peanuts and drink free sodas. And you get to watch a baseball game for free!
That was how I viewed the job of a sportswriter. That’s how a seed was planted.
Thank you, Mr. Carty.
Change of plans
When I later discovered I couldn’t hit a curveball, that I had the foot speed of shortstop Bobby Wine (not a compliment; if I only had his laser arm), and wasn’t going to be as good as my boyhood idol, Phillies center fielder Tony Gonzalez, my career plans changed. If I couldn’t be a major-league player, I would write about sports. Maybe with a cup of ice cream by my side.
I devoured sports stories and box scores in the Bulletin, Inquirer, Daily News, and Courier as a kid. And later got to write for all the Philly papers in a career that started at a weekly called the Record Breeze in South Jersey. Things picked up speed when Doug Hadden (like Carty, another guardian angel) took a chance and hired me while I was at Glassboro State College (now Rowan) in 1975 for the South Jersey Score Service, which provided high school sports stories for The Inquirer and the now-defunct Bulletin. (“Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin” was the great paper’s slogan.)
I’ve been writing for The Inquirer ever since, going from a part-time stringer/contributor in 1975 to a full-time staffer in 1984, meaning I’ve been at the paper for 46 years. I’ve seen the revolution of the industry, from using a typewriter and clunky tape recorder to produce stories for the next day, to writing articles on my laptop that are posted seconds after an event ends and tweeting out info and videos from my iPhone as they happen.
You don’t think of it when you’re doing it, but as I reflect now, it was such a privilege to interview giants of their sport, many of them after they had retired. I’m talking about Hank Aaron, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Gordie Howe, Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia, Jaromir Jagr (no one was funnier), Alex Ovechkin, Willie O’Ree (oh, the class), Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, Chuck Bednarik, Richie Ashburn (his dry sense of humor was priceless), Dick Allen, Robin Roberts, Bobby “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” Thomson, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Kobe Bryant, Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Trout, and on and on.
I might add that it was just as rewarding to interview high school athletes on their way up and to watch their careers blossom, some on the pro level. From Carl Lewis to Orel Hershiser. From Dennis Mitchell to Ron Dayne. From Carli Lloyd to Peter Vermes. From Milt Wagner to Dajuan Wagner. And the hundreds (thousands?) of others who didn’t make national headlines but had inspirational stories of their own.
It has also been an honor to work alongside great writers I read growing up, including Bill Lyon, Frank Dolson, and Stan Hochman, among numerous others. I can’t say enough about my editors and colleagues, from my bosses at the start like Jay Searcy and Glenn Guzzo, to the later years with Jim Cohen, John Quinn, Gary Potosky, Pat McLoone, Gary Miles, Jim Swan, Mike Huang, Gus Elvin, and many others. We were all in this fascinating journey together. We were teammates who respected each other and needed each other to make the final product sing.
Then we’d start the process all over again the next day.
But it wasn’t Groundhog Day. Every day was different. Every day was an adventure. Every day was filled with surprise. Sometimes, it took a half-dozen calls, or more, to get something confirmed from a source, but it made the story that much more satisfying when it was finished.
The Inquirer has been wonderful to me. It not only paid me to do a job that, truth be told, was more fun than work, but, on occasion, it allowed me to write deeply personal stories — from my beloved parents’ deaths and how they innocently helped cultivate my love of sports as a child; to my amazing kids, Sara and Sammy, and their amusing adventures.
I got to cover some historic games (most for The Inquirer), including the Phillies-Dodgers infamous Black Friday matchup at Veterans Stadium in 1977; the epic 1993 nightcap of a rain-delayed Phillies-Padres doubleheader that started on Friday and finished Saturday at 4:50 a.m. — the latest ending in MLB history — and put me up against deadline for Sunday’s 5 a.m. bulldog edition; Tommy Greene’s no-hitter in Montreal in 1991; the controversial Fog Bowl — the Eagles lost in Chicago in a 1988 playoff game the NFL foolishly continued even though the fog was so thick that fans and writers couldn’t see the action; the Flyers’ thrilling comeback from a 3-0 series hole and a 3-0 Game 7 deficit to shock Boston in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs; the Cup Final loss to Chicago in 2010, when Patrick Kane scored a goal that hardly anyone saw go into the net ….
Again, I could go on and on.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my cherished three decades on the high school beat. Nothing was more rewarding. Nothing was more genuine. The people in the high school communities — athletes, coaches, administrators — are simply the best. (Speaking of the best, I have to give a shoutout to Zack Hill, the Flyers’ incomparable PR director.)
The Inquirer also led to connections that paved the way for me to write or co-author five books, including one on broadcasting legend Bill Campbell, and one on Lou Nolan, the Flyers’ iconic public-address announcer.
Yes, I’ve been very blessed.
So where do I go from here after taking The Inquirer’s buyout? Well, “retiring” sounds like it’s something for, uh, old people. So I don’t like using the word. I plan to write a personal book on my adoption and the crazy developments it generated later in life. I also now will have time to work on turning the book Scott Brown and I wrote — Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story — into a movie that tells his inspiring, courageous story. I will also continue to write for Ken Dunek’s terrific magazines, JerseyMan and PhillyMan.
And I plan on doing freelance writing on the Flyers, and you might even see me on these Inquirer and Daily News pages on occasion. (Side note: Best of luck to my hardworking Inquirer colleagues on the Flyers’ beat, Olivia Reiner and Giana Han, and here’s hoping you one day get to cover the first Stanley Cup championship here since 1975).
The best part about the next chapter is getting to travel with my best friend, my wife, JoAnn, who never ever complained about my frequently ridiculous work schedule that caused me to miss too many holidays because of assignments, and included snow delays in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and so many other cities along the Flyers beat.
Oh, and much of my time will be spent spoiling our young (and absolutely perfect) grandbabies, James and Marlowe.
In closing, thank you for reading, thank you for your passion for sports, and thank you for allowing me to be a small part of your lives through print or online.
It has truly been my pleasure, and, as I said, I am extremely lucky because my job never seemed like work — and how many people can say that?
Sam Carchidi can be reached at his new email: firstname.lastname@example.org.