A NEWSPAPER LIFE: Augusta to Brownsville to Corpus Christi to Waco to San Bernardino to Philadelphia. Stan Hochman arrived here to work for the Daily News on June 9, 1959 - 50 years ago today.
Larry Merchant, now the HBO boxing analyst, was the sports editor who brought Stan to Philadelphia to cover the Phillies. On his first day, he gave Stan a phone number for Richie Ashburn and told him to ask Ashburn about some trade rumors. Stan got Ashburn to say that, given his druthers, he'd prefer a trade to Chicago. At the end of the season, it happened.
The next day, Hochman covered his first game. The Phillies lost and fell into last place. They remained there for the rest of the season. Stan almost quit after the first road trip, only to have his brother convince him to give his new city a little more time. He began in an era when his stories were sent back to the office from the press box in San Francisco by a man tapping out Morse code. He remains vibrant in an era where his voice is imitated on the radio by comedian Joe Conklin. Fifty years later, that voice remains as respected and distinctive as any this city's newspapers has ever produced.
We sat down recently for a long lunch and I did what I have enjoyed doing for as long as I've known him: asking Stan questions and listening to Stan tell stories. The words that follow are his. The pleasure, for a half-century and counting, is ours.
- Rich Hofmann
There I am in Augusta, Ga. I'd just gotten out of the Army. They're going to play the first integrated game in the state of Georgia, the Augusta Tigers against Jacksonville. Henry Aaron is playing second base for Jacksonville. Horace Garner is playing rightfield. The game begins, first inning, Aaron hits a home run to dead center - silence in the ballpark. Jacksonville goes out into the field and Horace Garner is ducking. From the press box, I can't tell why he's flinching. Then, I realize - they're throwing stones at the rightfielder.
The manager calls his team off the field, they go into the safety of the dugout, the managers and umpires meet at home plate and decide what to do. They transfer Garner from rightfield to leftfield because the Negro bleachers are in leftfield. They continue the game and I write a story. Here's this Yankee from New York and I call the people who threw the stones "yahoos." It was the softest word I could think of. I wrote how Aaron ignored the fuss to play the kind of game that would get him Rookie of the Year - and he winds up Rookie of the Year in the Sally League.
And Henry and I always had that because I was there that night.
We're getting ready for Eagles-Green Bay, the championship game, 1960, and I'm in the office and Merchant says, "See what you can get from Lombardi." I said, "Vince Lombardi?" He said, "Yeah, who else?" I said, "Vince Lombardi doesn't know who I am." He said, "You'll identify yourself as the Philadelphia Daily News, here's the name of the PR guy, tell him you need a few minutes with Vince."
I'm the good soldier. I called the PR guy and asked. He said, "Let me check," and then he comes back and says, "Here's Vince." He's on the phone with me. I'm stuttering and fumfering, but I get the basics. I ask him how a guy from New York could find happiness in Green Bay and he gives me good stuff, how the fans own the team, invested emotionally and with their pocketbooks. I say, "Coach, there's been a lot written about this, but can you give me your philosophy of coaching?'' Now, he's dealing with a guy, a rookie Philadelphia Daily News reporter, and he says, ''Discipline with love.'' Three words, sums it up. I can't believe I'm getting this. He says he might really chew out a guy at practice, but afterward he makes sure to go by the guy's locker and rumple his hair. What little I had read about Lombardi, he was a fascist, a total tyrant. Now I get this.
What are the odds you could get that today? The week of a Super Bowl game, one-on-one? That's the way we operated back then. Get on the phone and see if you can get Lombardi.
Our man in Puerto Vallarta
I'm keeping a diary of the '64 season. I'm going to write a book, "Diary of a Champion." They start losing. Ray Hunt, the managing editor, comes by, dusts the ashes off his cigar, and says, "If they blow it, we ain't interested." I said, "How about a nightmare diary?" He said, "If they blow it, we ain't interested." So, of course, they blow it. I go off to cover Cardinals-Yankees in the World Series.
I come back and Ray Hunt is waiting for me. He says, "We're sending you to Puerto Vallarta." They're making a movie, 'The Night of the Iguana.' John Huston is the director. Richard Burton is the star. Sue Lyon is in it. Elizabeth Taylor is there with Burton. Ava Gardner is in it. He says, "It sounds like what we need because they're about to raise the price of the paper.'' We're going from a nickel to a dime. I say, "How long do I stay?'' He says, "Until you have enough for a series . . . Oh, and don't tell them you're coming.''
No air conditioning, no radio, no TV. There is one ship-to-shore phone that the movie company can crank up. Because of that, I'm a hero to the crew because they want to know how the World Series turned out. They're buying me lunches and beers so I can tell them about the World Series. Then there's an actress, Grayson Hall, who's in the movie. She says, "I hear you're from Philly.'' It turns out, her real name is Shirley Grossman and her mother lives on the Parkway - she becomes my inside source. I get very lucky there.
Huston loves boxing and he wants to talk Philly boxing. Burton loves baseball and wants to know about the World Series. I wind up teaching Burton how to shoot pool in the one pool room in Puerto Vallarta - the Mexicans bail out and let us play during the movie-crew lunch hour. I have lunch with Burton and Liz Taylor - she's gorgeous but she's leery about a Jewish guy from Philadelphia because she just dumped Eddie Fisher.
Meanwhile, the paper has put my picture on the sides of the delivery trucks. "Our man in Puerto Vallarta."
Having such a supportive, understanding wife has made all the difference for me. Here's how I met her. It's autumn of 1959, and Bill Shea, the New York attorney is talking about organizing a third major league, the Continental League, because baseball won't give his backers a franchise to replace either the Giants or Dodgers. Gloria is doing public relations for the Greenfield hotels, which include the Bellevue-Stratford. The Public Relations Association invites Shea to speak at a lunch at the Bellevue. I go, looking for an offseason baseball column, and she delays the start of the luncheon so I can have some one-on-one time with Shea. I go back and write a column in which I do not mention the name of the hotel, nor do I mention the name of the group he spoke to. She is furious.
Three weeks later, she is running the Army-Navy pregame party. I am going to cover the game, so I go to the party. I see her, tap her on the hip, and ask, "Do you remember me?" I get a 27-minute lecture on the ethics of journalism. I am dazzled. I ask her out. She's busy. I ask her again, we go out on a date that costs a week's salary. A year later, we're married, at the Bellevue.
Many years later, we spot Shea, across the room in a restaurant near Madison Square Garden, before a big fight. I encourage Gloria to go tell Shea the part he played in our lives. Two minutes into her monologue, he holds his hands in the traditional timeout gesture and says, "Are you happy?" She says, "Yes," and he's relieved and says, "Go on, tell me the rest of the story." And years later, when Gloria is inducted into the public relations hall of fame, I stand up, and say, "Maybe she was right."
I was one of the first crossover guys going to electronic - Jack McKinney and me. They did auditions where you came on for a week with the morning guy, Bob Menefee, whose slogan was, "Often wrong but never in doubt." Funny, sometimes abrasive morning DJ. I drive down City Line to WCAU and I'm listening and a guy named Hugh Ferguson is giving the farm report: "Hog bellies are up and corn is down." I'm thinking, "Who is going to be listening at 7:05 to 5 minutes of sports?" I can't imagine this has an audience.
I wind up winning the audition because I brought a little horn where I bleeped out innuendo and naughty words, and that impressed them that I had enough sense to bring a gimmick. I'm on at 7:05 and 8:05, even when I'm on the road with the Phillies.
From there, I went to afternoon drive. John Facenda, a political scientist, Gary Sheppard (who went on to a long career with the network), a weather guy, me and someone else would sit around a table. Facenda was the moderator, maybe from 3 to 5. It was a tremendous show.
From there, I went to weekend sports anchor at Channel 6. Lew Klein, an executive there, helped me with that. He told me, "Don't quit your day job." Later, Pat Polillo came in as program director and I'm on the air and they tell me he glances at the set and says, "Who's that guy?" They reassured him I was OK.
Then I had a half-hour talk show, once a week, five of us rotated. Non-sports guests. I had one guest, a cookbook author, Julia Dannenbaum. I remember her because her meringue fell under the hot lights.
Then there was "Diamond Derby." It was a postgame show, with Billy Werndl answering the phones and turning over the cardboard thing with how much the question was worth. Somebody would call in, I'd ask him who drove in the winning run for $10. If they missed, it went up to $20. That was "Diamond Derby." I did that for a whole season. It wasn't all glamorous.
Inside the Eagles
I told Dick Vermeil I wanted to spend a week and see what it's like on the inside - meetings, everything. He had to be able to trust me not to use anything that would affect the game against the Steelers. He agreed right away. He said, "Be there at 7 on Monday morning."
There's traffic on the Penrose Avenue Bridge. I get there, he's looking at his watch. It's 7:03. He says, "I asked you to be here at 7." I said, "Coach, there was unexpected traffic." He said, "I expect you to be here at 7. The rest of the week, I'd like you to be on time." I was.
I've got a game ball. It's inscribed to "honorary assistant coach." And they win the game, and they win it with a play they put in that week. It felt good to be trusted and to be able to have the stamina to be able to endure a long day and still write the 2,500-word stories at night.
You know when it became satisfying? When the Inquirer sent about five people on the same mission about a year ago and they came up half-empty.
It's the highlight. It's a whole chapter. We did a fist with a number and a minus sign: 21 days to the fight, 20, 19, 18. At least one full-page story with a picture every day. Talk about trust. I was the only white man ever to interview Belinda Ali. She trusted me.
The fight comes. It matches all the expectations. I don't care what they say: We sold twice the number of papers the next day. We were selling 250,000 papers and we sold 500,000 the next day. There seems to be some dispute about it, but I'm convinced that we were the only paper in the entire world that doubled its circulation the day after the fight.
I have a view of Ali as a terrific fighter, as a generous human being but not a civil-rights figure. The man preached separatism. The man preached hate. He was great with the media, though. Terrible with his opponents. Vicious with Frazier, unforgivably. Recognized around the planet. And I would interview him in Deer Lake, and he'd be in bed, propped up on two pillows, and he'd say, "Sit here, so you don't miss anything." So I'd sit on the edge of the mattress, not on a rocker across the room. I'd sit on his bed. He used to call me "Boss."
For a time, when he was in exile, he was living about three blocks away from me. One time I walked Gloria over there and we were going to see him. He had a black phone with no dial - you picked it up and it automatically dialed the police precinct. We go in, he's glad to see us, thrilled to see Gloria - a fresh audience. He gets up on a chest of drawers, with his feet dangling, and does 25 minutes from "Big Time Buck White," a Broadway play he was in while he was in exile. He did his part, the songs, the poetry. Her eyes are that big. Then a guy from the Enquirer, the supermarket tabloid, shows up and asks about Ali seeing aliens. He says, "Yes, Central Park, doing my roadwork, here they come." The guy's taking notes. Ali says, "You want to know how popular I still am?" He takes a cardboard box and picks letters out at random. Picks one - it's from Sri Lanka. Next one is from Afghanistan or someplace. Next from Arizona. It was an impressive performance.
Yes, I was on the inside of that and it felt great. It really felt good. And for the fight to be as good as it was, that made it even better.
A football town
Philadelphia hasn't changed as far as football is concerned. People cared so much about football, even then. People have always cared about the Eagles. It wasn't a passionate Phillies city, but now I think it's getting that way. I think people love and embrace this team. But in my memory, it was always a football town. People cared about those Iggles. They really cared.
It was a better boxing town then, but boxing was better. It became a hockey town - and that surprised me. A bunch of Canadian guys, eh, strangers, and a weird coach in Fred Shero - and the city fell in love with them. The Sixers, long stretches from 1967 to 1983.
You can't fool them. You can't really fool the fans here. It's not that talk radio gives them a chance to talk back - I feel the fans here are knowledgeable. I don't like fringe behavior, flares in the stands or throwing batteries at J.D. Drew. But I like that they care.
It can be very demanding. People have become more convinced that they can influence the outcome of a game. I don't like them thinking that. They're there to enjoy the game, not influence the game.
That stuff they used to do in the last row of the upper deck, the Wolf Pack and those things, I love that kind of stuff. Rauuuuuuuul, I love that. That's your own. That's original. But bad behavior, I don't like. The wave? Ridiculous. Thinking you can intimidate the officials, I don't like.
Is it more negative? Yes, probably, because of talk radio and because of blogs and things where you're not responsible for what you're writing or what you're saying. It's more negative and that's too bad.
Why do I keep doing what I do? The answer is, because I still enjoy it. I get tremendous pleasure out of writing a piece about the efforts to build a safe, smooth baseball field for kids with special needs in Northampton Township - and if it kick-starts the fundraising efforts, that doubles the pleasure. I do have a little historical perspective to add to some of the issues that crop up. And when I read a book like "Heart of the Game" that thrills me, I want to share that excitement with our readers.
I'm just a guy who truly enjoys what he's doing in a city that cares deeply about its teams but wants to read stuff that's "tough but fair." Merchant told me 50 years ago to "inform 'em, entertain 'em, and every so often surprise 'em" and that's what I try to do. *
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