An Interview with Dave Anderson
“In 1946 as a senior in high school I worked in the sports department on Saturdays for five dollars a day – it was eighteen dollars for five days when I started. Five dollars in 1947 made me the wealthiest kid on the street corner.”
“To me the game is the thing – today you have to write about issues – steroids or betting – but the fans want to know why somebody won the game. They want to know why this guy is a better player – why is Tom Brady better than everybody except Peyton Manning.”
“I worked with Tony Kornheiser and I love him, but when I see him I kid him, “Tony, please don’t yell at me today”. All they do is yell. Most of these guys think the louder they say something the more important it is.”
Dave Anderson: Interviewed on November 27, 2007
Position: columnist (semi-retired), New York Times
Born: 1929, Troy, New York
Education: Holy Cross, 1951
Career: NY Sun 1945-49 (copy boy), Brooklyn Eagle 51-55, NY Journal American 55-66, NY Times 66 –
Personal: married, four children, three grandchildren
Favorite restaurant (home): Tenafly Pizzeria, Tenafly NJ; Griffins Bar and Eatery, Cresskill, NJ
Favorite restaurant (road): Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach “stone crabs, if had one meal left it would be there”; Lobster Inn, Southampton, NY; any Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s
Favorite hotel: “hotels are overrated – you’re there to sleep and get out”
Favorite golf course (road): Shinnecock Hills, Southampton
Favorite golf course (home): Knickerbocker Country Club, Tenafly, NJ
Dave Anderson’s column, New York Times, November 22, 1980
NEAR the door of George Steinbrenner’s office in Yankee Stadium yesterday, there were two trays of bite-sized roast beef, turkey and ham sandwiches, each with a toothpick in it. As soon as 14 invited newsmen entered his office for the execution of Dick Howser as manager and the transfer of Gene Michael from general manager to dugout manager, Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner looked around. “Anybody want any sandwiches?” he asked. “We’ve got a lot of sandwiches here.” Gene Michael had piled four little roast beef sandwiches on a small plastic plate and he had a cup of coffee. But as he sat against he far wall, under a huge Yankee top-hat insignia and several enlarged photos of memorable Yankee Stadium moments, he was the only one eating when Dick Howser suddenly appeared and walked quickly to a chair in front of the table with the sandwiches.
“Nobody wants a sandwich?” George Steinbrenner asked. “Nobody wants a drink?” One of the newsmen ordered a glass of white wine from the bartender, but that was all. Then there was a momentary silence as George Steinbrenner, husky in a soft-blue shirt with a navy blue and green striped tie, sat at a big tan vinyl chair behind his shiny round desk. On the desk was a gold numeral one, maybe several inches high, and a small sign announcing, “Lead, Follow or Get the Hell Out of the Way,” and a miniature brass ship’s telegraph.
“During the season it’s always pointed to full speed ahead,” he would explain later. “But in the offseason it’s on standby.” To the owner’s right, about 10 feet away, Dick Howser sat stiffly. His legs crossed, he was wearing a beige shirt, a brown tie, brown pants and brown cowboy boots. He was staring out away from George Steinbrenner, staring blankly at the white draperies that had been drawn across the huge window that overlooks the grassy geometry of the ball field where Dick Howser no longer would work. Most of the time he had his left index finger up against his left cheek, as if to keep from having to look at the Yankee owner who now was discussing the managerial situation that had been simmering for several weeks.
“Dick has decided,” George Steinbrenner began, “that he will not be returning to the Yankees next year. I should say, not returning to the Yankees as manager.”
Dick has decided. That would be the premise of George Steinbrenner’s explanation. Dick has decided. Ostensibly he suddenly decided to go into real estate development in Tallahassee, Fla., and be the supervisor of Yankee scouts in the Southeast after having been the manager for the Yankee team that won 103 games last season, after having been in baseball virtually all his life as a major league infielder, major league coach, college coach and major league manager of baseball’s most famous franchise.
But baseball’s most famous franchise also has baseball’s most demanding owner. When the Yankees were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals in the American League championship series, George Steinbrenner steamed. And now Dick Howser is in real estate and is a Yankee scouting supervisor.
“At no time,” George Steinbrenner said yesterday, “did I lay down rules or commandments that Dick would have to live by if he returned as manager. The door was open for him to return, but he chose to accept this business opportunity. It took so long because he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing.”
All the while Dick Howser stared at the drawn draperies. “But could Dick,” somebody asked George Steinbrenner, “still be the manager if he wanted to be?” “Yes.” “Dick, why don’t you want to be?” “I have to be cautious here,” Dick Howser said staring straight ahead. “But the other thing popped up.” “Were you satisfied that you could have returned without conditions?” “I’d rather not comment on that,” Dick Howser said. “If you had won the World Series instead of being eliminated in the playoffs,” he was asked, “would you have taken this real estate opportunity?”
“That’s hard to say.” “Were you fired, Dick?” “I’m not going to comment on that,” the former manager said. “I didn’t fire the man,” the owner said.
Maybe not, but it is reasonable to believe that George Steinbrenner suggested that Dick Howser look for employment elsewhere. That way George Steinbrenner could put Gene Michael, whom he considers a more combative manager, in the dugout. Perhaps to soothe his conscience, he disclosed yesterday that Dick Howser would be paid his reported $100,000 salary for each of the remaining two years on this three-year contract.
“I feel morally and contractually obligated to Dick and his wife, Nancy,” the owner said. “I took him out of Florida State, where he was the baseball coach and where he could have stayed for life. If it hasn’t worked out, maybe it’s my fault.”
If it hasn’t worked out. Until then it had been, ‘”Dick had decided”. But perhaps on a slip of the tongue it was, “if it hasn’t worked out”. Anybody who knew George Steinbrenner knew that all along. And anybody who knew Dick Howser knew that, if given a choice, he would not decide to go into real estate development rather than be the Yankees’ manager.
But still George Steinbrenner persisted. “I think it’s safe to say,” he said at one point yesterday, “that Dick Howser wants to be a Florida resident year-round, right, Dick?”
Dick Howser didn’t even answer that one. Say this for Dick Howser – instead of going along with George Steinbrenner’s party line yesterday, he declined to comment. By not answering questions, he answered them. Anybody could see that. And anybody could see through George Steinbrenner’s scheme.
“What advice,” Dick Howser was being asked now, “would you give Gene Michael?” “To have a strong stomach,” Dick Howser replied, smiling thinly, “and a nice contract.” Minutes later, the execution was over. Dick Howser got up quickly and walked out of the room without a smile. Behind his round desk, George Steinbrenner looked around.
“Nobody ate any sandwiches,” the Yankee owner said.
Q. What is your status with the Times?
A. Semi-retired. I have a free-lance contract for the next year – I’ll do 18 columns. I’ve already done six – I’m way ahead of the pace. I call it semi-retirement.
Q. Are you attending games?
A. I’ve gone to two Giants games and one Jets game so far. Four of the six columns were baseball – one was about the Jets honoring the old Titans players. Another was my Thanksgiving column in which I remind people of the good people in sports despite the scoundrels. I’ve done it for 25 years. I got more questions about that – am I still going to do my Thanksgiving column – so I did it.
I started it in ’83. We had great scoundrels at the time – Steinbrenner, Al Davis, Don King – who were in the news a lot. I said, ‘There are good people in sports – let’s mention them.’ This was when Steinbrenner was at his noisiest, in the Billy Martin years. He changed later on. As George became older he calmed down or mellowed. Also, they won during the last 12 years. He was loudest when they didn’t win.
Q. Which topic would you choose to ensure maximum readership in New York?
It would depend on who was the hottest most viable subject at the time. Over the last 35 years I would say in New York it would Steinbrenner. Apart from a New York subject it probably would be Ali, or Joe Namath. Jack Nicklaus was a great subject but not necessarily for New York. Worldwide it was definitely Ali. When Ali fought in Malaysia in 1975 there were a few newspaper guys there. I was syndicated in the sense that the Times has a syndicate – newspapers can buy it and use whatever they want, mostly Washington and political coverage. Two guys in Kuala Lumpur were boxing writers. When I arrived they told me how excited they were that Dave Anderson was coming. They knew about me because I wrote about Ali. Anytime you wrote about Ali they used it.
Q. Have you written about Ali more than anybody else?
A. He would be among the leaders. I covered 32 of his fights, as a reporter and a columnist. Off the top of my head Ali would be the most, because of the worldwide interest. I wrote a lot about Steinbrenner and the Yankees and the football Giants. A pro football game is more important to me than a baseball game because there are only 16 of them. I was a Jets beat writer when they won the Super Bowl. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had good subject matter all my life.
When I was a kid reporter at the Brooklyn Eagle I was covering the Dodgers – this was ’53 and ’54 – before the paper folded in ’55. I went to the Journal American and did tennis and hockey. I’m the last guy alive to cover the Dodgers on a beat basis.
Q. Is it true you were the last writer to leave Ebbets Field?
A. Yes. There were two of us, Bill Roeder of the Telegraph, and myself. Danny McDevitt shut out the Pirates, 2-0. I was at the Journal but the regular Dodger writer was off covering the pennant race, and I filled in. We were the last ones to write and we came down the elevator together. There were other people at the ballpark, but we were the last writers. We got to the night watchman’s door, and I said, “You go first Bill.” I hadn’t planned this, but it occurred to me I was now the last writer to leave Ebbets after the last game. I stuck that in the back of my mind and never mentioned it for years. I was doing a piece about Brooklyn baseball a few years ago and threw it in the last paragraph, and everybody remembered it, which was flattering. Bill Roeder went on to Newsweek – he was a great writer. He died of a heart attack while swimming.
Q. Who were the writers you admired?
My family moved to Brooklyn from Troy when I was eight or nine. If you liked to read in those years newspapers were everything. There was no TV and hardly any radio. I read the columnists – Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Arthur Daley, Frank Graham, Bill Heinz, Milton Gross – those were my guys. I was never a frustrated athlete – though I played sandlot baseball and CYO basketball. I didn’t want to be Joe DiMaggio – I wanted to be Red Smith or Jimmy Cannon.
My father was an ad salesman for the New York Sun. In 1945 I was 16 and I was a messenger in the publications department – my job was to get the ad copy from Gimbels and Sachs and Macys. In the afternoon I would be working as a copy boy for sports. In 1946 as a senior in high school I worked in the sports department on Saturdays for five dollars a day – it was eighteen dollars for five days when I started. Five dollars in 1947 made me the wealthiest kid on the street corner. You could go to movies for a quarter and papers were two cents.
Q. Tell us the story about W.C. Heinz’ typewriter.
A. In those summers there was a little supply office run by a guy named Harry Brown – you went to see him if you needed ribbons or letterhead or anything. He went on vacation one summer, probably ’46, and for two hours a day I went to the supply room and filled the orders. One day Bill Heinz’ typewriter – the one he used as a war correspondent – came in. It was his son’s typewriter – he had used it all over Europe. It just came in the mail, and it said from Bill Heinz to the New York Sun. I went home that day and told my mother, “I was in charge of Bill Heinz’ typewriter today.”
He was a hero to everybody at that paper because of his war coverage. He did features, talked to the GIs, like Ernie Pyle. After the war he did mostly boxing features – boxing was huge then – we forget – it may have been America’s No. 2 sports right after the war. It was baseball, boxing, college football, and horse racing. Pro football hadn’t caught on, and college basketball was big in New York.
Q. How did you learn to write?
A. By writing. We all do. You sit down and you have in mind the writers you’ve read. You learn to write by reading – that’s what I tell kids in school. From whatever you read – it’s not always the sports pages – it’s books, Mark Twain, Hemingway. How did you learn to play baseball – by playing baseball.
I was a hockey writer for ten years. I covered the Rangers for the Journal-American from ‘55 to ’64. It was a great era – six teams – no helmets – you knew every player. Boston and the Garden were the two best pressboxes – you were practically hanging over the ice. I saw all those great Canadiens teams when they won five Cups in a row. The Rangers and Bruins usually didn’t make the playoffs in those years. Gordie Howe is still the best hockey player I ever saw, all-around. Gretzky and Orr were great, but for everything, I would start with Howe.
I also covered some good tennis players. I saw both of Laver’s Grand Slams, one as an amateur and one as a pro. When I went to the Times I was a general assignment guy. Suddenly, in ’68 I was the Jets beat writer the year they won the Super Bowl. Then I was the boxing writer with Ali. I had been around Ali while I was at the Journal – I was around him virtually his whole career, except very early. I covered the Lewiston fight.
Q. Did you see the knockout punch?
A. No. We had hired Floyd Patterson to do a piece about it. I was sitting with Floyd in the second row behind the corner and Ali was right above us. All we saw was his back. I saw his right shoulder move and the next thing I knew Liston was down.
Q. Some writers say they root for the story. Your thoughts?
A. I’ve always said that. I may have started that phrase 30 or 40 years ago. Fans always ask if you’re a Yankees fan or a Giants fan. I say ‘no, I root for the story’. We all do. It doesn’t make any difference who wins – you want a story. Especially in doing a column you want a story to jump out at you – if it’s golf you want that story to be on the leader board. You know it when you see it, but you don’t know what it’s going to be. You might have plans but those plans might be ignored if something better comes along.
Q. What makes a good column?
A. Basically I try to write what I think the reader wants to read about. Whatever happens in that game or that fight, the most interesting thing that captures the most readers. It’s something you just learn to do. It’s all you think about when you go to a game, and though you might have something in the back of your mind, it may not develop. Then you change three or four or five times as the game changes.
To me the game is the thing – today you have to write about issues – steroids or betting – but the fans want to know why somebody won the game. They want to know why this guy is a better player – why is Tom Brady better than everybody except Peyton Manning.
Q. Should a column provoke an emotional reaction?
A. Not necessarily. It depends on the subject. When I wrote about Ali – he was such a controversial guy – loved and loathed by so many people – I would get letters saying how could you criticize Ali like that, and for the same column I would get letters saying how could you fawn over a guy like that. People read into a column what they already feel and where their mind already is. Often, readers have their minds made up, especially about issues. Sometimes, it’s based on columns they’ve read in the past. You can’t expect everybody to agree.
Q. Can you characterize your approach to column writing?
A. I don’t know how to characterize it. I go and try to find the most controversial and interesting thing. Sometimes you let people make fools of themselves – I did that with Steinbrenner. He called a press conference and said Dick Howser has decided to go into real estate instead of remain the Yankees manager. I said, ‘Is he serious? Is he kidding?’ I just reported the scene. He invited one guy and one columnist from each paper – this was the Friday before Thanksgiving. It was in his office – that’s how cozy it was. He started off with little cocktail sandwiches, but we weren’t there for sandwiches. Howser couldn’t even look at him – he was staring out the window. Steinbrenner said he had a great real estate opportunity in Florida and has to take it. I just wrote the scene. Gene Michael, the new manager, was there. The way it developed nobody took any sandwiches – we got up and started to leave and still nobody took any sandwiches. George said, ‘Nobody wants a sandwich?’ I just wrote it that way and people liked it.
Q. How did your approach contrast with Dick Young’s?
A. Dick always found something wrong with everything. He would make it more personal, in his own opinion. I had opinions in there, but I seldom used the word ‘I’ – once in a while, if the column demands it. One I did recently – everybody thought the Bonds indictment was a bad day for baseball, but I said to me it was a good day, because baseball finally got this thing in the open. Every now and then I will use ‘I’ and ‘me’, but very seldom. I always felt people could tell my opinion by the way I wrote it, and I didn’t have to say ‘I think this’ and ‘I think that’.
Q. Some columnists reveal their personal lives. Your thoughts?
A. I seldom do. I don’t know if a reader wants that. One time I did was when Jack Nicklaus lost a grandson – a baby drowned – I think the child was not even 2. We lost a grandson at age 5 about ten years earlier. When I saw Jack at the Masters I talked about it briefly with him and I mentioned the two of us – that was one of the few times.
Q. Did you tailor your writing style to The Times?
A. No. That’s what I tell people when they come to the Times. The Times hired you because of the way you write. Don’t change that. You may tailor to some of the style things, but not your style. That’s what I figured when I went there – they hired me because of the way I wrote, so why should I change. Years ago the Times writers were the dullest in the world, as a group. They were terrible, awful, and didn’t work hard. That started to change in the early ‘60s when Jim Roach was brought in as sports editor. He brought in Gay Talese, Bob Lipsyte, Bill Wallace and Leonard Koppett. I was in the second wave of that group.
Q. Was Arthur Daley part of the old group?
A. Arthur Daley was fine. The Times dominated the writers and made them dull. Roscoe McGowen was a clever writer – as the Dodgers writer for Sporting News he was wonderful but he knew he couldn’t write the same way for the Times. Jim Roach recognized that and changed it. He hired guys who wrote the way they always did. Page One was different. Koppett used to say that if you have to write for Page One the only way to do it is dull. That has changed, too.
Q. Does The Times require a higher standard of reporting?
A. Yes. I always said this is a crazy business but if there’s one paper you want to work for it’s the Times. Not because I’m there, but because the foreign coverage and basic news coverage is incredible.
Q. Did you feel that way when your column on Tiger Woods was spiked?
Interesting you ask that. They had spiked Harvey Araton before that – the same week. I was reading Tuesday’s paper and realized there was no column – Harvey wasn’t in. He had written a piece about how Martha Burk had more important things to do than worry about Augusta National. The issue was a pet of (Executive Editor) Howell Raines. I can’t tell you the reasoning, but between Howell Raines and (Managing Editor) Gerald Boyd they spiked Harvey’s column. I wasn’t supposed to write until Thursday, but (SE) Neil Amdur called me and said the editorial page is saying Tiger should boycott the Masters. That’s when I knew I wanted to write about it. Tiger is a golfer – if he wants to boycott let him but if he wants to play golf let him play golf. Neil doubted it would fly, but I still filed it, and it didn’t.
My thinking was that editors are entitled to do that. It bothered me that they thought that way but they have the right to think that way. I kind of forgot about it. A week later a reporter from the Daily News called and asked about it. I said ‘yeah’ and told him what happened. The next day they had the story – that’s when it blew up. The day Neil told me about the column being spiked he never mentioned Raines – he only mentioned Gerald Boyd. I don’t know of Boyd did it by himself or if he talked to Raines. When it appeared in the Daily News everybody got up in arms, which was great because the guys in trouble were Raines and Boyd. They eventually published our columns the next Sunday. All I had mentioned was that Tiger’s critics included the New York Times editorial board, and that’s the only thing they took out when they published it. I said they could have taken that out two weeks ago.
Q. Did Tiger say anything to you?
A. He never did.
Q. Do you listen to sports talk radio?
A. Yes. Basically for news, or if I’m in the car – seldom at home. I listen for the 20-minute news thing, or if I know something is breaking and they might have a press conference on. I’m not a devotee. I’ll listen if they have a good interview on.
Q. How is the tenor of coverage shaped by the debate on radio?
A. I worked with Tony Kornheiser and I love him, but when I see him I kid him, “Tony, please don’t yell at me today”. All they do is yell. Most of these guys think the louder they say something the more important it is. They also bring up issues not worth bringing up – building mountains out of mole hills – every day they’re firing somebody, everything is a crisis. There are ten crises a day on talk radio, but there aren’t that many real crises. They’re not patient with anything – not patient with managers or pitchers or quarterbacks – but they have to say something, and they say it for five hours. It’s hard to listen for five hours.
Q. Has it influenced print media?
A. Sure it has. A lot of this stems from Steinbrenner. He was impatient before Mike and Mad Dog were. Talk radio guys fell into it.
Q. What did you think of Steinbrenner’s depiction in ‘The Bronx is Burning’?
A. I seldom watch TV shows of something I’ve been around. Most of the time it’s not the same and they have to build up the dramatic effects. I don’t have to watch something to tell me what I saw or lived through. The only one I went out of my way to watch was the ‘Miracle on Ice’ movie. I was there and watched every game and wrote about it every other day. I thought the movie was good. They didn’t overdo it and the acting was good. When the Ali movie came out I didn’t go. I covered 32 of his fights – I didn’t have to see the movie.
Dave Anderson’s column, New York Times, November 22, 2007:
Despite a perjury indictment in baseball, dogfighting and criminal conduct in pro football, a referee scandal and a franchise’s intramural mess in pro basketball, and the forfeit of Olympic medals by a track queen who confessed to using steroids, sports’ little corner of the world still has many people to be thankful for today.
JESSICA LONG, born without most of the major bones in her legs, which later were amputated below the knees, earned the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete at 15 years old after swimming to nine gold medals at the Paralympic world championships in 2006.
TERRY FRANCONA, who calmly led the Red Sox to their second World Series victory in four seasons after all the decades of frustration and failure in Boston.
ROGER GOODELL, the commissioner who not only put new teeth in the N.F.L.’s personal-conduct code but chewed up those who defied it, notably Pacman Jones, the Tennessee Titans cornerback suspended for the season.
THE RUTGERS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM, the runner-up in the national championship game, whose justifiably angry and classy reaction to the radio host Don Imus’s racial and gender slurs helped cost him his job.
TED NOLAN, the Islanders’ coach, who suggested that Al Arbour, the coach of the franchise’s four-time Stanley Cup champions in the early 1980s, be persuaded to come out of retirement to work the bench in his 1,500th regular-season game for the Islanders. And the Islanders won the game.
GEORGE MARTIN, the former Giants defensive end who planned to spend Thanksgiving visiting a homeless shelter in Nashville during his “Walk Across America” to raise $10 million in medical benefits for the 9/11 responders. He started at the George Washington Bridge in September and hopes to get to the Golden Gate Bridge in March.
THE BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY BASEBALL TEAM, which kept competing to honor five teammates who died in an April bus crash on an Atlanta highway.
LORENA OCHOA, the Mexican golfer who gilded the first Women’s British Open over the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, with a victory en route to the first $4 million season on the L.P.G.A. Tour.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN, the hockey statesman who, with his three Stanley Cup rings, gives his Rangers
teammates somebody to look up to, on and off the ice.
ANGELO DUNDEE, who was Muhammad Ali’s trainer throughout the three-time heavyweight champion’s career and now has collaborated with Bert Randolph Sugar on “My View From the Corner” (McGraw Hill). Nobody in boxing has more or better stories.
WHOEVER HAD THE IDEA for Jackie Robinson
Day last April, when so many players on so many major league teams wore his No. 42 on their uniforms on the 60th anniversary of his rookie year. Maybe it should be celebrated every season.
JUSTINE HENIN, the Belgian tennis player who survived several personal problems in her comeback before winning her second United States Open singles title.
CALVIN BOREL, the 40-year-old jockey who was invited to a White House dinner for Queen Elizabeth II after riding Street Sense to victory in the Kentucky Derby
THE DIVISION III TRINITY FOOTBALL TEAM from San Antonio, which completed 15 zig-zag laterals for a 61-yard touchdown on the final play of a 28-24 triumph over Millsaps of Jackson, Miss. From the snap to Riley Curry’s 34-yard dash into the end zone, the play took 46 seconds.
JUAN PABLO ÁNGEL, the Red Bulls striker from Colombia, who was Major League Soccer’s second-leading goal scorer with 19 in only 24 games.
JOE TORRE, who grew up on the Brooklyn sandlots as a New York Giants fan and now, after his unnecessary departure from the Yankees after 12 consecutive appearances in the postseason, is finally rooting for the Dodgers
as their new manager in Los Angeles. Wouldn’t a Yankees-Dodgers World Series complete that circle?
(SMG thanks Dave Anderson for his cooperation)