50 Years Later and It's a Career That I Still Enjoy
Fifty years ago Tuesday, my life changed, dramatically.
I had been working as an intern at Frontier Taxidermist in Cheyenne, but the needle pricks in my fingers from sewing up the torn eye lids on antelope and deer were taking a toll.
And then, Cheyenne East High School decided it was going to add male cheerleaders.
Frank Madia, a classmate at East, was supposed to become the sports editor of the Wyoming State Tribune, Cheyenne’s six-day-a-week afternoon paper at that time. Frank, however, decided to join the cheer squad, Knowing my infatuation with sports he helped me get the job at the Tribune.
Today, my 50th anniversary of getting a foot in the door of the media world, I’m still thankful for that door being opened, and most importantly thankful that the late Jim Flinchum was the editor of the Tribune. He taught me the importance of a work ethic, and a devotion to the business.
“This,” Mr. Flinchum told me, “isn’t a job. This is a commitment to life.”
He lived his words. He had a four-person staff, myself covering sports; Kirk Knox covering the police and city offices; Lynn McLaughlin-Kelly, covering everything else, except for the courts and state government, which Mr. Flinchum, himself, covered, He would arrive at work at 4 a.m.,to write his daily editorial, strip the copy from the UPI wire service, and place it neatly on the desk of the writer who needed each story. After going home to have breakfast with his wife, he would stop by the Capitol, and the local, state and federal courts to find out what was happening.
The lessons I learned from Mr. Flinchum have followed me in a career that saw me work for United Press International in Cheyenne, Denver and Kansas City, allowing me to cover college football and basketball, the NFL, ABA, NBA and MLB, and the 1976 Summer Olympics
They were guiding factors in what is now my 43rd year covering Major League Baseball, a passion that started with UPI in Kansas City in 1976. It took me to full-time beat jobs in Long Beach, Ca., covering the Angels; to Seattle, covering the Mariners; Kansas City, covering the Royals; Dallas, covering the Rangers, and finally, in 1992, to Denver where I began covering the Rockies the year before they began play in the National League West, and eventually was able to move back home to Wyoming.
Mr. Flinchum was right. This hasn’t been a job. It has been a life.
Oh, how the world has changed over time.
There was a day in Pittsburgh, sitting in the dugout while one of the Rockies beat writers was giving a sermon to an intern from the Steel City, about life as a beat writer.
“You should have seen the computer I used when I broke into this business,” the beat writer said.
Jack Corrigan of the Rockies radio broadcast smiled and looked at me.
“Tracy,” he asked. “What kind of computer did you use when you started in the business.”
“Well, I had this Olivetti typewriter,” I told Corrigan. “I’d type the story, and hand it to the Western Union man/woman and they would send it to the paper.”
Oh, times have changed.
The world has become much more controlled, and baseball is no different.
From the days when clubhouses were open until first pitch and reopened as soon as the last out was recorded.
From days of actually watching a game, keeping a score book, filling out day-by-day sheets in which every plate appearance of every hitter, and every pitch thrown by every pitcher was marked down every day for future reference.
From the baseball draft being an afterthought to volunteering to help Allan Simpson with his dream of creating Baseball America and along with Simpson and Ken Leiker not only making the publication work, but becoming the first media to ever do mock June drafts.
And we were connected enough and devoted enough to the draft that in the early 1990s when MLB decided not to announce the results of the draft, I was able to publish the names, schools and necessary stats for every player drafted by the team I was covering at the time, and through the efforts of Simpson with a small assist from me, MLB finally relented and once again made the draft results public.
It’s been a career that has allowed me to receive humbling honors, including the 2005 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented by the Hall of Fame to a sportswriter each year; the Shining Star Award from the Colorado Press Association, which has never been awarded to another sportswriter, to an Honorary Doctor in Letters from the University of Wyoming, my only college degree.
It has been a career that has allowed me to develop strong relationships with a myriad of people who have been more than peers or newsmakers, including the late Don Baylor, Mr. Flinchum, and my father, Tracy, Sr.
Mr. Flinchum, a hard-line Republican, would kid me about being one of those rare Wyoming Democrats, with a grandfather who was a vice president of the United Mine Workers and represented John L. Lewis on Truman’s Whistle Stop Train, and a grandmother whose cousin, Sen. John D. Sparkman, ran for vice president with Adlai Stevenson.
“You’ll outgrow it,” he would say with a smile.
Baylor integrated public schools in Texas, was the first African-American athlete at Stephen F. Austin High School, and the first African-American offered a football scholarship at the University of Texas. He was a physically imposing individual, who had the patience of a Martin Luther King, and made the world a better place for everyone he ever met.
Tracy, Sr., was a living example of dealing with the cards you are dealt. At the age of six, he and a few friends decided to hop the train to the depot in Pine Bluffs, Wyo., where my grandather was the telegrapher. My father made a misstep, slipped and when he hit the ground was left unconscious. His buddies ran away, fearing he was dead. The next train to pass ran him over, resulting in amputation of his left leg at the base of his body. The medical world has changed a lot since that day in 1919.
He never complained. He never asked for favors.
We’d go to a ball game and I’d suggest we might park in the handicap zone.
“Those,” he would say as he got his crutch out to begin the trek across the parking lot, “are for people who need them.”
His point was made.
And so was my mother's.
I was in second grade, and we were living in Southern California in 1959. My mother took me to see the Braves/Dodgers playoff game for the NL pennant.
She wrote a letter to the principal at my grade school, which explained, "It should be an excused absence because when Tracy grows up he will be a sportswriter."
I asked her years later how she knew.
"Easy," she said. "I saw you try and play sports. I knew you didn't have a future on the field."
She was right.