I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just short of a year on the job here, when I first met my hero. He was standing atop the hill, on the first base side, at Veteranís Memorial Stadium in Chatham schmoozing with a scout about a lefty that was about to sign with the Oakland Athletics. I happened to be near the conversation and had interviewed Mark Mulder a few months earlier -- it was actually the first story I ever did for The Enterprise -- and chimed in that I thought the pitcher had great stuff and was also a nice kid.
That opened the door to a 15-minute baseball conversation with Peter Gammons, the man whom I admire most in sports journalism. Unfortunately, the details of that conversation are blurry. Itís hard to remember exact details when youíre blown away by the audacious-ness of a moment. The same thing happened to me the first time I interviewed Jason Varitek and somehow I ended up in the Red Sox clubhouse, shooting the breeze with one of the best catchers in the game.
The good old days, before I became grizzled. Iím hardly dumbfounded by these occurrences anymore. But Iím telling you, the first time I spoke with Peter Gammons it blew me away. It was like a scientist getting to have a one-on-one with Albert Einstein or an artist shooting the breeze with Picasso.
So this weekend when my hero was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I applauded from my home and smiled wide. In my eyes, he was the big star of the weekend in Cooperstown, more so than Wade Boggs or Ryne Sandberg. Those guys were good players, but they didnít change the game. Gammons did.
The way baseball is covered was revolutionized by Peter Gammons. The man who looks eerily like Andrew Jackson on a $20 bill (yes, heís been asked to autograph money before), began a Sunday Major League Baseball notes column for the Boston Globe that had more insider information than anyone had ever seen before. Gammons, who is genuinely genial with everyone he meets, had the goods when it came to breaking stories and also passing along interesting personal stories. Within a few years every newspapers in the country was copying Gammonsí template, and it carried beyond baseball. There were hockey, basketball, and football notes columns that all followed the same format.
When Peter Gammons was inducted into the HOF this past weekend, he showed the class and charisma that had paved his way in. Bob Ryan, his colleague and friend from the Boston Globe, said it best: ďUntil (Sunday), the writersí niche at the Hall of Fame had a huge hole in its soul. But Peter Gammons is there now, so everythingís OK.Ē
During his speech, he mentioned ballplayers and baseball people that have made his days memorable. Wouldnít you know the Falmouth Commodores got mentioned. The story has been passed along before in this space, but hereís what Gammons said.
ďWe should want the world to see us not for our politics, not for our business, but for baseball as our metamorphic soul, inclusive, not exclusive, diverse, not divisive, fraternal, not fractionalized. If any of you are familiar with the Cape Cod League you probably might have heard of Arnie Allen, a special needs gentleman who for 40 years was a batboy for the Falmouth Commodores. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2002. Seventy-two hours later a duffel bag of Angels paraphernalia arrived in Falmouth, courtesy of two Falmouth players, Darin Erstad and Adam Kennedy. Of course the Angels went on to win the World Series in 2002 and, after winning one incredible sixth game, coming (back) from (a) 5-0 deficit in the eighth inning. Before game seven Erstad and Kennedy pulled me aside before they went out to stretch. They told me, we know you are going to be speaking at the Hall of Fame induction in two weeks on the Cape. They said in unison, Ďas you speak, could you do us a favor? Arnie will be there probably for the last time. Could you just tell him that Darin and Adam Kennedy said we are thinking of him?í before they went out and won the World Series.Ē
Iíve heard that story maybe a dozen times, and it still gives me goosebumps. And it obviously meant a lot to Gammons.
You see Peter and Arnie have a lot in common. The love of baseball is not only inside of them, but on display for the world to see, kind of like the World Series trophy and its seemingly unending tour around New England.
I grew up reading Peter Gammonsí words. I stay up past my bedtime to watch him on
Baseball Tonight and, no offense to Buster Olney, am only disappointed in that decision when Peterís not on the show. Iíve scoured ebay in search of an elusive Peter Gammons bobblehead doll. Iíve talked to the man on a handful of occasions and have always walked away happy and more informed about baseball than before.
Knowing that thereís a good chance my journalistic hero could read these words (he has a local place, ya know) I offer my congratulations. I can think of no other writer that has ever deserved the honor as much.