Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I’m celebrating my 50th anniversary of being a national baseball writer this month.

Fifty years ago, in 1973 Dick “Richie” Allen of the Chicago White Sox was baseball’s highest paid player after signing a two-year contract that paid him $200,000 for 1973 and promised him $250,000 the following season.


Archie Bunker, the loud-mouthed bigot played superbly by actor Carrol O’Connor was television’s highest rated program and Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon still was a top show and in its 19th year.

Fifty years ago I was working for the County government in Detroit’s downtown City Hall and my desk faced the Detroit River that separated the United States and Canada with a great view of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

A chance phone call to a sports call-in radio program would change the course of my life. But it wasn’t by chance. It was orchestrated by Hashem.

At the time Hank Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s All-time career home record of 714 and wouldn’t reach it that year and had already passed the number of at-bats that Ruth had in his career, but the host of the program never mentioned that fact. All I wanted to do was to let the host know it was going to take Aaron a lot longer to reach 714 homers than it took Ruth.

I was determined to call in the Monday night program but chickened out twice. The third time I finally got up enough nerve to call but the hour-long program only had 20 more minutes to run . The producer told me that there were a couple of callers ahead of me and mentioned there was a good chance that the show would be over before it was my turn.

The producer okayed me talking to the host off the air and that turned out to be a life-changer. The host was friendly and gave me all the time I needed to state my case. As we were about to hang up, I said, “By the way, who’s your guest next week,” as someone from the sports world guested every Monday night.

“Hoot Evers,” the host said. “He’s the director of minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers, but most people don’t remember that he played for the Tigers in the late 1940s and early ’50s.”

Of course, I remember that Walter Arthur Evers played for the Tigers. They called him Hoot because his favorite cowboy movie star as a kid was Hoot Gibson,” I told the host. “When I started following baseball in 1950, he became my favorite player,” I continued. “He hit .323 that year with 23 home runs and played left field. He wore uniform number 14 and I would try to sit behind him in the left field stands.”

“Wow,” the host said. “Why don’t you come down next Monday and introduce him on the air. It would be a nice touch to have a fan write the introduction and introduce his favorite player.” I immediately answered yes without thinking and then thought about the introduction. It would be the first piece of writing that wasn’t a forced school report or letters home to family and friends during mu stint in the army that I ever did.

I found it easy to write the introduction that summed up Evers’ baseball career with several teams and his rise to a front office department head and wasn’t nervous reading it on the air. After the program Evers mentioned to the host that his car was at Tiger Stadium about a mile away. He accepted my offer to drive him there and we spoke about the 1950 season. I didn’t mention about the first time I spoke to him in 1954.

Evers was traded by the Tigers to the Boston Red Sox in 1952 and was mainly a back-up to Ted Williams. In 1954, with a couple of friends, we took a city bus to a Tigers Red Sox afternoon game. Evers didn’t play that day and we waited outside of the visitors’ clubhouse when the game ended to try to get some autographs.

Evers was the first player out and waited against the wall for his teammates to exit and board the bus. I approached my favorite player and said, “may I have your autograph?” “Beat it kid,” he answered gruffly. “But you’re my favorite player,” I countered. “That’s what they all say,” he said. “Now, beat it.” I wandered back but still close enough to watch players come out of the clubhouse and board the bus. Ted Williams was easy to recognize and he obliged us and other kids with an autograph before boarding the bus.

After I started writing for a Detroit publication fifty years ago in 1973 and also wrote nationally that same year, I met Evers again a few months later and told him of our encounter in 1954. “I told all the kids the same thing,” Evers said without explanation. As I moved about the bases on the baseball beat, Bob Lemon, the great pitcher of the Cleveland Indians and former manager, told me opposing players referred to Evers as, “Mr. Hateful,” because of his unfriendly nature as a player and he never seemed to smile.

Evers was the only player who never smiled on his baseball cards through the years. But through the years, I often thought about how my baseball career would have never happened if I called the radio program one week earlier or one week later. I called the right week and off the air I had a chance to ask who the guest was the following week and it resulted in an invitation to write the introduction that was heard by former pitcher Denny McLain (31-game winner in 1968) who was heading a new sports weekly and was looking for writers.

After a few issues of working with McLain, I had material to send national publications resulting in other writing jobs. There’s no doubt that Hashem led me to the baseball door, but I had to push it open. And that’s how you’re reading me now.

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Author, columnist, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed many legends of the game before accepting a front office position with the Detroit Tigers where he became the first orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring (1984).