In my last column, I related that I called into a sports radio show and got to speaking with the host who invited me to come down to the studio the next week to introduce my favorite player. I of course agreed, and as I drove home the next week after writing up an introduction and reading it on air, I realized that I enjoyed writing for radio far more than the work I was doing at Detroit’s City Hall.
So I came up with a plan. Since I was spending most of my lunch hours at a nearby public library reading out-of-town newspapers, I decided to use the information I learned in the sports sections of those papers to my advantage. I called my favorite sportswriter, Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press, and identified myself as “Mr. Baseball.” I told him I enjoyed his writing style and was sending him some information he could use.
The following Sunday, I was surprised to see a couple of paragraphs I had written in his Sunday column with the lead-in: “Mr. Baseball says…” I kept feeding him information for the next few weeks and “Mr. Baseball” kept appearing. Finally, I called him again, told him my real name, and then said that instead of sending him something, I would bring it over personally.
“You don’t look like Mr. Baseball,” Falls said when he saw me for the first time. “But come with me. I’m going to make you a star,” he said. I gave Falls my envelope with my next offerings and followed him past several desks, mostly unoccupied as it was lunch hour.
We came to the photography department and Falls told the only person in the room, “Take his picture.” Then Falls told me I should leave after the photographer was finished with me.
I went back to my regular job and had no idea what Falls would do next. The next day, I opened the paper to the first page of the sports section where Falls’ column appeared several days a week. I was surprised to see my picture below his usual masthead.
He wrote: “once in a while you come across an Irwin Cohen. He’s 31 and sends me material and I’d like to show you some of it. It’s good stuff and he has a good touch for what’s newsy. Frankly, I’m fascinated that someone with no experience in the newspaper business could have such a feeling for it.”
After Falls unmasked “Mr. Baseball,” he turned over the rest of the column to what I had written. In shul that morning, several people also found out who “Mr. Baseball” was as they read Falls’ column religiously.
A few days after my unmasking, I noticed a small publication near the cashier stations of a supermarket. It had a great color photo of Tigers manager Ralph Houk on the cover with a “Free, Take One,” sign nearby. So I took a few copies and perused one of them when I got home. The publication – All Sports TV Guide – had television listings for the week and contained many ads and an occasional sports article.
Recently retired pitcher Denny McLain was listed as the boss of the publication and an ad in it sought sales people and writers. I called and made an appointment to see McLain. With the hand that won a fantastic 31 games in 1968, McLain waved me into his office. By the time I was ushered out, I was a baseball writer for the magazine at 15 dollars an article. The Tigers gave me field access prior to games and I was able to interview players.
I developed a relationship with other young writers and sportscasters and we tossed the idea of launching a baseball-only publication. That’s how I soon became the editor and publisher of a monthly tabloid called The Baseball Bulletin. That in turn earned me a press pass to every major league ballpark and their press boxes, dugouts, and clubhouses. I was able to interview many of the greats of the 1970s and prior decades too, including such players as Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.
Then it was on to a front office career with the Detroit Tigers and now my stint as a baseball columnist for The Jewish Press.