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Maury Allen, biographer, on
the baseball writer's role

Maury Allen

The role of the baseball writers in the middle 30s was something that is probably very, very difficult in today's television era to understand. Nothing was more important on a newspaper than the guy covering the local major league baseball team.

He was the most significant, the most heroic, the most followed, the most identified hero of the paper. And the newspapers themselves got an enormous amount of publicity, had an enormous amount of power. There really was no other competing media. Radio was a minor factor. There was no television.

The actual other time that people would see a player besides being out at the ballpark might be at a newsreel in a movie film. So there really wasn't a lot of competition, and the sports writers themselves became heroic figures in their own towns. The guy that covers the Yankees for the Daily News, for the New York Times, for the New York Herald Tribune, for the New York Post -- he himself was as much a celebrity as the player that he was writing about.

The life of sports writers and the lives of players were interwoven in those days. They traveled together on planes. Every day was a day game -- there was no night baseball at that time. That meant that at home, they often had dinner with the players after the game in hangouts like Toots Shor's and places where the players were comfortable.

When they traveled on the road, they sat for hours with the players on the trains, got very intimate, very personal with the player. When you got to the furthest town in baseball, which was St. Louis in those days -- you would arrive usually early in the morning after an overnight train ride. You'd have breakfast with the player. Then maybe go out to the ball park in a cab with the player.

So there was a relationship that was very, very different from today. There were no agents around. There were no players' unions around. So the people that the players knew in every town were the sports writers that traveled with them. And because the general attitude was heroic coverage of all of these players, the players tended to trust the writers much more than they do today in a kind of controversial environment and kind of a tabloid journalism environment.

And so the players could tell the sports writers intimate personal things about their lives and most of the time none of that would ever be printed. It would just be a way of developing a relationship that when you did print something about the guy, you were coming from a background of really knowing about him.

And that was the kind of environment that DiMaggio stepped into in the spring of 36.

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