Terry Taylor, sports editor for The Associated Press from 1992 to 2014, accepted the Red Smith Award for extended meritorious service to sports journalism during the Associated Press Sports Editors summer conference on Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. She was presented by Jeff Wohler, former sports editor of The Oregonian and APSE president in 1991-92.
Thank you, Jeff (Wohler). Thank you APSE officers, APSE members, guests and friends. Thank you for this special day.
Before we really get started, I have to tell you about my life with the Red Smith Trophy.
I happily lugged this case around for the better part of 20 years, to every convention I attended as sports editor.
We would pack him up in his custom-made case, ship him out from New York and hope he’d be in one piece when I arrived at the convention city.
Mostly, he was. Some name plates always fell off in transit and I’d have to glue them back on before showtime.
But there was a huge upside to all this:
I got to see that trophy case every time I walked into my office at 50 Rock. When we moved downtown to 33rd Street in 2004, so did Red.
So this is like seeing an old friend again.
So, how you doin’ Red? Remember me?
I talked to Red Smith on the phone just once.
He called the office from Martha’s Vineyard to say the paper up there didn’t have late West Coast baseball scores. Could I read them to him?
The year before, I sort of just watched him in the press box during the 1980 World Series, Phillies-Kansas City. Mostly everyone had gone downstairs for postgame interviews and just a few of us were still in the main box. Red was sitting across the aisle, alone, in what appeared to be deep-thinking mode. The next time I had a chance to look over, he was typing. I remember thinking: “Oh, good. Something to look forward to tomorrow.”
Things were kind of strange when I arrived at AP Sports in 1981.
The desk supervisor was a 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound ex-Marine who smoked foul cigars that killed my sense of smell and left my keyboard covered in ashes.
I thought he was terrific.
About 11 in the morning, he would grab a sandwich from the AP cafeteria and announce: “Gotta eat before I go to lunch.” It took me awhile to crack that code, but I eventually figured out what he was talking about.
Sometimes, if baseball was on TV, he’d blurt out: “Ebbets. Two Bs, one T.” So, to this day, I have no trouble spelling “Ebbets.”
Then there was God’s human firecracker, the boxing-slash-horse racing writer, who would snap, crackle and blow up over editing changes.
One time, the desk supervisor – the big guy – decked him in the office after a relentless haranguing.
I was on the receiving end of more than a few of those meltdowns. In person and over the phone.
But to this day, he calls me about once a month just to say hi and check up on me.
He is especially proud that I won Red Smith.
Bill Dwyre used to tease me about my job. He wondered if I showed up every day with a big rug so I could put out fires all over the world. I was close to getting a Dave Smith/Dallas Morning News rug, but it never came to that. I think Dave mellowed, or I mellowed, or we both mellowed just in time. But I will say he was relentless.
In any case, no rug, but there were plenty of fires: in the office, out of the office, ethics, access, credentials, issues with various leagues and organizations, and on and on and on.
But all that aside, the very core of what I did was 24/7 sports journalism. It was exhilarating, and working with AP members taught me so much about my job.
You were my touchstones. You were my sounding boards. If I did my job well, it’s because you helped me.
Some of my touchstones are here today:
Jeff Wohler, of course.
And Steve Doyle and Bill Dwyre, who are not here today, but certainly belong in that group.
Our industry is leaner today, for sure, but it is as vibrant and essential as ever.
There are so many ways to tell a story – in print, online, video, radio, podcasts, photo galleries.
And when you think about it, storytelling is the very essence of this award. It honors writers who wowed us with their keen eye, their details and description. It honors editors who developed and promoted such work.
While I was still at The AP, I had a conversation with baseball writer Ben Walker, who is here today. We talked about game stories that were cluttered with what I call “data nuggets.” I recently asked him if that was still happening.
“It is,” he said. “There’s a ton of stat-based info on the web, much of it part of the new analytics wave in baseball.
“So instead of a home run loudly bonking off the facing of the third deck, you get Machado using a 23-degree launch angle, hitting a 96.7 mph fastball with a 112.3 mph exit velocity
that went an estimated 452 feet, the longest to the opposite field by a visitor at Minute Maid Park in the Statcast era, dating to 2015.”
I don’t think this is what the late Tom Wolfe had in mind when he said a good story needs to be built on a foundation of facts, detail and description. Ben says he would love to know what readers want. I’m hoping you can tell him. And ask him about his Bryce Harper broken bat story.
I had a wonderful sporting life. I had a front-row seat at all the major events. I traveled to countries I never thought I’d visit. I met people who are still my friends.
I can’t imagine I would have been this happy doing anything else.
In closing, my thoughts turn to Mary Garber, who won this award in 2005. I attended that luncheon and I confess it was hard not to choke up.
In 2016, I was honored to receive the Mary Garber Pioneer Award from The Association for Women in Sports Media. Like this award, it was a bolt out of the blue.
So thank you, Mary, for your endurance, your determination, your integrity and your perseverance in doing what you loved.
You were the first woman to win the Red Smith Award.
I know I won’t be the last.
Thank you APSE for this tremendous honor.
I have never, ever been prouder to be a journalist.