Tom Callahan, growing up in Baltimore, was an Orioles fan since attending the first night game at Memorial Stadium with his dad. On that Monday when I sat on my couch, Callahan and two other St. Aloysius sixth-graders slipped away from class. "We went to the bathroom to listen to this huge radio that we’d pinched from somewhere," he says. " I’d sworn off the Orioles already because they made a 17-player trade with the Yankees and shipped out my guys, Bob Turley, Don Larsen, Billy Hunter. So the only reason I’m on the commode at St. Aloysius listening to the game is because Larsen is pitching. And didn’t Mantle hit a home run that day?"
They marched past the school secretary’s desk.
They reached the principal’s private office.
He said, "Billy, shut that door behind you."
I bring this up because a sportswriter can be suspended without pay if he allows October to pass without rhapsodizing about what Tommy Lasorda once called "the Fall Classic, with a capital F and a capital C." Also, I bring it up because of something a television commentator said the other day. Roy Halladay’s no-hitter caused the TV person to declare that we would all remember where we were when it happened.
Excuse me. These were the Phillies and Mets, not the Bronx Bombers and the Bums. It was a division playoff, not the Fall Classic. A month from now, that Halladay trifle will be remembered mostly by his next of kin. Meanwhile, sportswriters of a certain age can tell you with absolute precision where they were on a Monday more than a half-century ago.
* * *
I must have heard Bill Shannon's voice in Yankee Stadium without ever knowing the man. My great loss. But I knew the type. Here I yield to Mike Vaccaro, the New York Post columnist, who not only knew the type, he loved Bill Shannon. This is Mike's "Vac's Whacks" column of Oct. 27 . . .
The sad part, to me, is that the odds are good that you didn't know Bill Shannon. Shannon was an official scorer for over 30 years at all of the New York ballparks, he was the press-box PA man at Jets games for years, he was a PR man for the Garden for about 10 years back in the '60s and '70s. He was a classic behind-the-scenes man, a guy who did his job best if you never came in contact with his name.
Bill died yesterday at 69 in a house fire, and though the details of his death were horrific, the circumstances were pure Shannon: After living many years on the Upper East Side, he'd moved in with his elderly mother. To get to Yankee Stadium and back required a total of four buses and two subway trips, something I only know because our own George King would occasionally give him a lift back to Jersey, but only when a Yankees game ran late and meant Bill had missed the last bus out of the Bronx.
It was classic Shannon, the kind of character who used to inhabit press boxes so often. His scoring decisions weren't only 99.9 percent correct, they were delivered with authority ("Eeee-SIX! Error on the shortstop") and occasional disdain (he once explained to me for a good 30 minutes why he hated the sacrifice fly, so every time he was compelled to announce it as a scoring decision it sounded like a husband finally agreeing to take out the trash after a wife's 15th exhortation). And his pitcher's summaries were one of a kind, always ending with a flair ("and nine ………. STRIKEOUTS).
Unless you were privileged to work in a press box, as I have all these years, you never knew any of this. And this is something else: It was Shannon who made you realize that being in a press box WAS a privilege, that it was an amazing way to make a living and pass a day. I probably exchanged hellos with Bill 300 times over the years and every time it felt like there wasn't a place in the world he'd rather be than where he was: watching ball, a writer's card around his neck, keeping a hand in a great game called baseball.
And one last thing: A few years ago, after I'd started up at the Post, Bill congratulated me with a fervor that he couldn't contain. "That is the greatest job in the world," he told me, and I concurred, and still do. Then he said: "If you ever get around to doing a bits-and-pieces thing like (Jimmy) Cannon did in the Post for all those years, I have the perfect name for it."
"What is that, Bill?"
"Vac's Whacks." he said.
Today's daily edition is dedicated to my esteemed friend, Mr. Shannon. I hope in some small way, every time I write them, he'll be a small but authoritative presence hidden in back of every word.
Dave Kindred's latest book, "Morning Miracle," is an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed at Twitter.com/DaveKindred and facebook.com/people/Dave-Kindred/509353295.