An open letter to the Spink winner
* Bob Elliott, third from right, being presented with the J.G. Taylor Spink award by Hall of Fame CEO Jeff Idelson, Susan Slusser, vice-president of the BBWAA and Jane Forbes Clark ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — How do you know Bob?
It was a question asked many times on Saturday evening, as the Toronto Blue Jays hosted a reception in Bob Elliott’s honour after he received his J.G. Taylor Spink Award in Cooperstown.
The celebration was one of many that have been held in his honour.
It makes sense, considering the newest scribe in the Hall of Fame has touched so many lives that fitting all of the people who want to share the moment with him into one place would be impossible.
I was able to take part in the celebrations with Bob, and his family and friends following his speech, the award ceremony and the parade through Cooperstown. I think I heard the question more than anyone.
“How do you know Bob?”
I haven’t known the native of Kingston for very long in comparison to most of the other people at the party, and I stood out a little bit. I probably wasn’t even born when many of the relationships in that restaurant in Cooperstown were forming, though I was warned not to say that out loud in case I made anyone feel old.
But in a short time, Bob has had a huge impact on my life.
“I want to thank you,” I wrote in a card that I handed to Bob at the reception. “You’ve been a mentor to me, answering every one of the billion questions I’ve asked since you first contacted me. You’ve been the biggest influence in everything I’ve written, and you helped me see the importance in writing anyone and everyone’s story, not just the biggest or most popular.”
It’s a funny story about how Bob first contacted me, as he told me many months later.
I had finished interning at Baseball America in North Carolina and the kind folks at the magazine let me cover the Baseball Canada banquet in Toronto when I returned home.
According to Bob, he read it and immediately sent an email to BA editor John Manuel.
“Who is this guy Alexi you had at the banquet?” he asked.
Bob skimmed over my name during the reading process.
Manuel explained and then I received an email from Bob about my Baseball Canada story, saying it was better than his and asking if I would like to write about baseball in our great country for Canadian Baseball Network.
I thought it was a joke. There was no way The Bob Elliott was complimenting a story I had written, or asking me to write more. But I agreed, in case it was actually him. After all, if Bob Elliott was reading my stories, I didn’t really care who else saw them. That was good enough for me.
Since that day in January of last year when I first heard from Bob, we’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, had many conversations, and he’s given me more advice and guidance than he knows. He’s shown me how great true greatness really is.
Bob is the reason that I am in the sports journalism industry right now.
I once told him I was afraid that working in baseball would hinder my love for the game.
“You will not lose your passion,” he told me, recalling a conversation he once had with Montreal Expos scout Danny Menendez from St. Louis “Danny said, ‘I’ll tell you the most possessive mistress in the world. It’s the game of baseball. It can reach in, rip out your heart, break it in two and, you know what Bobby? You’ll wake up the next morning ready to start working on next year.’”
To know that Bob still feels that way after all of the time he’s spent in the game convinced me that if I’m at the ballpark, I’m in the right place.
“If I was working in a bank or a gas station I’d be watching all the games possible, so it doesn’t really feel like a job when you get paid to go to games,” he told me. “Now, security lines at the airport … that is another subject.”
Bob has encouraged me, motivated me and given me something to strive for day after day.
One of the biggest things he’s done for me and for so many baseball players in Canada is offering and giving his time. There was never an email that he didn’t answer in full, even if it took him hours to type out the answers. There’s never been a question he’s skipped out on, though I must have asked 1,000s by now.
“Your question, ‘Would I do it all again?’ was a first for me,” he said after one of my emails. “And I probably didn’t answer it as well as I should have. I have travelled the world – although not Canada – on someone else’s dime to see baseball: Italy, Greece, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and 52 major-league stadiums.
“I have only two regrets – being on the road with the Expos when my son was two months old and had an allergic reaction to his formula and having an interview set up in New Brunswick with Ted Williams in 1993, when John Olerud took a run at .400.
“Two days before my flight, Bobby Doerr phoned to say the woman Ted was living with had suffered a stroke and had been air-lifted to Boston. Then in 1999 at Cooperstown, I was president of the BBWAA. I ran into Doerr Sunday morning at the Otesga Hotel. ‘C’mon we’ll make up for a few years ago, let’s go sit with Ted’ We got to the table and there was an empty seat beside Williams, we circle the table and Warren Spahn sat down, his opening line was ‘where were we you old goat.’ THey argued for two hours. So, I never ever spoke to Williams — my father’s favourite player.”
What has always struck me as something that I hope to take from Bob is his emphasis on his family. Though he spent half the nights of the year away from home for many years, they’ve always been his first priority. He is proud of his son Bobby and his daughter Alicia, and so incredibly grateful to his wife Claire.
Bob has taught me many things, and I hope to learn many more.
“Kiddo, I have been giving advice to younger people for years,” he said to me. “You can take 10% or 60% and throw the rest in the toilet. I will not be offended.”
Of course, none of what I have learned from Bob is going anywhere near the toilet. He has set an example, and he has set the bar. I can’t think of anyone who has helped me more, influenced me more or has changed my life more.
I was happy to tell everyone that asked me how I knew Bob, about everything that he’s done for me. I couldn’t possibly have been happier to share in the celebrations with him.