By: Bob Elliott
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. _ Tom Gage answered his cell phone on Friday,
A producer from Chicago radio station asked if Gage had time to guest on his show. Then the conversation went something like this:
Gage: “I’m a little busy, I’ll try to make time, there’s a lot going on in Cooperstown.”
Producer: “Oh, you’re not with the team in Boston?”
Producer: “Well, have a good time, there are a lot of good guys being honored this weekend.”
Gage, the 2015 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award -- baseball writing’s highest honor -- explained how he missed his chance. How he should have said he “knew the writer being honored and he was a real jerk.”
Gage, the farthest thing from one, received laughter from the audience inside the Clark Sports Pavilion Saturday on what seemed like Michigan day.
Later, at historic Doubleday Field, broadcaster Dick Enberg, of Mount Clemens, Mich. was presented the Ford C. Frick honor, the same award Tom Cheek won, and Gage accepted his.
And Atlanta Braves right-hander John Smoltz, of Lansing, Mich. will be inducted along with Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez Sunday afternoon.
Covering baseball is roller coaster ride. This off season Gage received a phone call from Jack O’Connell of the Baseball Writers Association of America with news he had won the Spink award as voted on by 10-year members of the BBWAA.
Within days the Detroit News took Gage off the Tigers beat after 36 years. During the spring he accepted a job with FoxSportsDetroit.com. FOX shut down its regional bureaus three months later.
“It’s been my best and worst year all in one,” said Gage. “The pluses, like this weekend, are really big pluses, I wish this on no one because I’m unemployed now. I’ve walked through two doors, two exits.”
Gage is uncertain what he’ll do when he returns home to Michigan or his second property in Kingsville, Ont. (Yes he paid his provincial taxes ... as I always ask him.)
“People used to ask why I’d never written a book, I’d answer I had written the equivalent of two each season (game stories for each edition, notebooks, side bars),” said Gage. “Now, I’ll have time.”
Hall of Famer Al Kaline and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowksi attended a reception for Gage on Friday. Kaline was on stage with the other Hall of Famers Saturday as Dombrowksi watched.
“Tom is a first class individual and always worked hard with a passion for his profession and the game,” said Dombrowski, who heads to Boston Sunday. “He covered the game in respectful way, and, was fair with his questions and opinions even if they were not in favor of something we did.”
Gage decided early on the beat he would not strictly he a “hotel/ball park guy” as so many writers are. So he learned all he could about Minneapolis, Boston, San Francisco and other cities. He made a point to get up early visit museums and nearby historic battle fields.
He was asked how covering the game had changed in his 36 years?
“On the field not much, journalistically a lot has changed,” said Gage. “I can talk to a colleague for three minutes and he’s not listening because he’s looking at his phone. Used to be you’d walk in, a player could be on the floor drinking a jug of milk. They’re not sitting on the floor anymore.
“Our access changed. We have post-game interview rooms, you don’t get the chance to ask a manager one question. I miss that. Twitter has been both good and bad for newspapers.”
His first job was selling linoleum flooring for $80 a week before he was hired by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans for $125 a week.
“My first assignment for city side was covering a city council with eight different chairmen, I had no idea what to do, if a patient editor had not taken me aside and told me what to do ... well that probably would have been it for newspapers and I,” said Gage.
Asked who isn’t in the Hall who should be, Enberg took up the cause of the Shoeless Joe Jackson, as the announcer’s idol Ted Williams did, while Gage picked Jack Morris.
Enberg’s best memory being in the booth as the Anaheim Angels, with Nolan Ryan on the mound, faced manager Billy Martin’s Tigers at Tiger Stadium in 1973.
“Nolan had 12 strikeouts through five, we thought he might set a record,” Enberg said. “Norm Cash came to bat with a table leg and after a strike, plate ump Ron Luciano told him to go back and get a legal bat. We could hear Nolan grunt every pitch. He struck out 17 and got the no hitter, his second.”
Gage’s best? On the morning of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series after the Oakland A’s won the first two games, he wrote “the only thing that cane save the San Francisco Giants now is an act of nature.”
That night four minutes after the national broadcast hit air, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit causing 63 deaths, 3,757 injuries and an 11-day delay.
“Some people blamed me for that,” Gage said.