A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

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Mark Purdy: “The Building is Going Nuts.”

Mark Purdy: “The Building is Going Nuts.”

Come join Mark Purdy inside the tiny hockey arena as the “Miracle on Ice” erupts at the 1980 Winter Olympics. He’ll also put you on site of the earthquake that struck the Bay Area’s World Series. Mark recalls other rocking moments from his four decades as a sportswriter, including 33 years as a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. He explains how Paul Brown’s decision about Bill Walsh fueled a 49ers dynasty, and how that NFL empire had an ultra-competitive relationship – between a couple of QBs named Montana and Young – at its core. Hear how McCovey Cove originated, how Sparky Anderson had journalism advice, and how Barry Bonds was to deal with as a reporter when home runs and steroid accusations were flying.

Mark Purdy’s witty and insightful writing entertained and enlightened sports fans in California and Ohio for more than four decades. He spent 33 years of his career in two different stints as a sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group until his retirement in 2017. The Associated Press Sports Editors named Mark one of the Top 10 sports columnists in the nation on multiple occasions. He was called one of America’s 10 best sports columnists by the Wall Street Journal. He was enshrined in the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame this year. Among his many journalism honors, Mark was a member of the Mercury News staff that received a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of the earthquake that hit the Bay Area during the 1989 World Series. Mark covered 13 Olympics, more than 30 Super Bowls, and he made numerous national broadcast appearances on such shows as ABC Nightline, ESPN’s Outside the Lines, and Court TV. Mark is credited – along with Leonard Koppett of the Oakland Tribune – for coming up with the idea of “McCovey Cove.” That’s the unofficial name for the water beyond right field outside Oracle Park in San Francisco. Purdy wrote numerous columns suggesting that name to honor former Giants first baseman Willie McCovey. Although the bulk of his career was in the Silicon Valley, Mark also served as the Cincinnati Enquirer’s sports columnist from 1978-84, and he wrote a metro column for that paper in 1994-95. He also worked for the Los Angeles Times, Dayton Journal Herald, and Chicago Tribune early in a journalism career that began in 1974.

Tune in next time when we are talking to Sam Farmer!

You can follow Mark on Twitter: @MercPurdy

Follow our very own host, Todd Jones on Twitter@Todd_Jones

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Contact us at [email protected]

Todd Jones:
I'm Todd Jones, recovering from 30 years as a sportswriter. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sportswriters of our time, who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first hand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories, some we've only told each other. Pull up a seat on Press Box Access.

Todd Jones:
Mark Purdy had a big influence on my own career as a sportswriter, and so I'm excited that he's appearing on this show. And you're lucky too, because in Mark Purdy, you'll be hearing from one of America's best sportswriters, and he's a great guy. Mark is a fixture in Bay Area sports. He spent 33 of his 43-year career writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News before his retirement in 2017. Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Barry Bonds. Mark will tell us about them, and he'll put us in that tiny arena on the night of the Miracle on Ice. Hey, Mark, how you doing? Thanks so much for being on the show.

Mark Purdy:
I'm at the top of my game, Todd. I'm locked in, I'm dialed in. I've already had way too much caffeine today.

Todd Jones:
That does not surprise me, as an ex-sportswriter.

Mark Purdy:
But thank you, thank you for asking.

Todd Jones:
Hey, I'm going to cut right to the chase here. I'm going to tell you something in all honesty, you changed my life, Mark Purdy.

Mark Purdy:
Oh. Well.

Todd Jones:
It's either a blame or it's a credit.

Mark Purdy:
All right. My face is already getting red but go ahead.

Todd Jones:
This is audio, nobody sees your red face.

Mark Purdy:
How did this occur?

Todd Jones:
I'm going to tell you this. I grew up in Newport, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati.

Mark Purdy:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
And when I was in high school, you were working for the Cincinnati Inquirer and I would read your columns and I would think to myself, now that's a job I wouldn't mind doing. I like to write, I like sports and jeez, this writer he's even got a young face, he looks kind of almost my age. Maybe I'll be a sportswriter. And in all seriousness, seeing you, reading you, that just changed the way I thought about what I want to do with my ability to write and I think I told you that years ago and you got embarrassed but I wanted to say it again right at the start. Mark Purdy, thank you.

Mark Purdy:
Thank you. Well, thanks. It turned out pretty good for you, I've enjoyed your work over the years. I think every sportswriter probably had somebody that they read as a kid that they ended up trying to emulate. For me, I grew up in Salina, Ohio, which is a real small town up on the Ohio / Indiana border by Fort Wayne and the sportswriter in my hometown paper, Bob [inaudible 00:02:46] who's still alive.

Todd Jones:
Wow.

Mark Purdy:
And has taught me. Yeah, the last time I was home I went over to, he lives in Decatur, Indiana and I went over and visited him just to tell him thank you. One thing about our profession that's always been, it must be part of the culture, Todd, is guys trying to help other guys when they're young. There are a few screw heads out there, but I've always tried to be grateful for the guys that helped me write on and [inaudible 00:03:17] to. I did a stint at the Los Angeles Times, and I ended up sitting in the press box next to Jim Murray for the Rose Bowl or certain other events. This is the guy when I, this was the guy, right? And when I left the LA Times to go back to Cincinnati to write the column, I said here's my chance, right? I said, "Jim, would you have 10 minutes, 15 minutes to talk about writing columns?" Couldn't have been nicer, gave me pieces of advice I carried with me through the whole career so. I appreciated that and thank you for saying that. We were lucky guys I think to be writing sports journalism when we did.

Todd Jones:
You also had some journalism advice from of all people Sparky Anderson.

Mark Purdy:
Oh, yeah.

Todd Jones:
I think you were 21 years old and you show up at the Reds game to interview Sparky?

Mark Purdy:
So yeah, Bucky Albers was the Reds beat writer and as part of your summer internship, you would accompany the Reds beat writer to see how he did his job and do a sidebar or whatever.

Todd Jones:
Side quotes or whatever.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, so this is the first time I've been there. And I was probably 20 years old. And or 21, probably 20. Anyway, so it's a twi-night doubleheader. People may not be familiar with that concept now, but they used to play twi-night doubleheaders. Would start five o'clock and they'd played two games. And it was against the Mets. And so we get there, middle of the afternoon and, Bucky introduces me to Sparky for the game, this is Mark Purdy our intern and the doubleheader proceeds. And my job is basically to run quotes for Bucky, right?

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. He's upstairs writing on deadline, you're getting.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. Well, so now it's late at night after the second game or the second game's ending. The Reds blow a lead. They are ahead and their reliever are getting Jim McLaughlin is the reliever and he blows the save. And it's the third save in a row he's blown. But Bucky is right in the running and finish. He goes like-

Todd Jones:
Get down there and get some quotes.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. He says, "I'm not going to be able to go down. So you go down and ask Sparky how long can he possibly stick with McLaughlin as the closer?" And a couple other questions, right? So it's late, it's not late, right? And I go down there. And I walk into Sparky's office, and I'm the only guy, right? Because everybody's writing about the first game, right? Or they're on deadline. And they're just going to wrap up the second game in four paragraphs or something.

Todd Jones:
So you're the Grim Reaper showing up.

Mark Purdy:
I'm the guy walking in, this kid walking in, and Sparky is behind his desk, and he's looking kind of grumpy. And I walk in and say, "Hi Sparky, hi, I'm Mark Purdy I met you before the game." Yeah, what do you got? I go, "Well, I hate to ask you this question, but how long can you use, that's McLaughlin's third ball save, how long can you really stick with him as your closer?" And Sparky is behind his desk and he stands up. And he points at me. And he goes, "Let me tell you something young man." And I'm ready to oh, boy, here it comes. He goes, "Don't you ever apologize for asking a question like that. That's your job. If you're going to make it in this business, you got to learn to ask that question and not apologize for it. Because it's my job to answer that question. And it's your job to ask it."

Todd Jones:
Well, Sparky was telling you not to apologize for asking questions. And I wanted to ask you a question. Mark Purdy, Do you believe in miracles?

Mark Purdy:
Well, people probably ask you this question, too. What's the most exciting event you ever covered? And wow, how lucky was I in 1980.

Todd Jones:
Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, New York.

Mark Purdy:
They were the first Olympics I covered. Yeah, and my eyes are wide open. I go there. And I yeah, I end up covering that Olympic hockey tournament that includes the Miracle on Ice game. Still the most exciting thing I've ever covered being that. Have you ever been there Todd?

Todd Jones:
No. I want you to tell us about that because most of us have not been to Lake Placid. So you're there the night that America upsets the Russians 4 to 3. And it was not for the gold medal. People think it was the gold medal, it was a semifinals.

Mark Purdy:
Right?

Todd Jones:
And actually, it was on tape delay. It wasn't even live television.

Mark Purdy:
Right. Which I don't know that I knew that at the time, you're there. I don't think people, people seen the movie, and I don't think people really understood just how isolated and how small that place was and what a bubble you were in. So you didn't really quite have, you sort of knew the way the outside world was looking at it. But you're really, it's a very small number of people. It's a small arena. It's a small-

Todd Jones:
Yeah, how big was the arena? Tell us about the arena being in there.

Mark Purdy:
It was like a big high school gym with a hockey rink inside.

Todd Jones:
Like 8,500 [inaudible 00:08:43] or something.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, probably sits 8,000 people, maybe, maybe.

Todd Jones:
8,000? That's not even a big place.

Mark Purdy:
Bleachers, bleacher seats. And I remember we sat up in the bleachers. And it wasn't really a balcony, it was just kind of the extension of lower bowl, but there was a walkway. And I remember David Israel of the Chicago Tribune before stood up and goes like, "So I want everybody know, just in this instance, it's okay to cheer in a press box." Which everybody laughed, and nobody cheered anyway. But we were just so stunned and didn't know-

Todd Jones:
So, what was it like?

Mark Purdy:
Anyway, it's a one stoplight town, it's a one stoplight town and it's cold, and they're really not, if you can get there you could get in to see the game. Because it was hard to get to. So but if got there, there were tickets around, right? Because there were just so yeah, yeah. So the people in there were really, I know, everyone was so psyched. And-

Todd Jones:
Because the Russians were just a machine, they were Pros.

Mark Purdy:
Oh, yeah. Well, we have a setup you see how the Soviet Union was the greatest hockey team in the world. And well remember, they could not have their players play in the NHL. So nobody's expecting the USA to do anything but kind of show up and put up a good fight. And I remember in it before that week, but the USA team is good and they're winning. And the Olympic village was later converted, it was built so that it can be converted to a prison afterwards.

Todd Jones:
Oh, nice.

Mark Purdy:
There may still be a prison there. I don't know. And so was that, and then they set up trailers on there. So I remember going out to clean up, going out there, yeah. Again the access, I can remember going out to talk to these guys, leaning there, leaning up against the portable trailers or whatever, and talk to them. And Jim Craig the goalie is saying, "Well, I just want to try to do what I always do, and I'll see the puck and stop the puck" And I'm like, "You better be ready to eat a lot of rubber." It's going be a romp. Soviets are going to roll.

Mark Purdy:
Well to much to our surprise of course, the USA hangs in there, hangs in there hangs in there. And holy crap the [inaudible 00:10:54], I think Mike Eruzione scores the go-ahead goal with 10 minutes ago.

Todd Jones:
And then it's a goal, right. What was that like? When he scored.

Mark Purdy:
When he scored, the building is just going nuts. And we're going holy crap. There was a lot dramatic scenes, the Soviet coach, who turns out later as Sergei Makarov told me [inaudible 00:11:17] as soon as those guys told me, they really hated their coach. That was part of the dynamic of this. He was just a taskmaster, bad guy. And he pulls the goalie, their great goalie. So the place is going nuts, and Todd those last eight, ten minutes where it seemed they took two hours, right. I later watched the whole game on video and it really was, there weren't many whistles. It was really eight minutes. But we're there, holy crap, holy crap. And

Todd Jones:
The Russians just kept shooting.

Mark Purdy:
Oh, yeah, I'm 27, 28 years old. And this is amazing. And not realizing that 40 years later, and that's still the most exciting thing I've ever witnessed. And then boom, it's over. We don't hear our Michael say, the Miracles, but-

Todd Jones:
Do you believe in Miracles?

Mark Purdy:
But, holy shit, they did it. And now we got to write this, right.

Todd Jones:
So what was the feeling there?

Mark Purdy:
Well, the press conferences were on the arena still, right next door to Lake Placid High School. And the working room was the high school gym.

Todd Jones:
Really? That was a press center.

Mark Purdy:
That was the press room. And we were writing on typewriters and feeding it into telecopiers. And the press interviews were in the auditorium, the school auditorium. And these guys come in and they're late, and then we go back into the gym and I'm pounding. And I had gotten to know a couple of the Soviet writers. In that era the Soviet journalists, they basically had to write what the government told them. And so in the gym there, I run across this guy and said, "So what are you going to write after this?" And he says, "I have to talk to my editor." I saw him later that night, I said, "So what did your editor tell you to write?" "President Carter ordered the USA to win and they told the officials they had to make sure the USA would win." So, that was the Soviet spin on the story.

Todd Jones:
Well, you were very fortunate to be there, it's really the sports moment of American history, the last 50 years and, you were there to chronicle it. You had great fortune. And then four years later you had great timing. You move out to California, to the Bay Area, just when the 49ers, the San Francisco 49ers dynasty is really in flight. That must have been feeling fortunate too, to show up and there's Bill Walsh the coach, and there's Joe Montana the quarterback and Jerry Rice. And so all of a sudden you're covering one of the great dynasties in the NFL history.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, that was traveling with the Beatles every week. Todd, they go to the hotel and people would, I remember one Hotel in those days, you would stay at the same hotel as a team. And we are walking and the team would all be in one wing and to be heavily guarded, but when we're walking down a hall and there's these five people sitting in the hallway. What are you doing? Well Joe Montana might walk back here, we're going to get an autograph. And we're like, well, I got news for you, Joe Montana is not going to walk down so. We are not going to have it. You guys can, God love you, but you go home. And I go out to eat, have some drinks come back, they're still sitting in the hall. There's a blood team and then yeah, again I know those guys. See I'd known Bill Walsh because he had been an assistant on the Bengals staff to Paul Brown, Right?

Todd Jones:
Right, for eight years he was in Cincinnati. People forget that.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, he was the offensive coordinator there and he got passed over for the head coaching job. A guy named Tiger-

Todd Jones:
Tiger Johnson.

Mark Purdy:
... Johnson got the job instead. And Bill carried that chip on his shoulder the rest of his life. He thought Paul Brown had dissed him. And that in terms of, first of all, not appointing him head coach, but also there'd been other jobs that people had called Paul Brown about Bill Walsh and Paul had, I talked to Mike Brown Paulson about this later. And I said, "What was all about?" He was, "Well, we didn't tell people not to hire him, we just said, this guy's kind of flaky, he's a flaky guy, he's from California. He's kind of flaky [email protected] And you know what, Bill was flaky. He's also brilliant.

Todd Jones:
So six years after he got passed over for the Cincinnati job, he takes the 9ers to the Super Bowl and they play Cincinnati, right?

Mark Purdy:
And they beat the Bengals, and they beat the Bengals. He beat the Bengals twice. Oh, no, he beat the Bengals in-

Todd Jones:
'81 and '89.

Mark Purdy:
'89, yeah, twice he beats them. And he and I would talk about Paul Brown. And how fortunate we were all of us, right to interact with that guy because he kind of invented modern pro football. But, to Bill's view it was the guy that always had screwed me out of getting an NFL head job.

Todd Jones:
So you really think that drove him a lot? Do you think that drove Walsh?

Mark Purdy:
Yes. I don't know what percentage of that, Bill was brilliant and quirky and flaky.

Todd Jones:
So give us an example of.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, well he was a brilliant guy, but he was very insecure guy. He grew up on the East side of the Bay here, in San Francisco Bay Area, in town called Fremont. Which is the blue-collar side Bay. He went to San Jose State, which is the big state school here, but it's not Stanford. It's not Cal. But Bill liked to think of himself as a sophisticated guy. And he was in many ways, but he always kind of carried that, I'm just a guy from Fremont and San Jose State and out to prove the world. I'm not just a guy from San Jose State. So he was very, very conscious of his image and the guys who worked for him just said after a loss you couldn't talk to him. And I saw some of that. I remember they lost a game in Arizona on a Monday night and went in, I went in the coach's office afterwards. And he was just drained white and just had his hands in his hands. And this is after he's won Super Bowls, right?

Todd Jones:
Right.

Mark Purdy:
But he was just always insecure. And I think, there's some of it might stem from being passed over by Paul Brown, right? It was always in the back of his head. So about two months, my last conversation with him is about two months before he died, okay. He had leukemia and we're together and I'm actually interviewing him about something about San Jose State. And at the end of it I close my notebook and said, "Bill just want to say over the years, you've always been very open and honest with me and I appreciate that. And the fact we've had a good professional relationship means a lot to me." Blah, blah, blah. And he looks at me, he's like, "You know, I'm not dying today." And I say, "I know you're not dying today. But I just wanted to just say that" I said, "I go back all the way to Paul Brown." And then he starts talking about Paul Brown again.

Mark Purdy:
And I said, "Well, did Paul ever apologize to you for passing you over?" Then he goes, "No, he never did." He goes, "Well, he did sort of." I said, "What do you mean?" Well after Paul, excuse me, after Bill resigned from the 49ers, he spent some time as an NBC analyst very briefly. He didn't like it. And so at one point they asked him to go interview Paul Brown, okay? It's some, I know it might have been a playoff game or something.

Todd Jones:
That must have been interesting.

Mark Purdy:
So yes. So they set it up. Paul Brown is being interviewed by Bill and the interview's concluded. I don't know what they are talking but the interview was about the game and Paul, the Bengals and whatever. But they never bring up topic A, right? He's like, "Why the hell did you pass me over for that job?" Right?

Todd Jones:
That's not an elephant that's a herd of them, that's a herd of them, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, but Bill never brings it up. But bill tells, so the interview is over and Bill starts walking out of the room. And Paul stops and points at him and says, "Bill, I made a mistake when I didn't hire you." And Bill, I said, "What do you say?" He says, "I told him look, Paul, it's okay, everything turned out okay." And I said, "Well, that's an apology." He was like, "Not a real apology" I said, "Well, it's kind of nice." And I said, "Did it mean anything to you that he said that?" And he paused and Bill says, "Yeah, you know what though, it did, it did mean something. It didn't mean something."

Todd Jones:
Tell us about Montana. When I think about Joe Montana, here's one thing that comes to mind for me, is I can't name you one quote uttered by Joe Montana. And I mean that as a tribute to him.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. Well, first of all, he didn't care about any of that stuff. He actually was very available for quotes. It just yeah, quote was Joe. You know what he would do? You'd say what happened on that interception? And he would just explain, "Well, the X receiver went this way. And so detailed in the terminology, you couldn't really use the quote, right? But he would be open to explaining what happened. And there was one good quote he gave me once about, because I was talking to him once about, how difficult it is to play quarterback in the NFL, and how he developed his ability to kind of diagnose these things under really tense, he was the master of the two minute drill and all that. And he said, it's really not, it's not as hard as, at least for him, as you think. He says, it's like, when you're, you don't think about this when you're driving a car a lot. Let's say you are a driver and you come to a busy intersection. And you have to navigate that intersection.

Mark Purdy:
I'm paraphrasing what he said. He says, you come and there's a car over here to your right, there's a car coming straight ahead at you, there's another car that may or may not stop coming this way. You want to turn this way, there might be a pedestrian walking across the street, and you process all this in seconds, right? To make the decision about where to steer the car and push [inaudible 00:22:03]. It's like that. If you do it often, practice it and all that. It's like that when you're playing quarterback.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, but when you're driving a car, you don't have these monsters trying to rip your head off.

Mark Purdy:
No, that's one difference. But you might have a truck bearing down on you. But yeah, so he-

Todd Jones:
That's an interesting name for it, I never heard of that.

Mark Purdy:
I'm sure he said it in such a detailed and whatever way that I couldn't exactly quote it word for word, because he was just not that kind of guy. But he was, that craziness of him and Steve Young, both who are I thought I had pretty good relationships with, it got so nuts Todd that, I guess I can tell this now. Joe, and I wasn't, I was a columnist, I would show up twice a week there, right? Not every day like the guys but, I got to know those guys.

Mark Purdy:
And Joe and his wife had a kid, right about same time we did. And we'd talked about the babies and all that. But Joe would pull me aside after practice, and again this would never happen now, right? And say, "You know what Steve? Steve did this, this, this?" And then the next day, Steve would say, "Mark, you know what Joe's telling people I did?" No.

Todd Jones:
Wow, sounds like high school or something.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, I'd playing dumb, right? Oh, no. And I think too, I still don't think those guys were real close. But I think they kind of come to terms with what that was all about. And it was really about Bill [inaudible 00:23:41] back to Bill Walsh again. Bill was playing them against each other because he thought it would make both of them better, with that dynamic.

Todd Jones:
Well those great 49ers teams played in one of the most God awful places that I've ever covered a game in and that's Candlestick Park. Just a dump of a stadium. And you were in that stadium in 1989 when of all things we had the A's and the Giants, the Bay series. The A's and the Giants in the World Series. It's just before game three is going to begin you're sitting, where were you sitting at Candlestick Park?

Mark Purdy:
Bob Hunter talked about the auxiliary press boxes and even though I was working a local, the press box at baseball press box at Candlestick was so tiny. And so we're in the upper deck, basically in the stands with some tables set up. You've been there. I can remember who we were standing next to, the great Gary Nunn for the day. He was on another date I think.

Todd Jones:
He's always dating.

Mark Purdy:
So I'm standing next to Gary Nunn, it's what, eight minutes before the national anthem or whatever. And yeah, the thing started, the whole stadium starts shaking. And Gary looks at me and goes like, "What?" Well I said, "It's an earthquake don't worry."

Todd Jones:
Don't worry?

Mark Purdy:
Well, no, it'll be over in a second, right? Those are experiences I'd had with earthquakes here. This one is not over in a second, it goes on and goes on is going. And I look up, and I remember looking up to my left to where the football press box was way higher up. And the windows in the football press box are like gello, bubbling in and out, bubbling in and out. And I remember thinking in my head, if one of those, if those windows start popping out, because the place full. And I'm doing all these calculations, if that part of those windows pop out, and this place is full, we're in trouble, we're in real trouble. And just about then after I don't know, 12, 15 seconds, it does stop. And the weirdest thing Todd was, so it stops and the immediate reaction from the crowd is this lusty cheer. Yeah, Well that's the Bay Area.

Todd Jones:
It's cool, man.

Mark Purdy:
Think about the two Bay Area teams are playing in this stadium and they have an earthquake right before the two Bay Area teams [inaudible 00:26:03]. I don't know, I'm not mystical guy, but think about that. The whole season comes down to this and they have this earthquake. And now the color's coming back to Gary's face and probably mine.

Mark Purdy:
And we go down to the field, and the players are just milling around. What's going on, the power's out. And finally after, I don't know 20 minutes or so they said, well we're not playing this game, right. And I had walked around the stands there was a chunk of concrete that fell down in the right field. If you remember there was a guy, I don't remember these scenes in my eye, but I know I saw a video later, some guy is up repairing a light bulb on the light tower. Is this [inaudible 00:26:53]

Todd Jones:
Oh, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
He's hanging on the light towers it's swaying back and forth. And so finally, they say it's off. So I go to down by the Giants, when you were at Candlestick, you know where those locker rooms [inaudible 00:27:07].

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), oh yeah.

Mark Purdy:
And so the players are told look, the games off, you guys should go home, but you better get out of here before the crowd disperses. So the players are in their uniforms Todd and they're going out to the players parking lot in their uniforms with their families. And I'm talking to some of them. And I remember Robbie Thompson was the second baseman, and he's still in there and he'd just tell me what it's like and what his thoughts are or whatever, what his experience was. Willie Mays had been in the equipment manager's office and comes out and he was like, "I've never been scared in this ballpark before." He [inaudible 00:27:42] great quotes. And some fan comes up to Robbie Thompson, "Can I have your autograph?"

Todd Jones:
No.

Mark Purdy:
Robbie Thompson just looks them and like, "You know we just had an earthquake, right?"

Todd Jones:
No.

Mark Purdy:
And I'm trying to get out here with my family, right? The fans are always going to be fans, right. It was an unforgettable night.

Todd Jones:
Think about it.

Mark Purdy:
Candlesticks is my favorite ballpark, even though it's the shittiest ball.

Todd Jones:
Why?

Mark Purdy:
Because it held up during the earthquake. Maximum weight on those girders, maximum weight, house is full, biggest earthquake we have in the Bay Area in my lifetime. And the thing held up. So how can I say otherwise?

Todd Jones:
I was going to say that the fact that the Candlestick Park did not fall to the ground, and really have a horrible, horrible tragedy is amazing. Because I had been in there and that place was awful.

Mark Purdy:
It was horrible. Some people say they miss it, they're lying. It was.

Todd Jones:
No, nobody misses the Stick.

Mark Purdy:
We have this beautiful new ballpark here.

Todd Jones:
Oh, yeah. The Giants went in to a much, much nicer ballpark, sitting right there on the water and you have become part of the legend of the San Francisco Giant's Park, because you are the man, and I think Leonard Koppett of the Oakland Tribune played a role in this too. But you guys, you came up with this idea that beyond right field the water should be named after Willie McCovey, right? Tell us about how you can up with that.

Mark Purdy:
Well, I'll tell you the short version. For people who don't know Willie McCovey, his great hall of fame hitter. Hit 521 home runs. And was a more, actually more beloved player here in the Bay Area than Willie Mays. Who people here thought came from New York. McCovey was around he grown up as a San Francisco Giants. And so they build a new ballpark. It's announced that they're going to build a statue of Willie Mays on the plaza behind home plate, and the address of the ballpark is going to be 25 Willie Mays Plaza. So in the pre-opening hype that's part of it, and also you're going to be able to hit home runs into the Bay. And so again this is how things fall together. So the year before that they're building the ballpark, ballpark's under construction. I'm with my kid we're going to the X Games, which are at Pier 39.

Mark Purdy:
And we're driving over the left [inaudible 00:30:15] bridge. And I looked down and that body of water I'm like, well, that's not the bay, I don't know what that is. It's this inlet I don't know what it is, but it's not the bay. I'm going to call BS on the Giants for that. And so the next day, at the ballpark and the giants are having some sort of ceremony honoring one of their playoff teams or something that McCovey and played on. And they have all players there but McCovey is not there, and I'm well, where's McCovey? Well, he's not feeling great. He has some income tax problems and had gotten in trouble for that, he's kind of ashamed of that. And he's [inaudible 00:30:48].

Mark Purdy:
That's really a shame because he's part of this [inaudible 00:30:52] of this team and so then in the back of my mind, I'm remembering this thing with the water that my son and I driven over. And so now we're in the lunchroom and I'm sitting there with a couple guys and Leonard Koppett we mentioned. And I'm going like Hey, is this the craziest idea but if they're going to name the home plate thing after Mays, they ought to do something with McCovey, they ought to put McCovey's name on that water out there. And they could call it McCovey river, McCovey run, McCovey something. And Leonard says, "McCovey Cove, it's a [inaudible 00:31:29] right?" I'm going like, "You're right, McCovey Cove. So I end up Write-

Todd Jones:
Teamwork, you and Leonard working together, [crosstalk 00:31:35].

Mark Purdy:
I end up writing the column, this is what should happen and [inaudible 00:31:39]. I'm bench Oh, and I went to talk to J.T. Snow the first baseman of the Giants at the time. So what do you know about Willie McCovey? I don't know a lot about him. I might know numbers, but there was a different generation, right?

Todd Jones:
Right, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Well, here's another reason so that people will remember who Willie McCovey was and when kids come to the ballpark and their parents tell them who Willie McCovey, this is who. And also Willie McCovey great left-handed hitter. The balls going over to right field wall will fall in that water, right? It makes sense, it all just fit. So I write this column saying this is what the Giants ought to do, and San Francisco ought to do. The owner name this McCovey Cove. And nothing happens. The column gets no response, right?

Todd Jones:
No juice?

Mark Purdy:
No. Except I get a phone call from Willie McCovey, or is actually his agent and says McCovey wants to have lunch with you. Okay, so your policy is probably the same as mine. Hall of Famer wants to have lunch with you. You go have lunch with a Hall of Famer, right?

Todd Jones:
Oh, yeah, I think so. That's a good call.

Mark Purdy:
So we met at the Country Club he belonged to. And he, I promised I would never share everything about that lunch, but it was really special. And aside I'm wondering is he pissed off about this idea. You never know with these guys, right? You don't know what.

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Purdy:
So I wrote and wrote again. And we got a map and showed people where it was and lo and behold, after the second or third column, Larry Barrow the Giants executive comes to us, you know what? I think we're just going do that. I think we're going do that. I think we're going to name it McCovey Cove. And so they did. And it was, I've had a lot of bad ideas in my life, but that was a good one. And it makes me happy when I... And the bonus Todd was it reconnected McCovey to the organization.

Todd Jones:
All right, it was good, right?

Mark Purdy:
All over sudden he would show up at the ballpark a lot more. It got him back involved with the Giants. And he became a beloved kind of fixture on the ballpark. And that made me so happy and he and I kind of developed a nice relationship out of that, which led to one of my favorite little moments in my career, which is the Giants were having the all star game and whatever year it was there. And they're having the home run hitting contest. And McCovey's made the honorary captain of that, right, because.

Todd Jones:
I think it's 2007, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Okay, whatever. And so I asked McCover, "Can I just follow you around that night?" He says, "Yeah, sure." So I'm following around that night. And so this is an hour or so before the home run hitting contest. And we end up in the equipment manager's office, Mike Murphy's the guy's name. And Guess who? So it's his office, this kind of small office of the equipment manager, where a lot of players just like to hang out because Mike Murphy is a great guy, right? It's me, it's Willie McCovey, it's Frank Robinson, it's Willie Mays, and the equipment manager. And I know what it's like [inaudible 00:34:41] and in this room I totaled it up and it was a total of 1,767 home runs in that room or whatever.

Mark Purdy:
And I'm just there, and me. And well, this is, who doesn't belong, right? And I just sat back and for 15, 20 minutes, those guys just started telling stories and I'm thinking how, what a lucky SOB I am, right? This idea I had about McCovey Cove ends up. Here I am in this room with these three Hall of Famers. Three of the greatest home run hitters of all time. And they're trusting me to, if I'm with McCovey I'm good, right?

Todd Jones:
Yeah, right.

Mark Purdy:
That was a good column.

Todd Jones:
Well, before we turn our attention away from baseball and wrap this up, I wanted to ask you about one guy who seemed to launch a lot of baseballs out into McCovey Cove. And that's Barry Bonds.

Mark Purdy:
He was not friendly with the media, we all know that. And my attitude toward him was, as I told him, I get paid the same whether you MF me or whether you want to answer my questions. And so it's okay, just let me know if you're available, fine, If you're not fine. But let's try to keep this professional.

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), right.

Mark Purdy:
And sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn't. Todd to me he was just, I never felt animus toward him. I just felt he's just one of the weirdest guys ever. I never felt sorry for him, but I felt he was kind of a sad person in this respect. Barry for some reason just couldn't, he just couldn't relate to people. Not just the media, he couldn't relate to people the way you and I do, or the way an average guy of any color could. In terms of having a conversation or whatever, it was just everything was just off. And it was with his teammates.

Todd Jones:
You could see it in the locker room.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. First time I really tried to have a conversation with him. And we did have some conversations later. But a spring training 1993, he's joined the Giants, I show up in Scottsdale and introduce myself. I met with [inaudible 00:37:07] at his locker. Here's who I am, this is what I do. I promise not to bother you unless I really have a question I need answered. If you don't want to answer it, that's okay, just tell me. But I get paid the same whatever you do. But I think people are really interested in you, obviously, and so it would be great if. And today for the first column I don't want to bug you that much, but I'd like to write about your time growing up as a little leaguer on the peninsula.

Mark Purdy:
And everybody thinks Michael Jordan was this great natural athlete when he did have national [inaudible 00:37:38]. But even as a kid, he would go from playground to playground, finding the best game, [inaudible 00:37:42] as he was obsessed, right? And that's one reason he became a great player. I said as a kid, you must have really been into baseball and love by name. So if you could give me the name of your little league coach or something that I could call and maybe have some stories about that.

Todd Jones:
What did he say?

Mark Purdy:
He pauses, he looks at me he goes, "Yeah, I'll give you the name, I'll give you his (beep) name. He's six feet under the (beep) ground." He turns around pivots and walks away back toward the training room.

Todd Jones:
That was your first interaction?

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. And I looked and the guy sitting at the next locker, Matt Williams.

Todd Jones:
Third baseman, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Looks up at me and goes, "Better get used to it that's our new outfielder." That's our new outfielder. And I'm thinking, well it turned out the guys wasn't dead, right? One time he was at the all star game in Cleveland Todd, and he does this really nice thing. He's doing something for bone marrow donation for there's this kid from Oakland that's there.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, good story, yeah he's doing a good deed.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah, he's doing good, doing the thing. And he's promoting it. And so, after that presser is over, he goes back to the National League locker room. And he's the only guy there because all the other players were out in the [inaudible 00:39:10] never did exercises or anything. And so I said, "Hey, I'd like to ask a few more follow up questions about that." And he goes, "You're going to write something nice about me?" And I said, "Well, Barry my policy is when people do nice things, I do write nice things about them." He goes, "Well." I said, "Well, what's so weird about you, Barry?" And this is true. They'll be a game where you hit three home runs, and writers will want to come down and talk to you about that. And you say, tell us to eff-off or whatever. And go talk to some other people, I'm not into it today. I don't want to deal with it today.

Mark Purdy:
So we do we go talk to other people. But then when you strike out two times, and maybe to end the game or a playoff game, he had famously.

Todd Jones:
This was in Pittsburgh [inaudible 00:40:00] yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Yeah. But then he'll sit and talk for a long time about I messed up, I let the team down, I just really shouldn't, that was just awful, I've really taken it on personally and I really hate what happened. And he would go on and talk about that. But then, which is interesting, but then he [inaudible 00:40:23] complain you guys only write about me when I do bad stuff.

Todd Jones:
No, was your fault, yeah.

Mark Purdy:
Well if you're talking at length after you do something bad. We're kind of going to write more about that, then when you do some good and tell us to go (beep) off, right. I don't understand that part of your personality. He goes like, "Well, you don't know the way I grew up." I said, "Well, I know a little bit about the way you grew up, let's talk about it." He goes, "Oh, no, I'm not going to go there." I said, "Well, I want to help people understand why you're that way." He goes, "You're going to write whatever you want anyways." I said, "Well, that's Yeah, that's my job, but I want to hear." Saying, "Well, you wouldn't really understand it." I'm saying, "I'm here, I got my notebook, I'm here." Well, no I'm not going to go there.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, I just I always felt perplexed in my interactions with him when he would come through Cincinnati, with the Giants or the Pirates. And it just, I remember one time I went up to him early in the season, he's sitting on his locker. I said I'm just going go and ask for one on one, just for the hell of it. I'm just kind of curious about what kind of bad response I could get. Well, I got the exact opposite. He starts talking. And he kept talking. And he and I kept talking, and went on for 20 minutes. And I realized I looked over and the pack of San Francisco writers were all looking over at my[crosstalk 00:41:47].

Mark Purdy:
Who's this guy.

Todd Jones:
Where I'm standing with him. Basically who is this guy. And what I realize is, Bonds is just messing with those guys.

Mark Purdy:
Yes.

Todd Jones:
That's why he's talking me.

Mark Purdy:
Exactly.

Todd Jones:
He doesn't know me from Adam. He doesn't care who I am. He wants to mess with those San Francisco writers. So he's given me 20 minutes alone.

Mark Purdy:
It had to wear him out, Todd. You know what? I think, I don't know about you but, I believe you use up more energy, it's harder to be an A-hole than a good guy. Because you got to have this thing in your head calculated like that.

Todd Jones:
And I've always was curious about the idea of what drives these people. And you mentioned it with Bill Walsh and the idea of being overlooked, and how he never really let that go. I was always fascinated by the people who are so great at what they do in athletics, what is it that drives them? And that's what I mean by dealing with Bonds. Everybody knows he was difficult, but I was always wondering, why do you have to make it difficult?

Mark Purdy:
Right, yeah. And the short answer is, he thought he had to be that way to be a great player.

Todd Jones:
And maybe that's true. You know what I mean? Who knows, that's all they know.

Mark Purdy:
Right. But you know what? He cared a lot about what people thought about him. This thing with the steroids, I think I'm-

Todd Jones:
Human nature, they all, we all do.

Mark Purdy:
You know as I do. Whatever people think. No, he cared a lot. I covered every minute of his perjury obstruction of justice trial. And it came apparent to me through the testimony, all these people. Why would Barry even care, right? Whether people cared whether he used steroids or not? He cared because he was trying to prove that he did, right. When he did. But he wanted any [inaudible 00:43:25] they found him, they found him guilty of obstruction of justice. He appealed it. I knew his attorney, this had to cost him into seven figures Todd, to appeal this obstruction of justice clause. And he got an overturned. So in his mind now.

Todd Jones:
He won.

Mark Purdy:
He won. Yeah.

Todd Jones:
Right. And that's all that mattered in the end [inaudible 00:43:48]. So I don't know. Well he wouldn't let us go on a ride with him, but Mark Purdy you grew up in Solano Ohio, population 7,000.

Mark Purdy:
Well hold on.

Todd Jones:
And you went into a career, 43 years you traveled the five continents, 14 Olympics more than 30 Super Bowls. We didn't even talk about Super Bowls really. It's an amazing amount of places and events and people that you covered, the characters. And you're always great for taking us on a flight. So you never knew as a sports writer where you're going to be or how you were going to get there. But I'll wrap it up with this. I was on another Olympic bus one time and I think we were in Greece. And I was sitting on the bus, sharing a seat with you, and not to get too weepy or anything, but I just thinking to myself, how did some kid from Kentucky end up in Greece, doing exactly what he wanted to do because of the guys sitting next to him?

Mark Purdy:
Oh, well.

Todd Jones:
And it was a real special moment.

Mark Purdy:
Well, that's really sweet of you to say that, thank you. We were lucky to be born at the right time to have the right intersection with the career where we could have moments like that. I am humbled by you saying that and I guess that's all I can say so. You held up your own sir, I still have some clips, some Todd Jones clips somewhere that are [inaudible 00:45:13] they like something.

Todd Jones:
They come with crayons.

Mark Purdy:
Remember newspapers? Yeah, remember those?

Todd Jones:
They are good kinley right? [crosstalk 00:45:20].

Mark Purdy:
Somebody wrote something good I still have.

Todd Jones:
All right, I'm going to end this lovefest before the border control sports writers gets rid of us. But thank you, thank you in all seriousness for a great career and your friendship. And thank you for taking us on a ride in this episode.

Mark Purdy:
Sure.

Todd Jones:
Thanks for listening to Press Box Access. You can find us here with a new episode every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple podcast, or on your favorite podcast app. We'd love for you to review us five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media, drop us an email at [email protected] And be sure to spread the word, everyone is welcomed here. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to executive producers Michael D'aloia and Gerardo Orlando. Producer Sarah Willgrube and our audio engineer Dave Douglas. I'm your host Todd Jones. It's closing time, rock on.

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