Mark Whicker edited transcript
[00:00:03.490] - Todd
Hey, Mark, I'm so glad you're joining us on press box access.
[00:00:07.060] - Mark
Thank you. Looking forward to it.
[00:00:11.090] - Todd
Good. After nearly a half century in sports writing, you got out on your own terms, which is great. I'm so glad to hear that you retired in February. I'm very happy for you. specifically recall a great night many moons ago in Sydney, Australia when we had a few Victoria Bidders, as I recall.
[00:00:38.150] - Mark
I don't know if you remember there was more than one of those nights.
[00:00:43.310] - Todd
Yeah. So they all kind of run together, those VBS. Quite a punch to them. Mark, you've always been such a good storyteller, even away from the keyboard. When you think about your career in scribes, getting together at watering holes, did you have a go to story for sports writers or a quintessential sportswriter story that you remember?
[00:01:04.410] - Mark
No, I think, generally speaking, when we would get together, it would be after a game and we talked about the game and things that happened. That's one of the things I really enjoyed about the group that we had, especially the World Series or an NBA Finals or fight or anything like that. People were really engaged and glad to be there. And there was always something going on, everybody's opinions, and you'd kind of go back and hear what everybody else thought and wonder if you actually already written by then and you wondered if you'd actually written what you wanted to. And those were very creative things because even though we were having a good time and cutting up, it was also creative from the process because you would think of ideas that had not occurred to you at the time and it helped you the next day when you went out and did a follow story or an early column. So I think the one story that I enjoyed was at the Masters one year at the Upstairs Lounge. We were talking about the old days when sports riders would get drunken sort of, before they wrote and sometimes the story wouldn't quite get to the office.
[00:02:27.150] - Mark
And Clyde Bolton from Birmingham was sitting there and he was lamenting those days and how the business had changed. And he said, you know, back in the old days I could pass out right on this floor and three or four guys, they'd write my story for me. Now they'd write a story about me, which is true. That's exactly what it is.
[00:03:02.030] - Todd
Yes, it's changed that way. I always remember stories Bucky Albert once told me about a guy passing out in the press box and Bucky, the long time he covered the Reds and other things in Dayton, he said that the guy then took everybody's carbon copies, stacked them up and said, imagine a.
[00:03:18.610] - Mark
Guy like me having to copy shit like this. Yeah, there was a guy in South Carolina this was back in the days of Western Union where you would hand it to the person, they would just punch it in and it was great. You didn't have to worry about sending it yourself. And there's a guy named Scoop who one of the South Carolina writers who was a little indisposed and nobody said anything. They noticed what was going on and suddenly they got a notice back from Scoop's paper and it said the guy said, Gentlemen, I really appreciate it, but we already have three Scoop Vladimir stories here. That's more than we can handle. Yeah, and that's the thing. They didn't even have to communicate. They just did it.
[00:04:08.710] - Todd
Yeah, that's great. It was part of being in a tribe. Well, you were a true road warrior. You were a dateline machine, especially in your years in Philly and 35 years in Southern California, mostly at the Orange County Register. And you spent those formative years in Philly, and we'll get into that. But I wanted to start with where you started, and that's in your home state of North Carolina, land of college hoops, also NASCAR, but college hoops, you started off your career. You broke in with the 74 North Carolina team, right?
[00:04:43.640] - Mark
Yeah, I went to Chapel Hill and got out in 73. And then I worked for a year for the Chapel Hill paper. And then in 74 I got a job as a columnist in Winston Salem. But that famous 74 team, I was working in Chapel Hill at the time and I was at the game where they beat UCLA in Greensboro. I was at the UCLA game, which was astounding to watch, but it was very historic. And that State team lost one game in two years. They were undefeated in 1973, but they were also on probation, so they didn't get to go anywhere.
[00:06:00.530] - Mark
You tell people about David Thompson today and they really don't know who you're talking about. But as far as culturally, socially, everything, he was the most important player in ACC history. He came along at a time when integration was under way but wasn't really fully established yet. And it was sort of unthinkable that anybody would have a black coach or a black quarterback, even in the act. Well, that's not true. There were a couple of black quarterbacks before him, but thompson was the guy who everybody loved, and I think he did a lot for relations between the races in North Carolina. And he was just a phenomenal spectacular basketball player for his time because of his leaping ability. And those are the days when you couldn't dunk because they had no dunk rule. And his last regular season game, he just said he was in the game at the end and they were up by about 25, and he just said, Screw it, and went up for a lob and slammed it, and everybody went crazy. But those were great teams, and that state team was hard to match up with because they had a great player in Thompson, they had a really good five foot six point guard from Indiana named Monty Towel, who was a great shooter and a great distributor.
[00:07:27.590] - Mark
And then they had Tommy Burleson. It was seven foot four and might not have looked pretty all the time, but it was extremely effective. And if he wanted to score, you really couldn't stop him. So it took a team like that to beat UCLA, and that kind of end the Walton years. Didn't end the dynasty, but it ended the Walton year.
[00:10:21.470] - Todd
Well, you spent those years in your home state, and you had a stop in Dallas, I believe, and then on to Philadelphia, and now we're talking Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and college hoops. What a town. What a sports town, and what a time to be a sports writer in Philadelphia
[00:11:50.950] - Todd
You became a columnist there in Philly, but before that you were a beat reporter and you covered the Sixers and you covered the Phillies. What kind of memories do you have of those two beats?
[00:12:03.370] - Mark
Philadelphia I was covering the 70 Sixers with Jewish serving. Very high profile sport. It was the first time I ever covered a major league beat, and there's a lot about it. I mean, it's grueling. We had an eight game road trip one time that took, like, 17 days and went coast to coast. But when you're young and enjoying it and seeing things for the first time, sleep is overrated. You just try to drink it all in. And we had six writers covering it. We had six writers covering the Phillies from six different newspapers. So competition was a big deal. You didn't want to get beat on anything.
[00:13:10.450] - Mark
And the Sixers were great to deal with. They were fun, good people. Julia, serving as a prince.
[00:13:23.450] - Todd
What is your favorite?
[00:13:24.720] - Mark
I don't really have a favorite. I mean, he was just great to deal with, and he really thought about how he wanted to answer questions, and he spoke. He's proud of his vocabulary, and he was a great quote, and he would talk all the time, no matter what, and no matter he did get criticized in Philadelphia for not playing much defense and all that. He was just a professional, and I think he affected everybody in that room. And Daryl Dawkins was just a delight. Absolute. I mean, if he had lived, if he had been here today, he would have been like Barclay on TV. He had that type of wit, and he was just like a big kid. And he may not have ever been the player everybody thought he was going to be, but he was just a wonderful human being, and it made us laugh.
[00:14:16.250] - Todd
Hey, you come from love tron. You're going to be a wonderful human being. Right?
[00:14:24.030] - Mark
Those were fun days. The Phillies were different because the Phillies at that time had had a really good team for a few years, but they had flamed out in the playoffs to the Dodgers a couple of times into the Reds.
[00:15:52.240] - Mark
And so they were catching a lot of heat and they were a little surly, but they had great personalities, too. Pete Rose came that year that I covered them and as you know, there's never been anybody more fun to cover than Pete Rose. And what made it so funny, he knew how it worked. He knew how the system works. He knew what we needed. He always talked. He recognized that if he was accommodating that it would help him. That's how he looked at it. I remember one of the players was mad and didn't talk one day and Pete said, what's the matter with him? Doesn't he want to make money? That's how he looked at it. He loved talking about baseball. He loved talking about himself and that's what we wanted to talk to him about. So it was kind of a match made in heaven, but tough. McGraw was on that team. He could be funny, but baseball is different because you play every day and there's a lot of tension and there was a lot of tension with that team. And they had to be pretty thick skinned, and so did you, because there was never any pretense.
[00:17:07.180] - Mark
If they didn't read the paper, they read everything and they would call you on things. And I learned an incredible amount in those two years. The first year they weren't very good because they had a lot of injuries. The second year was 1000, 1980, and they were six games out at the end of August and won the World Series. I think that's when I learned just how long a baseball season really is and how you should draw conclusions on May 14 about what kind of year this is going to be. Because everything can change very quickly, right? Yeah. I love those years. I look back in 1980, I covered 160 out of 162 games, not knowing that they were going to be in the playoffs. So I was a little fried at the end of that. But they were a hell of a team. Schmidt, who was the best third baseman, probably who ever lived. They had Rose, who was self explanatory. Steve Carlton was the best pitcher in the way. Bob Boone. Greg Lesnsky Bank. McBride. McGraw. Manny Trio was a very underrated player when they needed to have something happen in the post season.
[00:18:20.450] - Mark
More often than not, he was the guy who was in the middle of it. And Dallas Green took over from Danny Ozark. He was the larger life character. The general manager, paul Owens was one of the great people of all time. And he was phenomenal to cover, too, because he wanted to go out, especially in Chicago when you play a day game. One of the requirements of the Beat his nickname was the Pope. And one of the requirements of the Beat was you had to go out with the Pope because around midnight or so he might get to the point where he might tell you something.
And the Pope liked it when you were out with them, too. I remember one time this is after I left, the guys were out and they had dispatched him to go on the trip. He was no longer the GM, but he was going to tell the front office whether they ought to fire the manager or not because the manager was struggling at that time. They were out in Chicago late at night and the Pope was in the bag, of course. And somebody said, well, finally said, Pope, are you all going to fire this guy or not? And Pope said, well, let me tell you something. If I were you, I wouldn't go out on any boat rides in Lake Michigan tomorrow morning. And the guy had already written paul Hagan told the story, and he went around to the corner to the payphone and told the desk. He said you know where I said that the Phillies might fire John Felsky tomorrow? Change that, too. They will fire John Felsky. That's why you become an investigative reporter. You hang around the Pope and hopefully if your liver can hold up, you might get a story.
[00:20:29.190] - Todd
Right. Well, the Phillies delivered, too. They won that 1980 championship to please the fan base, at least for a while. They did it in Veterans Stadium, by the way. One of the all time giant concrete ashtrays you can imagine. Do you have any memory of trying to work in the Vet?
[00:20:46.140] - Mark
I never saw any of the rats. I know that the Eagles people used to talk about the astronome probably had better tougher rats because it was hotter. But you have hot summers in Philly, obviously. It really gets hot down on the turf, and the whole place is hot. But I don't know. It was a great baseball stadium because it was configured that way. It wasn't as good a football stadium, but I saw a double header with a Pirate's one time in 1979. They had 71,000 people there. I mean, every few games you look down in Wrightfield and the whole section was like one big brawl. You'd have a bunch of people fighting each other. They would have these nights dedicated to certain union chapters the Pipe Fitters and the TSTs or whatever. You have some good, pretty good fights on those nights because they'd be throwing down those Schmidt's spears that they've been drinking.
[00:21:55.590] - Todd
I remember covering a Bengal's Eagles game in the Vet, and there was a municipal judge in the miles of the stadium, and they would just bring the fan.
[00:22:05.130] - Mark
And they also had a really good way, and I agreed with this. If a fan ran out on the field, they would drag him into the inside, like where the press elevator opened up down in the bottom, and you'd walk out and they would just be beating the hell out of this guy. There was no due process involved in that, but it was a tough place. It's just like anything else in Philly. It's a tough town, but it's real. The night that they won, they had had some problems in Yankee Stadium a few years ago with people running out on the field. So right in the night inning, they were up by two or three runs, and all of a sudden this door opens in center field and Kansas City is trying to hit the top of the night. They're not out of the game by any means, and here comes this, like, phalanx of horses with cops on them. It was like one of those islands in the Mediterranean where there's just hundreds of wild horses, except they had cops on top of them, and they lined the whole warning track all the way down to the dugouts.
[00:23:20.030] - Mark
And then you look on top of the dugouts and had these killer police dogs that were barking at everybody, and nobody ran on the field that night. And actually that was kind of the turning point because nobody really did that after that. And I remember Dick. You remember Dick Young? I remember Dick Young from New York in the press box. He loved it. He thought it was the greatest thing he'd ever seen in his life. But I remember the players talking about it was like some night in the Dominican Winter League where you have all the cops and everything, and it was a massive show of force. They could have captured some islands in the Caribbean that night with how many people they had on them out on the field.
[00:24:03.450] - Todd
Well, that captures the sports scene in Philly, especially in 1980. Several years later, you move out to California, southern California in 1987, where you become a columnist at the Orange County Register. A little different atmosphere, right? La. Hollywood, big stars, big personalities, and really none bigger at that time when you get there than Magic Johnson. It's kind of the tail end of showtime, but still there's still showtime. When you're a writer dealing with Magic, what was it like in those days?
[00:24:37.350] - Mark
How did he well, the Sixers had played them a couple of times in the Finals, and I also covered NBA Finals that they used to play against the Celtics. So that was one of the great things about working at the Daily News because they weren't provincial. If there was a good story elsewhere, they'd say, Go get it. And Magic was great. I never saw him be uncooperative. I saw moods. He was not a good loser and I saw different moods of his. But he was always cooperative, he was always good. I always enjoyed dealing with him. The thing that when went out there to work full time, like I said, I was somewhat familiar with the Lakers, but I remember asking a couple of beat guys, who are the best guys to talk to before the game when the locker room is open until 45 minutes before tip off. And I assumed they'd say Magic or Cooper or some way like that. They said, no, Kareem is the best guy. I said, really? He said, yeah. So I did. That one of my first things. I kind of took a deep breath and went over and talked to Kareem because Kareem, he's not a bullshit guy.
[00:25:48.180] - Mark
He's going to tell you he doesn't want to talk if he doesn't want to. And he was great, especially if you didn't talk to him about basketball. And he still is just a phenomenal observer of things that go on.
[00:26:01.690] - Todd
Yeah. Such a smart guy. I love his writing. He's writing some great stuff books now. And he didn't have that effervescent personality that Magic had. But obviously he was a leader in his own way and one of the great players.
[00:26:17.050] - Mark
He really when he first got there, the Milwaukee traded him there and he was supposed to lead them to a championship and all this. There were a lot of good big men in the league back then and it didn't always work out. They didn't do as well. The writers would kind of be rough with him during that time because of who he was, because he was pretty aloof. But I think when Magic came out, magic sort of not only did he make the team, a championship team, he really allowed Kareem to go do his thing without being the center of attention. And I think it relaxed him when I was there. Like I said, it was great. They were all very good. They didn't have any bad guys on the team. That was before he really became a bigger than life character. He was very interesting to talk to. He's a smart guy, too. I really enjoyed being around that team. I didn't cover them as a beat, but I was around them quite a bit.
[00:27:25.250] - Todd
Right. You developed a working relationship with Kareem who could be reticent, but I think you said that one of your favorite stories involved Kareem before the 2008 election.
[00:27:36.250] - Mark
Yes, 2008 election was coming up and it seemed apparent that Obama at least had a good chance to win, become the first black president. And I thought, I wonder what Kareem thinks about this. Because he grew up in New York in mid 60s, he knew what riots were all about. He knew what discrimination was all about. And I thought he could really kind of put it in perspective so I got an appointment with him. He was one of the studios here in Long Beach. And I went out and talked to him. He was great. He talked about how he wished his dad was still alive to see the possibility of a black man becoming president. And he talked about how he would they would put Kareem on a bus in New York when he was 15, but he was still 7ft tall and they would send him to see the grandparents in Goldsboro, North Carolina, which is in the eastern part of the state in the 60s by himself. And he said that was kind of a harrowing experience, but he told a lot of good stories.
[00:29:44.490] - Todd
Besides Kareem, are there other athletes who brought more to the media than just being entertaining or funny or not dealing with you at all? I'm talking about guys who kind of had a world view, maybe some perspective that they didn't mind sharing, not necessarily in a politicized way, that they're stumping for anything, but just guys that were interesting to have conversations.
[00:30:03.330] - Mark
I think Steve Kerr is certainly that way. He's had a pretty full life. Dad was assassinated in Lebanon when he was the president of the American University over there. And he certainly knows that there's a lot more to it outside of the game. And I think Magic was that way, too. Magic is not so much socially, but in terms of business. He was always trying to figure out how to make it in business, make it in entertainment. And he had some ups and downs. You remember he had that kind of failure, that Magic Johnson show which went over like a red balloon, but he recovered from that. And then when he. Got sick. You tend to forget that back then, if you said you were HIV positive, it was a death sentence in most people's minds, he was gone. That's the way I looked at it. I remember hearing that on the radio that morning, and he's going to have a press conference at the Forum in an hour and a half and just kind of making a beeline for the place. Yeah, it was charged. I'll say that people were stunned. I would say that day and the day Kobe got killed were two of the most days in terms of just, what can you say?
[00:31:32.150] - Mark
Unfortunately, our businesses, you got to say something. But most people can just kind of be alone with their thoughts, and we had to come up with some way to articulate what people were feeling, and it was crazy. I mean, people just jammed into this Forum club where they had the press conference, and Magic came out and talked, and that was it. And we thought. Okay. Well. The next year or so. We're going to write about the death of Magic Johnson and the fact that he was able to play in the allstar game. Only probably the next March or February. And that he kind of was a guinea pig for a lot of the therapies that they did and got in great shape and thought it off and now is a tremendously successful businessman in La. I think that's not what you were asking exactly, but that's the type of thing where he's bigger than the game. You have a guy who's a lot bigger than the game in terms of the things that he does. Well, you're out there in fantasy land all these years, and you're based in the La. Market, but really, you were traveling so much. You were always at the major events around the nation and the world. You got to see all these highs and these lows of different things. I think we share one of the highs at Sydney, and it didn't involve Victoria Bidders. It involved the runner, Kathy Freeman, the Australian track star at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She won the gold medal that night in the 400 meters. What do you remember about being in that stadium?
[00:34:34.130] - Mark
The Aussies were so proud of having the Olympics. The way they look at things, they're in a terribly remote part of the world. Nobody ever comes to see them. They're not a world power. They're very proud of what they built down there and the type of people that they are. I think that's one reason they're very proud of their athletics, because they've disproportionately been really good in a lot of different sports, and they love physical activity, they love the fight. They are very joyful athletes to categorize. And Cathy Freeman was Aboriginal and was the best in the world at what she did. They were very proud of her. And for her to be able to win 400 meters in their stadium in Sydney was something. I'm sure that it's the type of thing you make a postage stamp about, really. And I remember she came around that curve, that last curve, and the place is deafening loud, but the noise just kind of very eerie. I've been around really loud things like when Steve Garvey had a home run for the Padres and won a playoff game against the Cubs in 1984, and you couldn't send your story because it was so loud in San Diego that night.
[00:35:55.730] - Mark
She came around that curve and it was like the noise just kind of went up a couple of octaves and it didn't even sound like people anymore. It sounded like some sort of like the monolith in 2001. I mean, it was just eerie, high pitched sound. All the noise kind of came together, and the emotion. I've never been around anything like that. And for her to win and do what she did, it was phenomenal. And I remember that Olympics is very special because of that. And most of the time in the Olympics, once the world has been in your town for two and a half weeks, they're ready for you to leave. I remember in Seoul, I thought the army was going to chase us all out of the country because athletes had been misbehaving and acting like fools. And that happens almost every saddle. Just get out of here and go back to where you came from. See you later. In Australia. They were sad. They had to bring in psychiatrists to kind of give the country a pat on the back saying, the Olympics are ending. They were depressed that it was over and that their party was going to be over.
[00:37:14.760] - Mark
And you would go into an arena and do the security, and you take your stuff through the security booth and everything. And I remember somebody said, well, this is near the end of the Olympics. So I guess you'll be glad when we're gone. Oh, no, this has been great. I don't know. They wish it could lasted forever. And I think because of that feeling is what went into the emotion of Kathy Freeman that night.
[00:37:46.330] - Todd
Yeah, I remember the day before her race, I went to an aboriginal camp in the downtown area and interviewed several people there talking about the pride they had for her. So I knew the pressure that she was under from a national standpoint. And then I was so fortunate. My seat was literally in the front row at the finish line. And so you're right, when she came around that bend, it was as if this jet engine of noise just lifted her, propelled her down that back straight away. And I still think about it today and I get chills. And she sat down after finishing 20ft from me and took her spikes off. And the noise just kept rolling and rolling and rolling. And to me it might be the greatest thing I ever witnessed.
[00:38:38.120] - Mark
It was one of them for me.
[00:38:39.500] - Todd
But that sound, that moment, that was.
[00:38:43.070] - Mark
Just an incredible experience.
[00:38:45.720] - Todd
To see her do that in that type of environment under the noise was.
[00:38:50.820] - Mark
Like a physical thing. It was like a force that you could put your finger on and it was like a hurricane. Yes. It's one of the best things I've ever seen.
[00:39:04.670] - Todd
Well, that was certainly one of the highs and we both got to share that one. You've also seen some lows and a couple of those come to mind, and that involves golf. One of them was Kirnusti in 1999 when the Frenchman Jean Vondeveld blew a three stroke lead in the 18th hole. And then the other one was in 96 at Augusta National. And you saw Greg Norman Louis six shot lead in the final round of the Masters and lose to Nick Fado. Which one of those Hindenburgs was worse?
[00:39:37.510] - Mark
I think Norman was just because he had lost tournaments like that before and things like that kept happening to him. Danubeld was delightful all week. He made the thing worthwhile. His wife was great. She would come in the press room and they were having the time of their lives. He led the tournament after Friday and then after Saturday, and then he kept hanging in there. He made everybody looked at and carnesty is a very difficult golf course. It was really difficult that day. And he got to the 18th. So I was going out to 18th and I remember walking past Larry Leonard, who was Justin Leonard's dad. Justin Leonard was right behind Vanderbilt and he was telling somebody, well, Justin gave it a good run. Best guy is going to win, et cetera. And so I go out there and then all of a sudden it's like he's sitting here, he's sitting at there and I'm thinking, I'm not having a real good luck seeing what's going on but I said, Holy crap, I better get back to the press room so I can see this. Then I went back to the green when it looked like and he made a great putt to get into the playoff.
[00:40:54.190] - Mark
Nobody remembers that. And then he lost the playoff to Paul Lori, who shot at 67 and was from Scotland, which made it even better. And Leonard was also in that playoff. And I remember following Vandeville into the clubhouse with this caddy. It was just his kid, his kid. He had kind of a man bun back when not everybody had those. And he was like this guy that you would see on a French sidewalk cafe painting or something. It didn't look like a caddy or anything. His name was Christoph and we were talking to him in the locker room and he had no idea what the hell happened to Van Deville because real catty would have said, look, don't hit it there, hit it here, we're going to win. But even after he lost, I mean, it was emotional, but he came in and he was laughing and talked about what a great time he had and he gave it his best and I don't know what happened and it was kind of like, hey, let's be brave in the attempt. He left everybody with a great feeling after he lost the thing. He didn't want anybody feeling sorry for him.
[00:42:07.210] - Mark
So that part was yeah, it was raining. I mean, it was this real gloomy Scottish July day and that was a lot of fun. I would love going there for that tournament, especially in Scotland. And then the thing in Augusta was kind of the opposite. He was up by six. Norman was going into Sunday, and as has been said many times, the key to the tournament, probably in retrospect, was when Falvo birdie the 18th, which meant that he would play in the final group with Norman instead of a young Phil Mickelson. And Faldo had already kind of destroyed Norman at St. Andrews in 1990 in a head to head situation. And Faldo was intimidating. He was a big guy. He's very business like. He wasn't one of these nice shot guys. He was going to play his game. And Norman came apart almost immediately. It's funny. He's up six and it was over after twelve. It was over after the twelve. And Faldo, since this and what's lost in all this is Norman shot 78, faldo shot 67 on Sunday at Augusta and play a almost perfect round of golf. But I remember being out there like around ten and eleven and twelve when it was obvious that Norman wasn't going to get it together.
[00:43:37.190] - Mark
And it was hushed. It was like, wow, it was almost funeral. People were looking around like, what the hell is going on? Because everybody was getting ready to celebrate. Hey, Greg finally wins the Masters and it's going to prove that he's the best player in the world and all this, it was really like a freeway twelve car pile up. It was crazy. And the thing about it is, afterwards Norman comes in and he sits there and he answers every question to the best of his knowledge. He made a special with ESPN recently where they showed him playing Augusta, hitting the ball close on number nine, which is one of the places where he started coming apart. And he said, well, a little bit too late for that shot, and just being really sportsman like about it. Now. Again, Greg Norman, you could say a lot of things about him, and people have, but there's that aussie thing about the quest that it's important to win, but what's important is doing your best and having a good time and appreciating it and not trying to not really running away from it.
[00:47:11.130] - Todd
But you also saw some spectacular emotional moments as we talked about with Kathy Freeman. One of those moments I wanted to ask you about was in Yankee Stadium in 2001 at the World Series it's only a few weeks after 911. There's all of that. Sometimes I wonder, do we just forget what it was like in those early weeks after 911? But especially in New York, you're in the ballpark, it's the World Series, and the Yankees have those two consecutive nights where they have these homers by Jeter and Brochures. What was the like in Yankee, Stanley?
[00:47:46.230] - Mark
I'll never forget a lot of things about that whole thing. I remember Bush walking to the mountain, and again, regardless of what you think about him, what a great symbol that was with his presidential jacket on, walking to the mound. And security was unbelievable, but you still weren't sure what was going to happen. I mean, that was the thing that whole time period, you're always walking around, especially in New York, looking around, what's going to happen, because you had anthrax, people sending anthrax to each other. You had a sniper in DC. He really didn't know. It was a very unstable time, even in late October after what had happened in September. And here's the President kind of he walks Jonathan walking out to the mouth and throwing the first pitch. It was kind of like, hey, screw you, we're here. And that moment was great. And then he actually came up and sat in his box, which was next to the press box. But being in New York then, I think it's one of the few times where I think, even though it was just an unspeakable moment, people for a while were together. We were one country there for a few weeks.
[00:49:05.710] - Mark
And I remember just going through security and everybody kind of looking at each other and saying, let's don't take this for granted. And those games, they lost the first two in Arizona by wide margins. Arizona had Johnson and Schilling and had a really good team, and they won game three. And then game four and five came down to the very end, and Jeter hit the home run after midnight. That's when they started calling in Mr. November. And then Brochures and the noise and the celebration, on top of the fact that the Yankees had won four to five previous World Series, and there was kind of a sense of invincibility that they were always going to win. Now they didn't. They lost an incredibly hard game seven in Phoenix. And I remember going to Phoenix, the roof was open and they had a flyover and game seven and a stealth bomber came over the stadium. And of course, stealth bomber doesn't make any noise, but it was like this massive Marvel Comics looking spaceship. And I'm thinking for a while, I said, who is this? What's going to happen now? Are people going to jump out of the thing and start killing us?
[00:50:23.750] - Mark
It's the instability. Covet kind of worked slowly throughout the whole country, but back then, people were jittery and looking at each other. The dramatics of that World Series and everything that went into it were intense. Yankees winning would have been a perfect ending for a lot of people. But again, that's baseball. That's not the way it was. And they didn't win the World Series again till 2009.
[00:50:59.010] - Todd
How did it make you think about sports?
[00:51:01.710] - Mark
It made me realize, like, a lot of things that happened, that sports does have a place, and it's not because it takes our mind off things. I think it focuses us on things. I mean, to see what people are capable of doing, to see how elite athletes work and are able to thrive. I think it's inspirational. It's one of the last meritocracies around. You can know whoever you want to, you can be the son of the most powerful people in the world, but if you can't hit the curveball, you're not going to play in a big lake or if you can't drive the ball straight. Peter U line is a great example. His dad runs titles and can't be anybody more connected in golf than he was than he is. And he was the top amateur in the world, and he can't get on the PGA Tour. I mean, it's a true meritocracy. We're always told that if you work hard and you have talent and you keep at it, and if you get a break here and there, you're going to make it. And there are examples where that doesn't happen, but they're mostly it does, and I think it happens more often in sports than it does anywhere else.
[00:52:21.880] - Mark
I mean, there's a scoreboard. There's not a scoreboard in our business. We can screw up time and time again, and chances are we're not going to lose our job unless we do something really bad. But in sports, you got the numbers. The numbers determine everything, and that your performance determines everything. Politics has a place, but it doesn't determine whether you get to play or not. And I think when bad things happen, we turn to athletes not to get away from what happened, but to reaffirm who we are and what it's all about and what the best of our society can be. And that's one reason, as the years have gone on, I've really learned to appreciate that about sport.
[00:53:11.210] - Todd
I think about not the details so much about certain events or games or athletes that I was fortunate to cover, but just the surrounding emotion of certain moments, like we talked about. You were in Yankee Stadium. We were in Sydney Olympic Stadium that night. It's the emotion and the sweep of it that really kind of lingers with you and makes you appreciate that there's something bigger going on than just a winner and a loser. There's a community spirit that really sets things apart in ways that doesn't happen in other things. Interesting, that emotion can also be very difficult in times, in a collective way, and I know you personally experienced that in 2009. Mark, you've written so many great columns over the years, and you had one in 2009 that I think it's indicative of the time. All of a sudden, it was instantaneous judgment and outrage. And that was a column in which you wrote about JC. Duguard.
[00:54:26.150] - Todd
When you look back on that experience personally, what do you take away from it?
[00:54:30.300] - Mark
Well, I deserve what happened. It wasn't a good column. It wasn't a column that I'm proud of at all, and not because of what I chose to write about, but because I didn't make it clear what I was writing about. And that's always bad when the intent of your column goes haywire. You haven't done a very good job. What I was trying to do is kind of celebrate the fact that this girl who had been in captivity for 18 years was alive, and I assume maybe some people in her family still thought that she could still be alive, but most people didn't think so, and most people weren't even aware of the story. I did a column like that when Terry Anderson, the AP journalist, was released from Iran after he had been a prisoner. And it was kind of like, okay, here's what happened in sports while you were gone. And it was kind of a way to kind of joke around with things that happened in sports and everything. It certainly wasn't directed toward her, but a lot of people took it that way. A lot of people thought I was being contemptuous of her, and I certainly was not.
[00:55:41.340] - Mark
But the column was too flippant, and I didn't make it clear that this was what I was trying to do in the column. And so from that standpoint, I deserve to be criticized. And I should have written a column. I shouldn't have written it, or I should have written a different way, and I apologize in the paper. And I kind of got off social media right at that point because I knew kind of what was happening. But I got a ton of emails from people, most of which at first were very critical and in some cases abusive. But then I started getting a lot of emails from people who said, I've read you for years. I don't know what you were doing, but this has kind of gone far enough. People are being unfair to you. And a couple of emails like, I read you for years. What the hell were you doing and what's wrong with you? But we'll give you a mulligan on that one. This thing too, it lasted about a week, and while that was going on, I kept working.
[00:57:04.030] - Mark
I just kept working and didn't look back. In the end, it's just noise. It's just Twitter. It's just sticks and stones. I wasn't suspended. I wasn't fired. I don't think anybody ever said, well, I'm not going to give you an interview because of what you wrote. At least nobody told me that. But was it stressful? It was stressful for my family. It was stressful for people for me. It was stressful for people close to me. But there was a key moment right in the middle of it when I got a phone call from the woman who represented the Ducat family with the media and Erica Schultz, and she said she identified herself, and I kind of went all now. And she said, no, this is good news. She was concerned that I was catching too much grief about this. She said, I'm not only calling you to tell you that I don't think this is a big deal, and I don't see anything wrong with that column. I just got off the phone with your publisher at the Register and told him the same thing, and I was eternally and still I'm eternally grateful for that.
[00:58:15.180] - Mark
And really, after that happened, I said, I don't really care what anybody thinks about this, because if they weren't upset about it, I don't know why anybody else was. But it was a lesson. It was me being careless and sloppy. I admit to being unprofessional that day, but I deny that I was being malicious toward her. I really was not. And I think she's gone on and lived her life and got kids and written books, and hopefully that's just a footnote. And the other thing, too, like you said, everybody takes their turn in the barrel. I mean, a couple of weeks later it was somebody else, and a couple of weeks later, it was somebody else. And that's the nature of it.
[01:02:07.270] - Todd
You dealt with it as a journalist in a professional manner, and you just kept on keeping on, as they say. And that's one of the reasons that you are top ten columnist in the nation a couple of different times from APSC. It's a reason in 2015 at the Nay Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism was awarded to you. And I bring up that one because I want to end on boxing. Boxing and writing just go together so well. They always have. It just makes itself such a great it's just a great sport to write about. Why did you find that to be the case, and what did you enjoy.
[01:03:01.660] - Mark
About writing. I love boxing. To me, as I've gotten older, hockey and boxing were the two things I enjoyed being around the most because they were the most serious. Hockey is another level when it comes to competition. Those guys play with injuries that a lot of other athletes would even not even think about playing with. And the importance of what they do and the ethos of what they do, the way that the things that they feel are important. I enjoy it because it reminds me of the way sports used to be. Boxing. You're taking your life into your hands every time you go in, and you're in there by yourself. You go to the corner for 60 seconds and people give you water and handle the cuts around your eyes and yell at you, but basically it's just you and it's incredibly taxing. I think they're the best athletes around for what they do. I wish they fought a little more these days. I wish they'd fought four or five times a year instead of once or twice. But the atmosphere is for a big fight. I've been doing this a long time and I'm kind of blase about a lot of things, but if there's a big fight and the moment between introductions and when the fight starts, your hands start getting sweaty because you don't know what's going to happen.
[01:04:25.590] - Mark
And you may think you do, but you don't. And the old boxing writers were really just right out of Damon Running. They were funny, they were cynical, they loved to hang out and tell stories, and they had screwed up lives of their own, but they loved what they did and they had a tremendous baseline respect for the people who do it. And there's no more fascinating character in sports than Bob Aram, who's like 95 and is still traveling the world and is as successful now at top rank as he's ever been. I mean, they have a tremendous stable fighter.
[01:05:15.030] - Todd
What a famous boxing promoter. It's the old Yesterday I was lying, today.
[01:05:26.590] - Mark
He goes back so far, he still talks about who heavyweight champagne is. He still talks like that. But I love box and I watch it as often as I can. Actually, the sports in pretty good shape. I mean, it may not be a mainstream sport anymore, but in terms of the talent and the match ups, it's really kind of thriving at the moment.
[01:06:00.910] - Todd
You covered so many Marquis fights since the 70s. Really, what's the greatest fight you covered in Washington?
[01:06:08.110] - Mark
I think it was 83. It was Aaron Pryor and Alexis Agua in the Orange Bowl, which was like twelve or 13 rounds. It was amazing. It was like that had where Herns fight, which lasted three rounds and everybody loves it, was like times four, and they just went at it. And it was prior wine. It was in the Orange Bowl. Those are the days of miami Vice. And so it's like 40,000 people there. And there was a little from everywhere in the Caribbean and in Florida, and it was kind of a sense of menace in the air. I mean, it was exciting from that standpoint. A little spooky, too. And that was just a phenomenal fight. Aaron Pryor and they were two of the best fighters that ever lived. And Alexis Agraille was a real nobleman. He was a great guy, and Guy did a lot of things for people in Nicaragua at the time. But Leonard and Hernes, the first one was about that time. That was a great fight, too. And the best one in recent years that I saw was and I don't go to all of them, but the fourth Manny Pakia fight with one man, Walmart Hasn't, which backyard was knocked out.
[01:07:21.170] - Mark
That was just unbelievable in terms of a war and also the atmosphere in Vegas at the MGM Grand. Whenever there's a fighter like Marquez or Canelo, and they play that Mexican national anthem and everybody starts singing it, that's something that puts chills in you as well. But I don't apologize. I'm not a USC fan, but I'm a real big boxing fan.
[01:08:48.790] - Todd
Well, Mark, it's been wonderful catching up with you. I'm so grateful to have covered many games and events with you over the years. The road was full of many laughs and many of them provided by you, and I wish you the best of luck in retirement. Enjoy spending time with your wife, robin Norwood, by the way, an excellent sport for so many years, 22, I think, at the La times.
[01:09:14.290] - Mark
Very proud of what she did. She was from South Carolina and she covered the Mighty Ducks for their first few years in existence. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure she's the only woman from South Carolina, covered NHL team for a beat, but she did a lot of other things, too, and I'm very proud of what she did.
[01:09:36.910] - Todd
Well, we're going to have her on the show at some point. Too. I know you still got the hitch to write. I think you recently began a substant column. And check it out.
[01:09:45.000] - Mark
[01:09:48.170] - Todd
And you're also writing plays for the stage.
[01:09:50.940] - Mark
Yeah. That's been a lot of fun, too. It's a whole new community. And they've been very accepting of me being kind of like a looky loo in their world. And I'm enjoying that a lot.
[01:10:06.170] - Todd
I wonder what Shakespeare would have been like.
[01:10:08.170] - Mark
Not very good. I can't see Shakespeare plugging the phone into his laptop or trash 80 and batting out Macbeth. I just can't see that.
[01:10:23.610] - Todd
But do you think the Bard would have picked up the tab?
[01:10:27.450] - Mark
Yeah, I think so, but it depends on I don't know. We were all pretty good about doing that. Not too many of us had alligator arms. We all kind of ponyed up.
[01:10:38.890] - Todd
Well, I'm going to pay for this round. Mark, thanks once again.
[01:10:42.510] - Mark
Thank you, Todd. I really appreciate it. I appreciate what you're doing, because it's great to kind of be a curator of all the things that all the sports writers have done over the years. And I really do admire what you're doing and I appreciate it.