Tom Gage's Hall of Fame induction speech
Here are excerpts from Tom Gage's Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday in Cooperstown, New York:
Wow, just wow. I can't believe I'm standing here. What an honor. I am and always will be overwhelmed by it. Congratulations, first of all, to Dick Enberg, with whom I share this stage. I've long been a fan of yours, sir.
It's so great, in fact, that my niece's 6‑year‑old daughter Jenny told her mom the other day that Cooperstown, New York, is where she wants to live. When asked why, she replied, "Because Uncle Tom is going into the Hall of Fame there. But when everybody leaves, he's going to be lonely." What a sweet comment.
But, Jenny, going into the Hall of Fame doesn't mean I have to move into the Hall of Fame. And thank you, colleagues, baseball writing has been my life's work, and your respect means the world to me.
However, I'll say up front that I will thank my loved ones at the end of this speech because, frankly, I don't want to stand here for 10 minutes not being able to see because of the tears in my eyes.
When Jack O'Connell of the Baseball Writers Association called me in December, I recognized the area code, and I thought it might be him. I didn't know if they called if you finished second or third. After all, my competition was Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, someone I considered to be a great columnist, and the great Furman Bisher, an Atlanta icon for generations.
So when Jack called, the first thing I had to do was sit down, and then I needed to make sure he hadn't called the wrong number. Look, I'm not a famous guy, I know that. I've joked with friends that in the legends parade later on, you'll find me on the "Who the heck is that?" float.
I'm not a writer who has branched out to television. I'm not a familiar face. What's worse in this day and age, I don't have all that many followers. But after 36 years as a traveling beat writer, hoping to inform and entertain the entire spectrum of baseball readers, I received enough votes to be standing in front of you today, and for that I can't fully express how humbled I am.
But who am I? Well, if you've loved baseball all your life, I am you. If your first memory of watching TV is a baseball game, I am you. If you couldn't wait for the first day each spring that the new baseball cards were out, once again, I am you.
I am an adult version of a kid who wrote game stories after playing all‑star baseball, a wonderful game of spinners and discs, for hours on the floor of my bedroom. My dog ate a player one day. I mean, he ate half his disc. It was Gus Zernial of the old Kansas City A's. So even as a kid, I was able to write a story about the disabled list.
I also had a great teacher, Bill Mestdagh, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a man who is my good friend to this day. Mr. Mestdagh would give us vocabulary lists of 25 words with the assignment of writing a story with all 25. Some of the time my stories were about monsters. Of course, they were, I was only 10 years old at the time. But mostly they were about baseball. So that, too, pointed me in the direction of writing about baseball.
But I also just enjoy the game. I remember going on vacation and saying good‑bye to each of my baseball cards because I couldn't take them with me. When I got back from my beloved Cape Cod, by the way, I ran to where I left my cards, bursting with excitement to have them in my hands again.
I also remember my Uncle Donald giving me an autographed baseball when I was growing up, which I still have. And on it a player had written, "To my good friend, Tommy Gage. Al Kaline. " Never did I realize that someday I would call him my friend. Thank you for then, Al, and thank you for now.
I am probably the only sportswriter who literally dropped into the profession. But that's what I did. My first job was at the New Orleans Times Picayune, a wonderful paper to work for and to start at. The camaraderie there was so strong that nearly 40 years later, four of my friends from that sports department are here today.
But one slow night in November, I was on news side at the time. I was assigned to go out with another reporter just to see what was going on around the city. In New Orleans, there's usually a lot going on.
Well, we spotted a big fire in neighboring Jefferson Parish. My passenger kept his eyes on it. But I as the driver did, too, for far too long. If it hadn't been for my passenger yelling, "Tom, watch out!" I would not have applied the last‑minute brakes that probably saved our lives.
But at close to highway speed, I plowed into a car without lights that had stalled. The impact was heavy. My car was totaled. But I was able to get out to look for help. Traffic had slowed, except for one pickup truck. At a high speed, it hit the same car I did, and spun away in a shower of sparks that came straight at me. If I had frozen, I have no doubt my life would have ended right then and there. But out of desperation and urgency, I catapulted myself to my left. I hadn't known it, but the accident occurred on an overpass, and down I went. When I came to, I was on my back looking up at the highway from which I had simply vanished. Ed Anderson, my passenger, eventually looked over the side, though, and yelled, "There you are, Tom. Have you gone for help?" Not exactly. Instead I needed help.
My injuries were such that when I returned to work on crutches two months later, the paper rewarded me with a place in the sports department.
From the Picayune, I went home to Detroit and had the great honor of covering the Tigers for the Detroit News, to whom I gave every ounce of effort. When I walked away from the news in March because I was being removed from baseball coverage, despite reaching this pinnacle, it broke my heart.
I can be objective about my own career, though. I was more of a storyteller than a story breaker. But when I'm proudest of is something my good friend Danny Knobler, who covered the Tigers for 18 years, wrote for the program of the New York Writers dinner in January:
"Tom has covered more than 5,000 games and never stopped looking for or finding new angles. He always had a knack of saying what Tiger fans were thinking."
But I tell you now, it was a privilege to do so. There were wonderful experiences along the way, such as covering a legendary manager in Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland, whom I respected for the jobs they did, but liked even more as individuals.
The Tigers, of course, are one of the great franchises of baseball. But they had some bumpy times. I had some bumpy times, too. The first manager I ever asked a question of, likable but loud Ralph Houk, well, he yelled at me just for asking it. The first general manager I asked a question of, irascible but also likable Bill LaJoie, well, he cursed me out for asking it. And the first manager I covered after I got on the beat full‑time, kindly but less than loquacious Les Moss, answered the first three questions I asked of him by saying, "You never know" to all three.
About that time I was thinking to myself, "This is not going to be an easy beat." It wasn't. And that holds true even now. Baseball is not an easy beat. You miss weddings. You miss funerals. You miss birthdays. I say my son is 29 going on 18 because of all the birthdays I missed.
But I loved the beat. I couldn't have done it for as long as I did with all those deadlines if I hadn't. I loved it because every game is different. There's always a nuance to write about, something that makes each game unique. You just have to recognize it.
I loved it for the individuals of the game. There are great players who are great people. Far too many to mention. One I have to mention is Alan Trammell, one of the most admirable individuals I ever met in baseball. I liked self‑effacing players the most, I also liked players with humor, still do. There was the day that Sparky passed Hughie Jennings as the winningest Tigers manager of all time. After the game, with the help of media relations director Dan Ewald, there was a banner in the clubhouse thanking the players. "I couldn't have done it without you," it read.
One of my favorites, a down‑to‑earth, hard‑working pitcher named Walt Terrell, saw the sign and waved me over. "He could have done it without me," Walt said. "Would have gotten there faster."
I also liked Enos Cabell, an easygoing guy still in baseball and possibly here today. He had a great outlook on life. One day, this is back when reporters flew with the team, Enos went up to the galley on the plane to see what the main meal was going to be. The flight attendant preparing it had just gotten up from a conversation with Sparky, who was known to the players as a bossy, no‑nonsense type. "The stone crab will be out in a minute," he announced as he came back down the aisle. Thinking it was a comment about the flight attendant instead, Sparky said, "That's not nice, Enos, her name is Esther."
Richie Hebner was an offseason gravedigger when he was with the Tigers. He told me recently his winters are easier now; he drives a hearse instead. One day the Tigers were playing the Indians and one of the players got tossed. He got so mad to be out of the game he began to throw everything he could find onto the field, including a shovel that belonged to the grounds crew. Out went Hebner later to retrieve the shovel, saying later, "A great workman never abuses his tools."
I've seen great moments in baseball, five no‑hitters, and some terrifying moments. I was in a shaking press box in Candlestick Park for the 1989 World Series earthquake -- after writing the day before on the off day that only an act of nature rendering the field unplayable could save the Giants. I received a lot of nasty mail for that lead, as if I had caused the earthquake. Someone even accused me of being an evil wizard.
I was in Tiger Stadium the day that Tigers present Jim Campbell, a curmudgeon I liked a lot, finally modernized the entertainment by inviting the San Diego Chicken to town, only to have it go all wrong in a game against Boston. As the chicken raced in from centerfield waving pennants and accompanied by the theme from the movie "Rocky," the Tigers put the wrong message on the scoreboard. Instead of introducing the chicken, it read, "Reid Nichols pinch‑running for Yastrzemski." The first pinch‑runner ever in feathers.
I've been blessed, though. I had a wonderful family life growing up. My mother loved baseball. My father loved ballparks. The best combination. Among the dearly departed, as are my father‑in‑law and all too recent my mother‑in‑law, they are not with us today, but they are. Two of my sisters are here, two brothers in‑law, my son J.T., of whom I'm so very proud. My daughter‑in‑law Melinda and her parents, and many friends who have come long distances, including one from Seattle that I still throw the football better than.
My career has been work and it's been fun, but it wouldn't have been the splendid balance it was if I hadn't had a true saint at home understanding my job, and more amazingly understanding me. My wife Lisa is the light of my life. I met her at a Christmas party. She almost left before I got there, and one I nearly didn't go to. I'm glad she didn't, I'm glad I did.
It's to you, my dear, that I dedicate this honor.
You know, it's funny how life takes its turns. I changed my mind about law school because I wanted to be a journalist. The year I joined the Detroit News, the paper's baseball writer took another job. At that fortuitous point my pen became my bat. Now there's this incredibly special occasion. The great Whitney Houston sang a song called "One Moment in Time." In it is this line, "Give me one moment in time, when I'm more than I thought I could be."
Lovers of baseball, friends, colleagues, Hall of Famers, and all my loved ones, this is that moment in time for me. From the bottom of my heart and from the depth of my soul, thank you.