I worked in a grocery store when I was in high school. I met lots of people. Some were pretty neat and became regulars and even friends. Some were not so nice and at times probably deserved to be hit with a box of Frosted Flakes.
However, one of the nicest people I met was a lady named Lea. She was a telephone operator at the Philly Daily News. Yes, there were telephone operators back in the late 1970s.
Anyway, Lea also was the author of a column called “Lucky Lea.” It was a numbers column where gave people suggested numbers to play in the lottery games. I got to know Lea and her family and she actually got me an interview at the Daily News. Eventually I got hired as a newsroom clerk.
Now a newsroom clerk was a nice title for someone who had to do all the junk work. At the time there was no e-mail so typing stories in was only part of my duties. Picking up reporters, driving paychecks to people, making late-night runs to Ho Sai Gai restaurant for a copy editor named Leon “Fly” Taylor was just run-of-the-mill stuff.
I also had a shopping cart looking thing I hauled down to the Inquirer-Daily News lunch shop. And that’s where I scooped up lunch for the reporters, editors and others who were to, ahem, busy at the time to get it themselves.
One of the people I picked up food for was none other than Daily News writer Bill Conlin. Now at the time, Conlin was the Phillies beat writer and he was in his prime.
Aside from the recent allegations of child molestation against Conlin, he was probably the best sports writer or just plain writer I had ever seen. I was a Daily News junkie since I was a little kid so I knew everyone on the staff and had read the paper for years.
The Bill Conlin I knew — and he was rarely in the office as being a baseball beat writer has you traveling around the country — was a guy who was good, knew he was good, but wasn’t a creep about it.
He would sit around the office — when he dropped by — and tell stories and actually talked to us newsroom clerks. We’d listen as most idol worshipers would do like he was a rock star. And at the time of sports writing, Conlin was a rock star. He had a way with words hacks like me could only dream about.
Only Bill Conlin could could cover 162 games a year (not counting playoffs) and make every story a winner. He was the Babe Ruth of MLB writers.
So when I first heard the news earlier this week of the allegations against him, I was floored. It’s a real shock to the system to hear that one of your boyhood idols is hated worse than an IRS agent. It was like hearing Pete Rose would never get into the Hall of Fame for gambling, O.J. arrested for murder, and on and on.
But this was even worse. If the allegations prove true then I’m not sure what I will think. It’s tough to change decades of hero worship on a dime.
My memories will still be filled with Conlin pounding away at a typewriter crafting another gem while barking over, “Hey, get me a double cheeseburger, fries and a coke, huh? And pick yourself up something while you’re at it…”
Another dose of reality at a time when I don’t really need it.