Drysdale’s Death Was a Big Story That Had to Wait
There are things more important than a scoop. One of them is compassion.
Generally, news outlets do not release the names of people who have died until family members have been notified. But the news of Don Drysdale’s death last Saturday began to leak out before his wife, Ann Meyers, could be located by police in Palm Springs, where she lives.
First to report it was a local French-language news service in Montreal, which picked up a report off a police scanner.
But the first major outlet to report the death was ESPN radio, which got a tip and began making calls to get confirmation.
An ESPN spokesman, Chris LaPlaca, said the radio network went with the story once it was told an official announcement would be made in about 15 minutes.
“No one asked us to hold it,” LaPlaca said. “Had we been asked to hold it, we would have done so.”
It was 5:15 p.m. when ESPN said that Drysdale “reportedly” had died in his sleep in his Montreal hotel room. A sports ticker picked up ESPN’s report, and then other news outlets--Channel 4, KFWB and CNN among them--began putting out bulletins.
It wasn’t until 7:10, nearly two hours later, that Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully made the official announcement.
This wasn’t a scoop anybody could brag about. In fact, ESPN radio representatives have since talked with Dodger officials, hoping to smooth things over.
Jim Bay, a Montreal free-lance reporter who serves as a stringer for ESPN radio and other news outlets, was in the Olympic Stadium press box when he saw the sports ticker report.
“When I saw that ESPN radio had broken the news embargo, I was livid,” Bay said. “I was afraid that people would think I was the one who had done it.
“I mean, what if his wife and kids were in their car and heard that report?”
Bay called ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
“I don’t know who answered the phone, but I gave him a piece of my mind,” Bay said. “I screamed, ‘Don’t any of you have any compassion?’ ”
Bay said that despite his tirade he was asked if he could get some Dodger reactions on tape.
“I told them what they could do with their tapes and slammed the phone down,” he said.
The ESPN report put KMPC Dodger reporter Larry Kahn in an awkward position.
Because his station, an ESPN affiliate, had broadcast the report, confirmation was needed from Kahn in Montreal.
“I wasn’t about to be the guy responsible for a report that might be heard by Don’s family,” Kahn said.
He went on the air with “Major Leagues in Action” host Chris Schneider at 5:50 p.m. and said only that Drysdale was not on the team bus to the stadium and he wasn’t at the stadium.
It wasn’t until after Scully made it official that Kahn, who was patched into KMPC’s Angel broadcast, confirmed the death.
Dodger announcers Scully and Ross Porter did the right thing by sitting on the story until Meyers could be located.
Scully’s one mistake in making the announcement was saying that he had learned of Drysdale’s death “a little while ago.”
Actually, as Porter reported on radio, they had learned before the game, more than 2 1/2 hours earlier.
Scully might better have said he had learned before the game but couldn’t report it until after Drysdale’s family had been notified.
KABC radio’s Eric Tracy, who usually makes one Eastern trip with the Dodgers during the season, is on this one. So he was in Montreal on Saturday, and did yeoman work getting reaction to Drysdale’s death.
Third base coach Joe Amalfitano told Tracy: “When you talked with Don, you forgot he was a superstar. He was just Don.”
No question about that, but maybe Orel Hershiser capsulized Drysdale best when he told Tracy: “I’ll remember him with a smile. I always saw him with a smile. He even grumbled with a smile.”
That’s what this reporter will remember, too. During visits to the Dodger Stadium press box, he always took time to sit and chat.
Sometimes he complained about not getting enough air time. He thought the Dodgers should use two announcers at a time, rather than one. But even when he was complaining, he smiled and had a gleam in his eye.
That’s what we’ll miss the most.
Roy Firestone had a nice tribute to Drysdale on his “Up Close” program Monday. Particularly moving was a segment with Drysdale and Meyers a few years ago.
Channel 5 producer Cathy Karp has put together a tribute to Drysdale and Roy Campanella that will be shown on the Dodger pregame show today at 4 p.m.
CBS will also salute the two Dodger Hall of Famers on its “Baseball ’93" pregame show Saturday at 11:30 a.m., before the San Francisco Giant-Philadelphia Phillie game.
Drysdale will also be the topic of “This Week in Baseball” on Channel 4 Sunday at 3 p.m.
Ken Schanzer, executive vice president of NBC sports, had been named president and chief executive officer of major league baseball’s newly formed television venture with NBC and ABC. . . . NBC’s Dick Enberg did an amazing job on the men’s final at Wimbledon last Sunday, considering that he had learned two hours before air time that his friend and former broadcast partner, Don Drysdale, had died. And Enberg’s taped 17-minute tribute to Arthur Ashe, which was produced by Lisa Lax, is sure to win some awards.
Working overtime: With Rick Monday flying to New York on Wednesday to assume his new role as Dodger announcer, and Ross Porter departing for New York from Philadelphia right after Wednesday night’s game, Steve Edwards was asked to fill in on KABC radio’s “Dodgertalk.” He ended up burning the midnight oil, since the Dodger-Phillie game went 20 innings and didn’t end until 10:47 p.m. . . . Eric Tracy will usually serve as fill-in host of postgame “Dodgertalk” shows when travel commitments make Porter and Monday unavailable, but Tracy was also unavailable Wednesday because he is traveling with the team.
Recommended viewing: The second Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Award show will be televised by ABC Monday, 9-11 p.m., from Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre. The show is live in the East, delayed three hours in the West. Joe DiMaggio will be on hand to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Dennis Byrd, via satellite from his home in Tulsa, will receive the Thorpe Courage Award. The paralyzed former New York Jet and new CBS football commentator couldn’t come to Los Angeles because his wife is expecting their second child. The show, produced by “Monday Night Football” producer Ken Wolfe, will also honor Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Troy Aikman, George Foreman and Richard Petty, plus 10 athlete-of-the-year winners. The host will be Mark Curry, star of ABC’s “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” Among Hollywood personalties scheduled to make appearances are Chuck Norris, Beau Bridges, Jack Lemmon, Tony Danza and Vanna White. “This is part sports show, part entertainment show,” Wolfe said.
All next week, Prime Ticket will have a five-part series on trading cards and the memorabilia business on “Press Box.” In the fourth segment of the series written and announced by Larry Burnett, to be shown Thursday, Reggie Jackson admits that for five to six years he never signed his own autograph. “There was this kid named Roy Nigrone who signed my name for everybody,” Jackson says. “I didn’t like signing autographs. It took up too much time.” One time, according to Jackson, a young fan who already had an autograph asked Jackson to give him other personally. Jackson couldn’t sign because it would have blown his cover. “The kid (Nigrone) signed my name better than I did,” Jackson says. . . . Other athletes featured in the series include Foreman, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Namath and Charles Barkley. One segment provides an inside look at the Upper Deck trading card headquarters in Carlsbad.
Want to check out Michael Jordan’s golfing skills? He will be playing in the Isuzu celebrity golf tournament at the Edgewood Tahoe golf course, to be televised by Prime Ticket today at 1 p.m. and by NBC Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. . . . Roy Firestone will be Irv Kaze’s studio guest tonight on KIEV at 6:30 p.m. Raider Coach Art Shell will be Kaze’s other guest. . . . The pay-per-view motorcycle jump-off between Robbie Knievel and Eddie Kidd will be held tonight at 6 p.m., PDT, at Bay St. Louis, Miss., weather permitting. It was raining there Thursday.