Philadelphia Daily News - January 29, 1980

Banquet Tales for the Boss

 

By Bill Conlin

 

It is an unrequited wish. Just once before moving on to the big press box in the sky, I want to attend a Sports Writers Association banquet unencumbered by notebook, tape recorder and writing assignment.

 

Just once I want to wake up in a strange hospitality suite at 5 a.m, wearing somebody else's socks, experiencing the jackhammer throb of a well-earned hangover. Five years ago, I blew my best shot.

 

The schedule was posted. "Conlin, Off," it said for the last Monday in January, which is when the Sports Writers Association bestows a festoon of awards at its gala event. For 16 consecutive years I had drawn a writing assignment – Pro Athlete of the Year, Amateur Athlete of the Year, Most Courageous, Jogger of the Year, you name it.

 

Two days before the 1976 banquet, Mike Rathet, the sports editor of this newspaper, called with an apology and an order.

 

“I’M SORRY," he said, "but I'm in a schedule bind. I've got a guy sick and you'll have to write the banquet wrap-up."

 

I showed him. I wrote a spoof of the proceedings so outrageous there was no way in hell Rathet would ever want me to cover it again. He loved it.

 

"Just what I was looking for," he said, "something light and different. You can regard it as a permanent assignment."

 

Mike Rathet, the best boss I have ever worked for – it would take a full page in this newspaper to tell you all the reasons why – didn't make it to the Cherry Hill Hyatt last night. After work Sunday night, Rathet had an event in his chest serious enough to put him in the cardiac care unit of Chester County Hospital. It was one of the few events of his career Mike didn't have scheduled for staff coverage two weeks in advance.

 

Here are some of the things Mike Rathet missed last night in Cherry Hill on another night, thanks to him, when I showed up with a notebook, a tape recorder and a suppressed thirst:

 

There was the ultimate in double-digit inflation, awards version.

 

In the span of two meals, Pete Rose was named Baseball Player of the Decade in one state and Athlete of the Decade in another. Over lunch at Gallagher's Pub in New York yesterday, the Phillies' first baseman received one plaque. Over dinner at the Cherry Hill Hyatt he received another.

 

That's three Decade awards since December. Two more and he's an Ace.

 

PETE SAID his prize possession is his 1975 Cincinnati World Series ring. "I know it'll be a bigger thrill if I can help the Phillies bring a world championship to the Philadelphia area because of the way you people support the ballclub," Rose said.

 

Dallas Green, Paul Owens and Bill Giles were seen hoisting a toast to that."

 

Rathet's old NFL friend Art Rooney stopped by to accept the Team of the Year Award on behalf of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the collection of battered bodies he bought four decades ago with the winnings from a long-shot horse that came in. Rooney is a fascinating old-schooler who has been rewarded in the December of his years with a Super Bowl dynasty. Rooney is no orator but he turned one memorable sentence.

 

"It took me a long, long time laboring in the vineyard and walking up and down alleys instead of the main street," Rooney said."

 

Harry Kalas was the emcee and the Phillies' voice kept the banquet moving at a four-gin-and-tonic-an-hour pace, including this classic take-a-bow introduction:

 

"Dick Vermeil says the Eagles have a tight end who completes a play better than any player in the NFL Keith Krepfle! Keith?"

 

The tight end was not seated at the dais or in the room. "Well," Kalas said. "That's the ONLY play he didn't complete all year"

 

ERIC GREGG, the National League umpire whose controversial home run call on a Keith Moreland foul ball at the Vet last September was overruled, eventually resulting in Dallas Green's first big-league ejection, was a banquet speaker. He had a hilarious and truthful version of what really happened.

 

"…Bingo, I'm right there," Gregg said. "The ball's over my head, I'm following the ball all the way. I'm in the game, believe it, I'm in the game... Now as the ball goes over my head, I look up in the lights and I lose the ball. Next thing I see is beautiful Mary Sue Stiles (the Phillies' left field ballgirl) and, believe me, when she jumped up and down and screamed, 'Home run!' I said, 'Eric, that's good enough for me.'"

 

Ralph Bernstein, Chairman of the Sports Writers Association Board of Governors, won the Dirty Joke Award for the evening. It was about a guy visiting Japan who... well, never mind. "Ralph," Pete Rose twitted, "you were up there so long I thought you were the main speaker."

 

Green, Vermeil and Flyers Coach Pat Quinn promised renewed efforts to bring a World Series title, Super Bowl title and Stanley Cup to the town's fans. The Sixers are on the road but Billy Cunningham's promise was there in spirit.

 

I'll leave Mike Rathet with some vignettes.

 

Rooney on Leonard Tose's speaking style at NFL meetings: "He wouldn't receive any honor from the Holy Name Society."

 

GREGG ON controversial calls by umpires: "Ninety-nine percent of them prove right and the other one percent you were probably getting a beer anyway."

 

Rose, looking at an artist's likeness of himself on his Athlete of the Decade plaque: "This is a helluva lot better than the one I got in New York today at lunch."

 

Rose on losing money as part owner of a pro soccer franchise in Cin cinnati last year. "They could legalize prostitution in Cincinnati and they wouldn't support it – unless I was the proprietor."

 

Perhaps there was a grain of truth in the joke Ron Jaworski, who received the Good Guy Award, told in good-natured celebration of our wacky profession:

 

"Somebody came up to a friend of mine and said, i can give you the brains of an NFL quarterback for $5,000 a pound.' My friend said he knew that quarterbacks were smart, but $5,000 a pound is a little high. He said, 'What else do you have?' Th guy says, 'For $10,000 a pound you can have the brains of a doctor. My friend said. That's pretty expensive. What else do you have?' The guy said, 'Well, for $30,000 a pound you can have the brains of a sportswriter.' My friend said, '$30,000 a pound for the brains of a sportswriter. That's unbelievable! Why is that so high?'

 

 

"The guy said, 'Well, do you know how many sportswriters it takes to get a pound of brains?'"