This series of interviews delves into the formative years of many of our favorite media members in baseball in an attempt to better understand the process of becoming a writer. Continuing the series, we are delighted to turn to Murray Chass, a distinguished baseball journalist that has been covering baseball for over forty years, most of them with the New York Times. A hearty “Thank You” goes out to one of baseball’s most seasoned scribes for ‘virtually’ sitting down with us to chat. You can find Mr. Chass’ most recent columns at MurrayChass.com.
Eno Sarris: Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Murray Chass:I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where I worked on the school newspaper, the Pitt News, all four years I was there and was editor of the paper in my senior year. I majored in political science even though I intended to go into the business in which I spent my life. I remember the executive editor of The New York Times, James Reston, asking me in a pre-hire interview why a political science major became a sports writer. Reston himself started out in baseball – he was the traveling secretary of the Cincinnati Reds – before becoming a newspaper guy.
The story behind it:
When I was a senior in high school, I audaciously made an appointment to see Andrew Bernhard, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to discuss my future as a newspaper man. Minutes into our conversation, he turned me over to a reporter, Al Bloom, who also taught journalism at Duquesne University.
We talked about my desire to become a newspaper reporter, which my mother told me I had had since I was 8 years old and he offered me a piece of advice.
Major in something other than journalism, he said, so I would have something to fall back on in case I found I didn’t like newspaper work. I suppose he could have said that about anything, but I took his advice and majored in political science because I liked politics. In fact, I thought I might get into political writing at some point, but I never did.
Eno Sarris: Do you ever find yourself calling back on your Political Science teachings when writing about baseball?
Murray Chass: I don’t recall any instance when my political science education helped in baseball coverage.
Eno Sarris: Did you have an ah-hah moment (before you contacted the Post-Gazette!) when you decided that the glamorous life of the baseball scribe was for you? Were there writers that you wanted to emulate?
Murray Chass: By the time I went to the Post-Gazette seeking advice, I had wanted to be a newspaper reporter for about 10 years. The baseball part of it developed later.
There were no writers I wanted to emulate, but there were three writers I had great respect for – Myron Cope of the Post-Gazette, George Kiseda of the Sun-Telegraph and Roy McHugh of the Press.
Eno Sarris: What spoke to you about their writing in particular?
Murray Chass: They were good writers who wrote interesting, entertaining pieces, and I liked the way they wrote.
Eno Sarris: What have been some of the highlights of your career? Have you had some moments where you questioned your choice of profession?
Murray Chass: I have never second-guessed myself for pursuing a newspaper career. It has been everything I hoped and expected it to be. Looking back, I can’t imagine what I would have wanted to do differently. One thing: If I had been given the authority to select the sports editors I worked for I would have selected several different ones from those I worked for.
There have been many highlights, but I don’t think any topped the first. In the same week in 1960, working for the Associated Press in Pittsburgh, I covered Games 6 and 7 of the World Series and a campaign appearance of John Kennedy. Covering the 1981 and 1994 strikes was a highlight, believe it or not. Unlike most sports writers, I enjoyed covering labor in sports, and another highlight was covering it in each of the four major professional sport.
Knowing Marvin Miller was a highlight, and having dinner with him on his 93rd birthday was a highlight. Knowing Fay Vincent as commissioner was a highlight because no baseball official exceeded him for honesty and integrity.
The 1989 San Francisco earthquake, hearing Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian Symphony and Mahler’s Titan symphony for the first time at concerts I attended in Toronto and Philadelphia during baseball trips, missing a Broadway show and dinner with my wife and friends New Year’s Eve 1974 while covering the Yankees’ signing of Catfish Hunter, missing Thanksgiving dinner in 1976 working on an exclusive story that the Yankees were on the verge of signing Reggie Jackson, tracking down George Steinbrenner at the “Shack” on the campus of Culver Military Academy, all of this working in my basement office while my wife and relatives ate dinner upstairs.
From a career standpoint, the highlights were my creating the coverage of contracts and salaries (the business of baseball, you could say) and my coverage of baseball labor that set the standard for others to follow in all sports.
Eno Sarris: What sort of advice do you have for young writers that have just begun pursuing a similar career?
Murray Chass: My advice today is different from what it would have been five years ago. The dramatic decline in newspapers is, of course, the reason. I applaud anyone who wants to become a reporter even in the face of developments. But it’s imperative that anyone who wants to get into the business of journalism studies developments to make sure that what he or she wants is still there.
Online newspapers, or whatever they will be called, will need reporters, but I don’t think the number of reporters who will be needed will be as great. I think hard work and knowledge will still be important because they will translate into better and more acceptable work than the product turned out by someone who sits down at his computer, starts typing and says “I can do this.”
Experience also is important. Get as much as you can reporting and writing.
I must say, however, in all honesty I am glad that I had and finished my career when I did without having to deal with the demise of the newspaper business and the growth of the Internet.