Wow, Talk About a Storied Career

Dick Schaap left behind a warehouse of great work when he passed a decade ago

Dick Schaap did not bowl overhand.

When in Rome, London or Havana, the citizens did not do as he did. Although, when he was in Green Bay - which was often - Cheesehead Nation considered him one of them.

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Multimedia sports journalist extraordinaire Dick Schaap managed to author 34 books.

And Dick Schaap probably was not the most interesting man in the world. But whenever I was in his presence, in a TV studio, in a Havana bar where Hemingway used to drink, or at one of his famous Super Bowl parties, Schaap always was the most interesting man in the room.

Enologists collect rare wines. Numismatists collect rare coins. Philatelists collect rare stamps.

Dick Schaap collected rare people. Interviewed them for newspapers, magazines and television. Liked some of them so much he wrote books about them, 34 in all.

He died in good health on Dec. 21, 2001. Ten years ago this month. A decade has fled past, mirroring the prophetic title of his autobiography, published earlier that year, "Flashing Before My Eyes: 50 Years of Headlines, Deadlines and Punchlines," by "Dick Schaap As Told To Dick Schaap."

Dick had moderated the first "Sports Reporters" show after 9/11 in the ESPN Zone on Times Square on Sept. 16, the last act of a life so versatile that had he lived in Renaissance Italy, he might have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, sculpted the The Pieta, written "The Inferno" and drafted blueprints for a flying machine. Probably all in the same year. He would have hung out with the Borgias and dropped the name of every famous person from Naples to Genoa.

The theme of a show taped with Lower Manhattan still cordoned off was the role professional sports already had played in helping heal our most gaping wound since Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Dick Schaap checked into a hospital to have a second hip replacement. Except for an atrial-fibrillation condition under chemical control, he was in better physical shape than most 67-year-old workaholics. The hip replacement was routine. But somewhere during his recovery, things went terribly wrong. One of those hospital bugs invaded his blood. Mistakes were made. Dick was in and out of a coma much of the next 3 months.

When the print folks he had helped transform into TV heads for a half-hour on Sunday mornings heard of his death, it was an indescribable jolt. Just 2 years before, I was honored to be part of a black-tie charity roast that raised a large sum of money in his name. And several "Sports Reporters" panelists were guests at his 65th birthday party, where the wealthy owner of a penthouse near swank Sutton Place hosted a gathering of his family and friends.

The countless celebrities Schaap had interviewed, both in the toy department and the real world, had written books with, had done Emmy-winning TV work with, mourned his passing.

Each Sunday morning under Schaap's baton, second careers were orchestrated and first careers augmented. The loose rotation of print journalists would be invited on a Wednesday, given the week's agenda and show up for a dawn taping to vent, inform and argue.

I owe my 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award to the national visibility 13 years of "Sports Reporters" appearances provided. I was no longer a baseball beat writer but was able to maintain a national identity. Schaap wrote the foreword to my 1997 anthology, "Batting Cleanup, Bill Conlin," balancing glib insults with kind words.

Schaap's literary agent, David Black, encouraged award-winning Detroit columnist Mitch Albom to write "Tuesdays With Morrie," which sat atop the best-seller lists more than a year and became an Oprah-backed TV film.

"Sports Reporters" spawned the ESPN "Pardon the Interruption" hookup of Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan is an ESPN fixture and hometown radio and TV personality.

New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, often my sparring partner, is a weekly panelist, writes kids sports books and is a frequent Letterman and Imus guest.

That TV show, however, which has been such a big part of so many of our careers, was just the tip of Schaap's rare-people iceberg.

As the youthful city editor of the late, great, New York Herald Tribune, Schaap's staff included Jimmy Breslin, Red Smith, Tom Wolfe and Bill Whitworth, who swiftly jumped to The New Yorker magazine, then became a 2-decade editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

As editor of Sport magazine, Schaap elevated a number of writing careers, including that of future Steelers color analyst Myron Cope.

Two of his books, "Instant Replay" and "Bo Knows Bo" (about two-sport superstar Bo Jackson), became the best-selling sports book ever at the time. Schaap and Packers guard Jerry Kramer, who threw the block in the Ice Bowl against the Cowboys that cleared the path for Bart Starr's winning touchdown, split $1 million in royalties. That was more than each had made in their entire prior careers. Dick lamented that all the windfall did was increase his alimony payments.

Kramer became Dick Schaap's best friend, which means he was exempt from the name-drop list of the thousands of collected rare people he could recite with the recall of a Google search - attaching an anecdote or five to each. Yes, Dick really did wrestle a raccoon-like animal named a coatimundi from gnawing the bare leg of Ethel Kennedy, Bobby's wife. Dick was interviewing him for an illustrated book.

So many memories of the man. So little time and space to put them on a reel and push the distant-replay button.

Through it all, though, no matter what the medium, from print in every genre but braille, to TV news reporting and panel-show hosting, Dick Schaap was first and foremost a brilliant reporter and writer.

A 10th-anniversary parting shot? How about the last lines of the Lenny Bruce obituary he wrote for Playboy:

"One last four-letter word for Lenny.

"Dead.

"At 40.

"That's obscene."

 


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