EDITORS NOTE: This was Furman Bisher's first column he wrote after retirement for SCNI, the parent company of the Gwinnett Daily Post. Bisher passed away on March 18, 2012 at the age of 93.
Understand, you're not getting a rookie here, though we are new to each other. Your new buddy has been doing this for a paycheck since August of 1938, when fresh out of college and looking for work, I interested the Winston-Salem Journal in a series about promising players in the old N.C. State League. It was a class D league, bottom of the heap, and my first subject was a first baseman named Ted Mueller. No, Ted never made it to the majors -- he did make it to Class AA -- but The Journal paid me two bucks for the article, and my career was launched.
So, here we are.
I enjoy writing. That's why I'm here. "Retirement" is a dirty word in my vocabulary. I tried it. I don't like it. I want to get up each day with a column to write. Of course, that was for earlier years, when the body surged with youthful vigor.
Since the years that followed, I have written probably no fewer than 15,000 daily columns, around 1,200 magazine stories and a dozen books. (One of my sweetest achievements was that I was able to get through college without taking math. It required a nifty bit of hurdling, jumping from one college to another.) Of all that writing, one story that I wrote with a fellow who was said to be illiterate probably got more attention than anything that bore my byline.
While I was still based in Charlotte, Sport Magazine -- the pioneer of sport magazines, by the way -- commissioned me to do a story with "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. Shoeless Joe was one of the greatest hitters whoever swung a major league bat. He had a lifetime batting average of .356, second only to Ty Cobb. (And, among other things, Babe Ruth once said that he modeled his swing after Jackson's.) Shoeless Joe was ready to talk -- his one and only time -- for publication about the World Series scandal of 1919, when he and seven other Chicago White Sox had been banned for life for allegedly "throwing" the series to Cincinnati.
Well, Joe told his story and I wrote it, and he signed it -- illiterate or not -- and we each got a whopping $250 for it. Of course, that was 1949, and $250 wasn't a bad day's work. Sport published it, and it was the cover story in October 1949, but for years it lay dormant, for the most part, until Pete Rose became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. That aroused old-timers, who came out swinging for Shoeless Joe. He had been tried in a court in Illinois for allegedly dumping the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati -- though he hit over .370, struck the only home run and threw out five baserunners -- and was acquitted by a jury.
If Rose was even considered, then surely Shoeless Joe should be. That brought the Sport story out of the dusty shelves, and it got far more attention than in its original publication. That's as near as Shoeless Joe has gotten to Cooperstown, and my guess is, that's as close as he'll get.
But that's the story. And I've run too long here, but understand, I'm just breaking in and I didn't want to short-change my new friends.
Happy New Year!
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The long-time Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books profiling major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He will write periodic columns for the Daily Post.