Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inside the Pages: 7/26/80 edition of The Sporting News

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, The Sporting News was an awesome read for serious sports fans, especially those who loved baseball. At that time, the weekly newsprint-style publication contained an enormous amount of information which you couldn't easily get anywhere else.

Here is a look at an issue from July 1980 which had a cover price of $1.50 and contained 56 pages. The cover photo and some ads were in color, but most of the pictures were black & white. Subscribers received the publication wrapped in a paper mailing sleeve.

The cover story examines the unique relationship between Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and pitcher Jim Palmer. Both later became broadcasters for ABC and would work with Keith Jackson in a 3-man TV booth for the 1982 ALCS.

The Sporting News used an array of writers and columnists from newspapers across North America. The core of the publication was its baseball coverage including a sizable article on each MLB team from a local beat writer. These writeups always ended with a notes section using a creative label such as Wigwam Wisps (Braves) or Bird Seed (Orioles). In addition, the baseball portion had a weekly AL Beat column by Peter Gammons, arguably the best baseball writer of that era and an NL Beat column by the infamous Bill Conlin.


The huge statistics section provided league standings and batting/pitching leaders even though these numbers would be about a week out of date by the time the issue reached readers. The standings even provided the number of games won by each team against each opponent. Each issue contained box scores and brief summaries of every MLB game from the past week along with the schedule for the upcoming week.

The magazine featured weekly columnists such as Dick Young, Joe Falls, and Furman Bisher. Leonard Koppett frequently incorporated statistics into his articles. Hal Lebovitz wrote a regular feature Ask Hal, The Referee where he answered reader questions on rules. This issue featured five such questions, all on baseball.


One of the regular columnists was Jack Craig of the Boston Globe who wrote about sports media. His SporTView column in this edition profiled Orioles broadcaster Bill O'Donnell. Craig labelled O'Donnell and his radio broadcast partner Chuck Thompson as the "longest-running announcing team in the majors". The story said that the Orioles did about 50 local telecasts a season with Brooks Robinson serving as the TV analyst. Craig wrote that up through 1978, O'Donnell was employed by chief sponsor National Brewery rather than flagship station WBAL. Craig chronicled O'Donnell's history of minor league broadcasting assignments before he landed the Orioles job in 1966. The article also mentions his role on the NBC Game of the Week backup telecasts and college basketball work for TVS and the fact that he was doing some work for ESPN which was less than a year old.


The NFL got 3 pages in this issue with college football stealing just a few paragraphs on one of those. The NHL got a single page, while the NBA and college basketball split a page. TSN would increase coverage of these sports when they were in-season, but would cover MLB rather extensively year round. Another page consisted of items on a set of miscellaneous sports including golf, tennis, and boxing.

To illustrate how basetball-centric TSN was during that era, minor league baseball got a whopping 7 pages including stats and standings for AAA, AA, and A leagues and even some coverage of Rookie Leagues and the Mexican League.

The Voice of the Fan page contained 16 letters from readers including many lengthy ones. In the "some things never change" department, there were multiple complaints about All-Star voting, the MLB rain delay policy, and a comment about the over-reliance of MLB managers on relief pitchers. Other articles bemoaned the skyrocketing player salaries and late starting times for night games.

The magazine publicized a one-year TSN subscription for $24.50 - a tremendous value at about 47 cents per issue.

Most of the ads were for alcohol, tobacco, or automotive products. There was also one for Cruex (jock itch relief). There were ads for Pro Football Weekly and various NFL team newsletters such as Ray Nitschke's Packer Report. The classified section featured various baseball camps and umpiring schools. The Hobby Corner section contained many ads for baseball cards.

There was also an ad for the classic APBA dice-simulation strategy game with an offer to receive two free sample player cards and a brochure. The ad conveniently doesn't mention the price of the game (which I recall as being a bit steep for that time).

Some miscellaneous tidbits from the issue:
  • Heading into the All-Star break, the Texas Rangers only had 18 games televised so far that season - a reminder as to how different the TV landscape was at the time.
  • Active Cubs player Dave Kingman had recently resigned as a part-time columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
  • The average length of AL games that season was 2 hours, 47 minutes.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays made a "serious offer" to 19-year old (and reigning NHL MVP) Wayne Gretzky for a tryout and believed that he could have a future in pro baseball. 

3 comments:

  1. GREAT stuff, and thanks for reminding me of how much I looked forward to reading The Sporting News each week.

    I loved Jack Craig's stuff. Frank DeFord did a tribute to him and said Craig wrote for Sports Illustrated under a pseudonym. I wonder what it was!

    And we may have caught Jack Craig in a boo-boo. In 1980, Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell had been together for 15 seasons. But Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy had done the Mets together for 19, and Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett were in their 24th season. None of them did it alone--when O'Donnell came up in 1966, Frank Messer was in the crew, and there were others who rotated in and out.

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    1. Thanks for the comments, Michael. When Craig wrote for SI, he used the pen name "John Carol". In re-reading the article, I see that Craig qualified his Thompson/O'Donnell line atement with "unofficially". But you are right that this appears to be a dubious assertion by Craig.

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  2. TSN was a thoroughly baseball publication because at one point in time it was exclusively a baseball periodical. Some years ago, when archives of TSN was available for FREE via Paper of Record, I decided to go through one whole year of reading TSN from a random year. I chose 1940. In 1940, TSN was a weekly broadsheet newspaper published under the iron hand of Taylor Spink. The contents were 100% baseball and the coverage incredibly thorough. From ALL classes of baseball. A person could subscribe to TSN, and if they were not a baseball expert after reading each issue, then it would be inexplicable. As for reporting radio coverage, TSN had a bits n pieces type of column pertaining exclusively to writers and radio announcers through out all of "O.B." (Organized Baseball), even reporting if they got married or had children!

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