Daily Archives: July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite and the death of a legend



People of my generation never got to experience the greatness of Walter Cronkite live.

We never got to hear, first-hand, his reporting of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in that sorrowful baritone of his. 

We never got to hear “Uncle Walter” report on the seminal civil rights moments of the 1960s. From Selma to Memphis, from Birmingham to Greensboro, Walter Cronkite watched a nation change.

 Unlike so many others, he didn’t try to stand in the way.

And  we never got to hear him announce, 40 years ago this week, the incredible news that a man had walked on the moon.

Listen to that clip and you can just hear the enthusiasm in his voice, and the awe that he’s feeling at that moment.

 It was the same awe that men and women, boys and girls were feeling all over America. But it was Cronkite who delivered it with just the right touch of class.

No, my generation was born to late to appreciate maybe the finest television journalist who ever lived. It was our loss.

Cronkite died Friday at 92, and I’m lucky enough to say that he and I were in the same business. He was a fantastic reporter long before he became the anchor of CBS Evening News from 1962-1981, where he was often called “The Most Trusted Man in America.” He covered World War II for CBS and the legendary Edward R. Murrow, and eventually rose to become anchor.

As much as anyone, he was THE voice of the 1960s. Whatever craziness happened in the world (murders, protests, the Vietnam War spiraling out of control) people turned to the well-dressed man with the thick black glasses for half an hour every night, to hear what really happened.

Can you even fathom that in 2009, a majority of Americans all turning to the same TV station for the evening news? I can’t. But to paraphrase Cronkite’s famous sign-off, that’s the way it was.

As you’ll read in so many of the obituaries of Cronkite, his most influential moment as an anchor came on Feb. 23, 1968, when he said that the Vietnam War was “mired in stalemate.” To which President Lyndon Johnson replied, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Again, unfathomable today, that a President would be so down about a critique from an anchor.

From everything I’ve ever read and seen about Cronkite, he was as classy as they come. It was always his enthusiasm that I remembered; watching documentaries about great news events of the past, Cronkite would come on and in that grandfatherly way of his, explain why this was so important, and he’d do it with a beautiful twinkle in his eye.

Now you can argue that news coverage is better today, with so many more channels and the Internet giving us so many different points of view. People were limited to only a few news outlets back then, and a good argument could be made that that wasn’t healthy.

But maybe I’m a news romantic; I think it was wonderful that Cronkite was the face of broadcast journalism for 19 years. His style and grace are unmatched by anyone who has come along since.

He lived a good, long life, and got to see and do things most of us will never dream of.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror,” Cronkite once said about his craft, “and to tell and show the public what has happened.”

Few did it as well as Walter.

It’s funny, as I write this I keep thinking of the great sportswriter Jimmy Cannon’s line about Joe Louis when the famous black boxer died: “He was a credit to his race. The human race.”

So was Walter Cronkite.

R.I.P, Walter. You were an absolute legend, and you will be greatly missed.

Why Pete Rose should NOT be a Hall of Famer


So it seems like every year, more and more of my fellow sportswriters want to forgive Pete Rose and put him in the Hall of Fame.

I don’t know why; guy is still, and has always been, a first-class jerk.  No one disputes anymore that he bet on baseball; even Pete admitted it a few years ago.

And at the end of the investigation that proved he gambled on his sport, which, unbelievably, was 20 years ago next month, just about everyone figured that was it: No Hall of Fame, despite his amazing career, with 4,256 hits.

Then, and for a long time, I thought he belonged in the Hall. Pete was one of my idols as a kid; I actually used to run down to first base on walks in Little League, just because he did. (Of course, being that I was afraid of the ball for several years, all I ever did was walk or strike out. Ah, Little League memories.)

So what if he had no ethics as a manager or lied for 15 years about betting, constantly denying that he ever bet on the sport he loved? Look what he did on the field, as a player, that’s all that matters.

That’s basically the point my friend Pearlman made on his blog made the other day. But he’s wrong, and as I’ve gotten older, I realized I was wrong, too.

Pete Rose should never, ever, ever be allowed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I know there are cheats enshrined all over the beautiful building in Cooperstown, N.Y.; back in the ’20s and ’30s players played dirty, and in the one other major baseball gambling scandal, eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were banned for life for taking money to throw the World Series. And that was just for one occasion of cheating; Pete Rose bet on hundreds of games.

There is absolutely no excuse, whatsoever, for what Pete Rose did. In every single major league baseball clubhouse, there are signs posted about not betting.

The man was in the game for more than two decades, claimed to have so much respect for the sport, and then went ahead and bet on and against his own team when he managed the Cincinnati Reds.

He knew the rules, willfully broke them, then disgracefully tried to make fools of every baseball fan by lying for 15 years, saying he never bet on baseball. Until, you know, he wrote his autobiography in 2004 admitting HE BET ON BASEBALL.

Jeff, and other sportswriters through the years, make the argument that he never gambled as a player, and he should just be evaluated for Hall consideration on his playing career.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Pete Rose the human being is the person who would go into the Hall, and he has proven again and again through the years that he is not worthy.

The Hall of Fame is not suffering or diminished because the all-time hits leader isn’t there.

It would be diminished if they ever let the fool in.