A MOJOR LEAGUE VETERAN

He's been around. The veteran baseball writer has covered every World Series and every All-Star game since 1958. He is so highly regarded by his peers that he has already been inducted into the baseball-writers' wing of the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

No one now covering baseball has such longevity. The other writers call him "The Dean." They admire him because of his contacts. He knows everybody who counts in the game. They fear him because of his energy and drive. He never stops working. He refuses to allow himself to get beat on a story.

Ask him about retirement and he mentions Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman.

"There's a line," he says, "about a guy dying the death of a salesman, riding in the club car from New York to Boston, smoking a good cigar, on his way to make a last call on a client. That's how I want to go out--on the job."

Early one evening last week, before the start of an Arizona Fall League game, the writer walked in his stately fashion into manager Terry Francona's office at Scottsdale Stadium.

The writer had covered the ten-year major league career of Francona, who now manages the Scottsdale Scorpions. But he had also covered the career of Francona's father, Tito Francona, who preceded him in a career that lasted 15 seasons.

Over the years, the writer has developed a sense of presence. He understands the value of silence. He does not rush into conversations. He has what they call "gravitas." In addition, he has some eccentricities. He has never, for example, considered Michael Jordan to be a great basketball player. He announced from day one that Jordan was not a baseball player.

"I want to be the only writer," he tells Terry Francona, "who comes to Scottsdale and doesn't interview Michael Jordan."

"Fine with me," Francona says. "Who'd you like to see?"
"The people in the Chicago White Sox front office tell me this kid Chris Snopek, your third baseman, is a certain to make the big leagues. How about him?"

Francona nods his assent.
"Snopek can do all the things big-league players do right now," Francona says. "He's got power. He's got a good arm. He's getting closer to the day he's gonna find himself on a big-league roster. You wanna talk to him? He's a good kid. He'll talk your ear off."

Francona led the way out of his office and up the steps to the dugout. It was several more steps up to the playing field. Francona signaled to Snopek, who is six feet one and 195 pounds, a 24-year-old with a very large pair of hands.

"Chris, I want you to meet a famous baseball writer who wants to talk to you." Francona hesitates and smiles and nudges Snopek on the shoulder. "So don't be stupid, okay?"

Snopek and the writer walk to the visiting team's dugout and sit down on the long bench. They are far from the horseplay of the home-team dugout.

As they begin to talk, a television light goes on behind the backstop. Michael Jordan is sitting in a metal folding chair being interviewed by Peter Gammons of ESPN, who sits in an identical folding chair facing Jordan. A producer hovers in the background. The veteran writer takes no judicial notice of Jordan.

"The people who should know tell me you're going to make it," the writer says, devoting all of his attention to Snopek.

"Hope so," Snopek says. "This is my third season in organized ball, and I seem right on track."

The writer nods: "Well, you're old enough to be in the big leagues. Tell me, did you play in college?"

Snopek tells how he played three seasons for Don Kessinger, the onetime great shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, at the University of Mississippi before turning professional.

"I covered Kessinger when he was a rookie with the Cubs back in 1966," the writer says. "Later, I covered him when he became the Chicago White Sox manager. Good man. What did he teach you at Ole Miss?"

"Kessinger taught me a lot," Snopek says. "He helped me with my stance in the field and how to be ready to move to the ball when it's hit."

This explanation, of course, is part of the inner language of baseball. People unfamiliar with the game never quite understand the meaning of such talk. Most, however, manage to live fairly productive lives without solving the riddle of language.

"What's been your best day as a pro?" the writer asks, looking for something his readers can understand.

"I played for Birmingham this past season," Snopek recalls. "There was a double-header we had in Nashville that I got seven hits in nine at-bats. That included a home run, a triple and two doubles. I made out my first two times at bat. So I really got seven hits in a row."

Despite his success to date, Snopek understands that nothing is certain about his future.

"Baseball can get too serious sometimes," he says. "I see some players get intimidated . . . rattled . . . maybe even scared. So I try to keep everything loose. There's a lot of politics and money in the game. That can affect the way you play."

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