BOTTOM OF THE NINTH
At the Arcadia Funeral Home on 48th Street and Indian School, Dick Dozer's casket was flanked by two large easels. Carefully attached to them were dozens of photographs of Dozer, the retired Chicago Tribune baseball writer, on various major-league playing fields.
The chapel was crowded with friends who had come to bid farewell.
For more than 20 years, Dozer was a star baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune. In alternate seasons, he went to spring training with either the Cubs or White Sox. He would then go on the road with them, switching clubs at midseason and continuing until October.
At that point, Dozer went on to cover the World Series. Only once during that period from the 1950s to 1980 did a Chicago team--the 59 White Sox--make that final stop of the season with him.
In the photos, Dozer seemed to live again. There were scenes of Dozer interviewing notables of the Cubs and White Sox: Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and even Pat Pieper, the crabby, old Cubs field announcer.
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There, too, was Dozer standing toe to toe with the abrasive but beguiling Leo Durocher, most controversial Cub manager of them all.
There was a time Durocher took exception to a question asked of him before a game. Leo reached out in a lightning-quick motion and snatched the interrogator's watch off his wrist and smashed it to the ground.
There was Dozer, too, at Comiskey Park, standing in front of the dugout with Sox manager Al Lopez and general manager Ed Short.
Lopez, the gallant Castilian, was always serene. Short, the overachiever, was often slightly drunk and defensive. But Dozer, ever genial and even-tempered, knew how to handle them all.
In other photos, he was with second baseman Nellie Fox and shortstop Luis Aparicio. And there he was with another Sox manager, Chuck Tanner, and the incomparable, lovable outfielder, Minnie Minoso.
There were scenes, too, with Hank Aaron, the greatest home-run hitter of all time; Brooks Robinson, the third baseman nonpareil of the Orioles; Whitey Ford of the Yankees; Al Kaline of the Tigers; and Reggie Jackson, who styled himself as the straw who stirred the drink for whatever team he happened to be with at the moment.
Dozer had an incredibly even disposition that made it possible for him to handle temperamental stars and even imperious pretenders.
Dozer wrote about them all with grace, honesty and precision. He knew what he was writing about and so when it came time for him to criticize, they rarely dared to complain.
Much of this, you must remember, took place before television. Those were the days, too, when the players made ordinary salaries and made it their business to learn how to read the newspapers.
So they took the time to read what Dozer had to say about their performances every morning in the pages of the Tribune.
Dozer was shown at a dinner sitting next to Jane Byrne, the mayor of Chicago; with Nancy Faust, the White Sox organist; and with George Halas, the owner-coach of the Bears. He was shown, too, with Cazzie Russell and Jerry Lucas, the pro basketball stars.
There, too, was the scene of Dozer being inducted in 1976 as the national president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America at Cooperstown, New York.
Alongside that was a blowup of Dozer's September 10, 1965, Tribune piece recounting Sandy Koufax's fourth no-hitter, which was pitched in Chicago against the Cubs. The opening paragraph reads:
"Sandy Koufax, the most electrifying pitcher of all time, reached the height of perfection tonight as he became the first man in all of major-league-baseball history to hurl four no-hit victories."
Dozer was 68 when he died last week, but he was still, in Roger Kahn's memorable phrase, one of "The Boys of Summer."
He was in excellent health, and he and Flo, his lovely and gallant wife, were in constant attendance at the Phoenix Suns' games. His son Rich is the Suns' president. Near the Koufax story was a photo of Dozer behind a microphone covering a golf tournament for KIHO-AM in South Dakota. It was taken before he made it to Chicago. "I hired him to work for me in the sports department of the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader," said Ken Guenthner, now in his 80s.
"That's me, next to Dick in the picture. The way I view it, there were three famous journalists who came out of South Dakota in my time. They are Dick, Tom Brokaw and Al Neuharth, who went on to found USA Today.
"Dick hadn't changed a nickel's worth. He was still the pleasant kid, still humble. He never let on to others that he'd made it as a big-time sportswriter.
"I was with him just last week at the Suns-Celtics game and went back home to South Dakota when I got a call from his son Rich.
"Dad's dead,' he said. Then he broke up. 'I'm on my way back there on the next plane,' I said."
Dozer was in excellent health and enjoying his retirement. He was removing Christmas ornaments from the roof of his home. After finishing, he noticed a branch of a tree that required pruning. He reached out, and fell to his death.
I knew him from a different vantage point. I hired on at the Tribune when Dozer was an established star. I often edited his stories on the copy desk late at night and treated them with the respect I thought they deserved. Later, when the baseball season was over and he came in the office to pull a stint on the copy desk, I got to know him. In watching him edit copy and write headlines, I realized he was a rarity. He was a newspaperman who was equally good both as an inside editor and an outside reporter and writer. He was the total package.
Many newspapermen leave the business and turn bitter. They are convinced things are not being done as well as they used to be. Dick was never that way. He went to work here for a time with both the Phoenix Gazette and the Mesa Tribune writing baseball stories during spring training.
Most sportswriters and old ballplayers quit going to baseball games when their own careers end. They insist the game has changed and is no longer as interesting as it once was. Dick wasn't that way. He did not have a cynical bone in his body.
In fact, he even went to work as a volunteer for the Ho Ho Kams in Mesa, working for free as a volunteer usher at the Cubs' spring-training games.
And whenever you went to the Suns' games, you could spot Dick and Flo in their aisle seats. They never missed a game.
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