Sad news came today with the news passed along by Leba Hertz, now with the Datebook at the San Francisco Chronicle, that renowned sportswriter Ron Bergman has died.
Bergman had a great career, but was probably best known for his coverage of the A’s during their glory days of the 1970s for the Oakland Tribune. He was more to many of us who worked with him in the sports department of the Tribune in the 1970s and 1980s.
I think of all the great writers who have been on the A’s beat, including Susan Slusser and John Hickey now. And there were others in the past who kept us informed and entertained on a daily basis throughout the long baseball season. For me, some of the really goods ones included Mark Saxon, Josh Suchon, Jim Street and also back in the day Bruce Jenkins.
Bruce was referred to by some of his competitors as "Magic Fingers" for the way he pieced together a game story with haste but little waste on a tight night deadline, his fingers flying over the keyboards.
But Ron was, in my book, the best there ever was in covering the A’s in those years – of any sportswriter covering any beat in any sport. He and Ira Miller when he covered the 49ers for the Chronicle are the top two on my list.
As a reader, I always wanted to read his account first of whatever he was covering; it’s just that the Oakland A’s of Charlie Finley, Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Capn’ Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris, Dick Williams, Ken Holtzman, Joe Rudi and Ray Fosse just provided him a colorful canvas on which to paint his word pictures.
The memories flood back, but a few stand out. There was a Friday night game at the Coliseum, and our Saturday sports section had "awful" space. All stories had to be bare bones, but there were a couple or three breaking news items as well as the game to report on. Bergy wrote it tight and right and in about 11 inches covered all cogent points in the game and the news other than the game, with quotes, and in a flowing narrative.
He didn’t always get the scoop, though. Fellow Tribune writer, sports columnist Ed Levitt, was the first to report after the A’s 12th-nning loss of Game 2 of the 1973 World Series to the New York Mets that Finley was trying to "fire" second baseman Mike Andrews, who committed two errors in that 12th inning. Finley wanted to put Andrews on the DL with a fake injury before Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in to reinstate Andrews. And Bando was suggesting his teammate wear black armbands to express their dissatisfaction with Finley.
Talking on the phone with Bergman, who along with Levitt had been on the team plane flying back to New York for Game 3, Ron was happy Levitt got the story for the Trib but also was wistful: "I saw Mike there, and I almost talked to him but I didn’t."
A lead that stands out in my memory was from a regular everyday game story. The term "a cup of coffee" has been around baseball a long time to describe someone whose career gets them to the big leagues but only for a brief time. He had a "cup of coffee" with the Pirates back in the so-and-so.
Gaylen Pitts was that kind of player for the A’s during one of those years in the ‘70s, and in this game, he had a couple of hits and keyed Oakland’s victory.
Bergy’s lead was something like: "Gaylen Pitts stirred some cream in his cup of coffee …"
And in one of those title years, the A’s got in a short slump and late in the season after a loss in Texas, their lead in the division was down to 4 games or less. Bergman led his story with Rudi sitting by his locker muttering to no one in particular, "Keep going like this and throw it all away" or something sardonic like that.
He had his finger on the pulse of whatever he was covering, and I’ll treasure those days of helping him a little bit on the copy desk, him helping me by sharing his insights on our craft, and when we weren’t on the same team anymore, picking up a sports section and reading one of his pieces, usually savoring every word.
Those who know me well know that almost everything reminds me of a country song. With Bergy, especially when he was on the A’s beat, it’s from the Charlie Daniels song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
The singer tells "the Devil," "You’re pretty good ol’ boy, but now sit down, and I’ll show you how it’s done." That's Bergman, when it came to writing a sports sports, he played the typewriter like Charlie Daniels does a fiddle.