DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's hear now from a legendary baseball writer. He worked in the era of typewriters and Twitter. His name is Tom Gage, and for 36 years he covered the Detroit Tigers for The Detroit News - never took a sick day. He worked through terrible pain during a road trip in Boston in the late '80s.
TOM GAGE: I covered a game with an excruciating toothache, went to the dentist the next day, had the root canal and covered the game that night.
GREENE: Did the Tigers at least beat the Red Sox that night for you?
GAGE: You know, I don't - I don't recall (laughter). Knowing the Tiger teams I was covering back then, I doubt the Tigers won that game.
GREENE: (Laughter) Those were some tough days.
Gage was in the press box at Tiger Stadium for big moments like this one.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There's a fly ball to left. Here comes Herndon. He's there. He's got it. The Tigers are the champions of 1984.
GREENE: Do you remember what you wrote or kind of what your mindset was as you were covering that title?
GAGE: The lead on the game story was about the year of enchantment had came to a fairytale end or something like that. It was a good lead. It wasn't one of the greats.
GREENE: Tom Gage has a writing style that can appeal to diehard fans as well as casual readers of the sports page. And this weekend, the 67-year-old is being honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award - Cooperstown's highest honor for baseball writers. But here's the catch - in December, just before he got news of this award, The Detroit News took him off the Tigers beat. Maybe he wasn't active enough on social media, he thought at first, or maybe he was just getting older. His managers told him they wanted him to write features about other topic, but baseball is in his blood.
GAGE: After 36 years, I know what I'm doing and I - to me, I was absolutely still doing the job.
GREENE: And so he left the paper and he took a job with Foxsports.com writing about the Tigers. But then it happened again. Last month, the website laid off all its Detroit sportswriters.
GAGE: I call it a year of one entrance and two exits because I'm going into the Hall of Fame, but I walked out the doors or shown the door at two places of employment.
GREENE: It's been a hall of fame career filled with incredible memories.
GAGE: The greatest moment of journalism I would have to say was also one of the most terrifying moments. And I was in the press box at Candlestick Park in 1989 when it suddenly started shaking.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Second base, so the Oakland A's take - take...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I'll tell you what, we're having an earth...
GAGE: It was before Game 3 of the World Series between Oakland and San Francisco. And I had written on the off day the only thing that can save the Giants now is an act of nature that renders the field unplayable. You know, it was just a casual lead. It was, I mean, you didn't really think there was going to be an earthquake. But all of a sudden, before another game could be played, there was an earthquake, and I got a lot of hate mail. Somebody accused me of being an evil wizard for writing that lead.
GREENE: Tom Gage spent most of his time on the day-to-day grind of long seasons. In the early days, baseball writers like him rode on planes with the team and stayed in the same hotels, getting to know the players really well.
GAGE: You do have to leave yourself in a position of being critical when it's required. But by then you have to have established with the players that you're going to be fair. That's why every time I would check into one of their hotels I would make sure that I wasn't on the floor that the players were on because I didn't want to know what they were doing in their own personal time.
GREENE: Let them do what they're doing. You don't want to know about it and feel pressure to report it if you saw something.
GAGE: That's right. That's right. You know, Charlie Dressen, who was a Tiger manager in the '60s, the way that he used to police the players was that he would take down a baseball to the elevator operator at midnight 'cause his curfew was at midnight. And he would say, don't ask for autographs until after midnight. So he would then go down and check the baseball to see what names had been signed and that's how he would fine the players. Well, everybody - you know, with me, I just didn't want to know what time they were coming in and what time they were staying out till.
GREENE: That's an amazing story. To look back and think about what you've been through, you know, losing your position as the beat writer for The Detroit News and then Fox decides that they don't need or don't want or can't afford regional columnists and writers for, you know, Detroit sports. What does all of this tell us about this profession right now?
GAGE: Well, I mean, it certainly is the most turbulent year, but it tells me that I'm glad that I'm not just entering the profession. And this is what I do say about my own career - look, don't feel sorry for me. I had 45 years of uninterrupted employment in a profession that I loved.
GREENE: Why do you feel bad for young journalists who are going into this profession now?
GAGE: Because it's tougher to land a job that's going to have any kind of security. I mean, you don't know what the future of newspapers is, so when I started, nobody could foresee the end of newspapers. Nobody could even see the contraction of newspapers. And now there is an alternative to newspapers.
GREENE: Is there something less fun about being a sportswriter when you're responsible for social media and tweeting and podcasting and doing all this other stuff instead of just taking in the game?
GAGE: Yeah, it's a lot less fun because the players don't really need you, also. I mean, you go into the Tiger clubhouse a lot of times and there's nobody around to talk to.
GREENE: Why don't they need you anymore?
GAGE: Well, they don't need you because they probably think that the local paper isn't big enough, you know? They'll make themselves available to the ESPNs of the world and the Fox networks of the world. But many times, oh, it's just the local beat guy, you know? I'll get him later. That type of thing.
GREENE: Tom Gage, you're going to be in Cooperstown accepting this honor. Are you giving a speech?
GAGE: I am giving a speech - 12 minutes.
GREENE: OK, what are you going to say?
GAGE: Well, I'm going to reflect on my own career. I'm going to be very emotional about my loved ones. I'm going to probably touch on as many tangents of my career as I can. And I said - I told you 12 minutes because I hope I can keep it at 12 minutes.
GREENE: What's next for you after this?
GAGE: Other than driving home - I don't know, David, I really don't. I've not written a book. People used to ask me, why haven't you written a book? Well, because I write the equivalent of two every year. I've written 11 million words about the Detroit Tigers.
GREENE: That is incredible.
GAGE: I've covered 5,000 games. Really, the last thing I ever wanted to do was to begin to spend more time on a book. But now I will have the time and I will probably look in that direction. I'd love to have something on the shelf with my name on it.
GREENE: Well, Tom Gage, congratulations on the honor in Cooperstown. And it was an absolute pleasure talking to you.
GAGE: The pleasure was all mine, it really was.
GREENE: That's longtime Detroit Tigers beat writer Tom Gage. He's being honored this weekend in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.