Straight from the press box

A baseball lifer

By Marc Katz

Jim Ferguson visited  Bucky Albers and me at a Dragons game recently, and it was wall-to-wall stories for about three hours in the press box.

I’d love to tell you some, but, ah, most of them weren’t the kind you’d see in print, even in a newspaper that carries the kind of advertising on the back pages as this one does.

I mean, they weren’t off color stories—most of them—but some of the people involved would have to go into a witness protection program if their names were revealed.

So, what were three retired sports writers doing at Fifth Third Field?

I’d say thoroughly enjoying ourselves. And now, with baseball season officially over, we rest for five months until the next season begins.

I spent 41 years covering sports, 40 in Dayton, the last ten coinciding with the first 10 of the Dragons, which I covered.

But that made me the junior partner of that group because Albers, who covered all the beats at the old Journal Herald and then the Daily News, was on the Reds from the late 1960s until the 1970s.

He’s also a distinguished alum of the University of Dayton; I could ask about admission standards back in the day, but I won’t.

Ferguson’s the guy you may have forgotten, but he got a laugh when he admitted to collecting pension checks from three different sources, none of them the Daily News, where he worked 17 years, from 1955-72. He covered the Reds from 1959 until the day he left—to work for the Reds.

We’ll get back to that Reds’ part in a moment, because working for Marge Schott was, well, interesting to the point you’d lose interest in a hurry if you had to see her every day.

He worked as the Reds public relations director from 1972-90, and then was with the San Diego Padres from 1990-94. The Padres were sold in that later year and wanted to trim expenses for the new owner. To do that, they let go of just about everybody in the office.

His third pension comes from minor league baseball, which hired him in 1995 to become publicity director for an organization that never had one. In 2008, his 50th season having something to do with baseball, he retired, at age 78, or at least thought he did.

The Tampa Bay Rays needed a scorer and asked Ferguson, who seemed to have plenty of time on his hands, to fill in. Ferguson said he’d do it for some games, and the Rays found two others to help. One of the guys got sick and the other guy lost interest and Ferguson ended up scoring more games than he wanted, but at least he had no confrontations with any of the players after games.

At least he didn’t say he did.

That was an opening for me to remind all about Earl Lawson, who worked for the old Cincinnati Post and Times Star. Lawson, a grand man now departed—and known better by Ferguson and Albers than me—faced an incensed Vada Pinson one time after scoring one of Pinson’s drives an error instead of a hit.

Pinson ended up punching Lawson in the face.

After I got to know Lawson a little, I asked him about Pinson’s “hit.”

“That wasn’t a hit,” Lawson growled. “That was an error.”

It surprised Albers and me, the Reds first offered Fergy a job in 1970, following the World Series, but Fergy and his wife, JoAnn (they met at the Daily News), passed, leaving an opening if the job came by again.

Just two years later, the Reds called again. When he signed, he went to the team’s Christmas party on his first day, later meeting with the media (hardly necessary since he knew everyone on the beat), and finally took off for Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Honolulu, paid for by the Reds.

There were other high points with the Reds, but dealing with Schott was a bit of a downer.

In the Dragons’ press box there are stacks of statistics about the teams playing and the rest of the league.

There are also information packs and lineup and roster sheets. There might be 30-40 different pieces of paper, just like in a major league press box, although much of the information today from teams is sent to sports writers through the internet, just like in the major leagues.

In Ferguson’s day, with the internet not being much of a factor, he may have laid out a ream of paper for the sports writers to get their stats and notes.

“She used to say, ‘Why do we have to give them stats every day?’” Ferguson said. “In the eighth inning she’d send somebody up to count the number of pages left that nobody used.

“Then she’d put the unused sheets in an envelope on my desk every morning. She never said anything to me about it, but it went on for three years.”

Ferguson got the message and found a way to make Schott feel he wasn’t wasting as much paper. He’d hold back sets of stats in a back room, and when a pile got low, would replenish it.

At the end of a game, he’d throw the extras away.

That’s a note in itself.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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