Dagnabits Blog (on hiatus)

Reflections on Politics, I

Even though we were at opposite end of the political spectrum, I used to love listening to my father-in-law's war stories about his days in politics. Bill Drohan served a term or two in the New York State Assembly in the late Forties and early Fifties, representing the Riverdale/Spuyen Duyvil section of the Bronx, where I later grew up. By the time I moved to Spuyen Duyvil in 1962, it was filled with apartment buildings that were filled with Democrats; when Bill  represented it, it was still a Republican stronghold of stately single-family homes.

Lobster Shift, Daily News, 1981

Lobster Shift, Daily News, 1981

I'd like to this think I took this photograph in the wee hours of  the October night that a slouching Mel Greene picked up the phone on the City Desk about 2 a.m., listened for a few seconds, then sprang to a ramrod-straight position, fumbled for his glasses and started taking dictation on the VDT (Video Display Terminal) keyboard. 

I can hear him now: "Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. What else, Dick? Uh-huh. Un-huh." 

I stood up and peered over his shoulder. Turned out it was crusty sports columnist Dick Young reporting from L.A. that Yankee's owner George Steinbrenner had gotten into a fight with some Dodger fans in an elevator and had busted his hand. 

There was nobody left in the editorial department except Mel and me, a cub reporter, on the city desk, and a couple of photographers cruising in radio cars.  When Mel got off the phone, he called the night managing editor at home (or was it Costello's? Yes, more likely Costello's), and then he made the call to the press room that anyone who has ever gotten a smudge of printer's ink on his fingers longs to make.

"Stop the presses!" he said. (No, I can't say that he yelled.)

Anyway, it would be nice to report that I took this shot about 5 a.m. after we'd see the fruits of his labor: a front-page replate featuring the Steinbrenner brawl, but it was most probably taken on a night just like most other nights on lobster.

In confirming the details of this story, I came across a shocking — shocking, I say! — account of what was happening on the other end of the phone line in a story by Lisa Swan on the Daily News site. She writes:

After Game 5, George Steinbrenner was in a battling mood in the elevator of the Los  Angeles Hilton-Wilshire Hotel. George claimed to have valiantly fought two Dodgers fans who called his team “chokers” and their fans “animals.” Most people were skeptical of The Boss’ story, and thought he punched a wall in frustration after the loss. Former Steinbrenner attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who owned the Baltimore Orioles at that time, sardonically noted that “this is the first time a millionaire hit someone and had not been sued.

"But the Boss was proud of his fight story, and invited reporters up to his hotel suite afterwards to tell them about it. Daily News columnist Bill Madden, who wrote for UPI at the time, was a witness to the scene. Two decades later, Madden recounted in an interview about what happened when the Daily News’ Dick Young called his paper’s newsroom to tell them about Steinbrenner’s battle:

"Dick walked over to the phone in the room, called his office and said, 'Give me rewrite.' He started dictating a story on the fight, and George kept correcting his information. It was the most bizarre night I've been around in journalism."

Well, I don't think it was the most bizarre night of journalism for me. But it was the only time I literally heard someone say, "Stop the presses!"

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