New York likes to think of itself as tough enough, an obstinate, unyielding place. And Dick Young has always been the preeminent sportswriter for New York.
Yes, Red Smith was talented, but he was always writing about defective, suspect topics like fishing, and Larry Merchant never seemed to live down Philadephia. But Dick Young, fiery, pugnacious, ascerbic, spoke to and for the average man. "All through my life," he says, "I've had my finger on the pulse of the fan."
But now Dick Young, 37 years in the business and as columnist for the multimillion circulation Daily News arguably the most powerful sportswriter in America, finds himself not the watcher but the watched, finds himself in fact accused of being The Man Who Ran Tom Seaver Out of New York.
For Tom Seaver, the best and most popular player on the New York Mets, had a little disagreement with chairman of the board M. Donald Grant, and Young, in his usual slashing way, came out against him. He even wrote that Seaver's demands were related to his wife's envy of the wives of players who made more money, and when Seaver left for Cincinnati shortly thereafter-Maury ALlen wrote in the New York Post, "It is Young who forced the deal, who urged Grant on, who participated strongly in the unmaking of Tom Seaver as a Met."
"The idea that Dick Young chased Tom Seaver out of town, that's absurd, no writer can chase a star out of town," Young says, miffed, "The Seaver dispute was pure and simple about money, and everything else is a smokescreen, this extraneous weeping about dragging the family in had nothing to do with it. Nobody leaves town because of one written line, and a pretty harmless line at that. That's just a figment of some writer's imagination."
When Dick Young talks, you listen, if for no other reason, than his reputation for pure baseball knowledgability is enormous. In "The Boys of Summer" Roger Kahn called him "the centurian of a new journalism," a writer who "stretched the accepted limits" of sportswriting, but that, his detractors will say, was in the past.
But you listen also because there is something charmingly frank about Dick Young, something refreshing in the way he doesn't back off. He seems calm in his mind about everything he's done, very much the last of a breed.
Once thought of as a populist, he is the great traditionalist now, not minding at all being called conservative because "the people who call you conservative like it's a disease are the permissive people who say anything goes.Well the pendulum in coming back, maybe we'll have a little sense in the world."
Roger Kahn remembers Young as a writer who "possessed a preternatural sense of the rhythms and balances of human relations," someone who knew themselves. "I used to have more rapport," Young, now 59, admits simply. "I was their age then, I ran with them."
Now, he says, the ballplayers have changed. "They've just gotten more and more spoiled, they think they can get away with everything. You know that Dave Kingman told Grant, he said 'You're not running the show, the players are.' How's that for arrogance?"
All this formed kind of a prelude to the Seaver affair, to one more example of a player who wanted more money for good years even though in Young's view he would doubtless rebel against less money for ones.
"Seaver's claim that he only wanted to extend his contract not renegotiate, is a half-truth," Young claims in turn. "He wanted a $250,000 signing bonus on Jan. 1, 1979, $300,000 for the first and second years and $350,000 for 1981. That's not an extension, that complete renegotiation."
"These guys challenge the ball club," he goes on in some perplexity. "and when the club takes em up on it they whine and complain. If they don't like it, why did they challenge 'em in the first place?"
Young's troubles with Seaver extend back to last year when the pitcher, upset over a column written during the baseball strike-lockout, "told me not to talk to him. It's not my doing, my business is talking to people, not feuding. If he wants Namath and any of the other prima donnas." Have there been other feuds, then? "There's a few."
For Young in his irascibility has quarreled with not only Seaver and Namath, but Muhammed Ali, Howard Cosell, even with the ever-arrogant fraternity of TV cameramen, yet he remains totally unrepentent.
"What are you gonna do, worry about things like that?" he asks. "My obligation is to the reader. Sometimes the reader doesn't like the truth, they don't want to be disenchanted. They want to be lied to, they think it's fun to be folled."
In this case Young reports that his mail, which he expected to be 10 to 1 against him, "the way it usually is when it's an owner against a player," is only running 3 to 1 against. And his only regret about the whole affair, "the only thing that really annoyed me, is the constant allusion by cheapshot guys that my son-in-law working for the Mets had something to do with this. Anybody who knows me knows it wouldn't eaffect what I write."
Dick Young, then, once the fuss rolls away, seems quite sure of ultimate vindication. He meets quite a few former players these days, people he'd quarreled with in print over one thing or another, "and they say, 'Now I read you all the time, I know you tell the truth.' That's the nicest thing anyone couly say to you."