Let me feel the touch of rain
The cool, clean wind that rides again -
The sadness for the leaft that dies
The sting of woodsmake in my eyes,
Let me walk home through the dusk
And breathe the aromatic musk of fall.
"Song of Fall"
Fall begins Thursday for Bob Addie.
The popular sportswriter, known throughout the nation, will end his long summer lover affair with sports when he officially retires from The Washington Post Sept. 1.
For those who appreciated his clean style, laughed at his anecdotes and cried at his undisguised sentiment, it will be a sad September Song when Addie, 67, walks away from his typewriter after 45 years in the newspaper business, the last 37 of them in Washington.
Generations of Washingtonians first met their sporting heroes through Addie's eyes, followed their entire careers through his reports, and bid them farewell in a loving Addie goodbye.
Addie keenly sensed his responsibility to Washington's fans, especially the young. He never wanted to disappoint or disillusion them."I wrote like a fan because I always was one," he said. "I wrote like one of the players' friends because I was that, too. And I always emphasized the good."
For Addie, the years were generous with fame and praise - president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, National Press Club award, numerous appearances in "Best Sports Stories," to name just a few honors.
But among sportswriters, Addie was most unique for the affection he inspired both among those who read him and among those about whom he wrote.
Jackie Robinson's widow tells a story that captures the essence of Addie's relationship with athletes throughout his life.
One March day in 1947, soon after Robinson broke baseball's color line, Addie and the Brooklyn Dodger second baseman were the last two men to leave a Florida spring-training field.
The first taxi they hailed to take them back to their hotels was driven by a white man. "I'll take you, but not him," said the cabbie to Addie.
"I'll walk," said Addie.
The second cab had a black driver. He offered to take Robinson, but would not drive Addie.
"I'll walk," said Robinson.
And they did, several miles back to town through the dusk.
"Nobody in the business went as long as Bob and left with so many friends and so few enemies," said Martie Zad, a Post editor and longtime friend of Addie.
Addie, who grew up in a New York tenement, had no idea he would one day be a first-name friend of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, that he would become a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force or that he would marry one of the most famous women athletes of his era.
But he knew his brains and his fists were his best assets. He graduated from Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) High School at 16 and headed for the University of Alabama with money he had saved by jerking sodas.
Addie was that rare youth who couldn't figure out which he liked to do better - slug it cut with a good middleweight or write poetry and songs.
He soon learned which was less painful. "I'm my second fight on the boxing team at Alabama. I caught the Southern Conference champ," Addie laughs. "He knocked me down 13 times.
Getting up 13 times was good preparation for the depression '30s. Addie held a lifetime of jobs. At 22, he covered Fiorello LaGuardia's mayoral election campaign. He also wrote radio scripts and spent a year as a traveling stock company actor. He worked for newspapers from New York to Chicago to Washington developing an anything-goes. Hearst-paper style right out of "The Front Page."
"The best reporters in those days were good second-story men (burglars)," recalls Post photographer Dick Darcey. "Complete violation of the law was just part of the circulation war. You'd break into a murder victim's house before the police got there and steal a picture of the guy off the mantlepiece to get it into the first edition."
Starting in 1940, Addie was the all-purpose star reporter of the Washington Times Herald.
One sensation-filled murder trial kept him on Page 1 for 26 straight days. For the first 25 days, Addie tried "to fry this guy. He was a real triple-A hoodlum."
Addie took a sample of the defendant's handwriting off the judge's desk so the Herald could plaster the front page with "expert opinion" about how the writing matched that in the motel register for the "death room" on the night in question. As Doonesbury might say today: "Guilty, guilty, guilty."
But somehow the mug beat the rap. "He comes over and shakes my hand," said a disbelieving Addie, "tells me how much he's enjoyed mystories on him and invites me to his acquittal party."
That night, the Herald held the presses for an "extra" white Addie tried to get the man drunk and sucker him into a confession at his own party.
"Before I know it," said Addie, "I'm plastered and I'm telling this guy in a loud voice. 'You know you're a cold-blooded killer.'
"Well, the room gets hushed. The guy leans toward me and says, 'You know, Bob, all my friends are not as tolerant as I am.'"
Adddie, suddenly sober, dashed to a phone and rang up his managing editor. "Mike," yelled Addie in his minute of clear-headedness,' "roll the presses without me. He didn't get drunk. I did."
The next week, the man, was gunned down on a street in Yonkers and the front-page insanity started all over again. "When it finally ended," says Addie, "and I thought I was the best-known reporter in Washington, an old friend walked up to me and said. 'Bob, I haven't seen you in a while.Are you still in the newspaper business?'"
Addie joined the Army Air Corps when World War II began and brought to the military world the same blend of imagination, borderline insolence and charm that got him into the inner counsels of locker rooms and front offices.
"I did seem to get amazing breaks," he admits. "I was a ground controller at the end of World War II, and one night, when I was an airdome officer, 83 German planes flew in and surrendered to me.
"I was credited with 83 planes, including one jet in perfect condition, and I never fired a shot."
Addie also served in the Korean War, making major. It may not have hurt that during the interim years he had made a friend - President Harry S. Truman.
Addie could never resist getting the attention of the famous, then treating them like old pals.
Knowing that Truman always introduced himself by name, even after he became President, Addie lay in wait for the chief executive in a White House reception line.
"I'm Bob Addie," said Bob Addie.
"I'm Harry Truman," said Harry Truman.
"Excuse me," said Addie, "I didn't catch the name."
Truman's face lit up with recognition and boomed. "Bob Addie. You're the dumb bastard who wrote that I left the greatest Army Navy game in history with three minutes to play."
The Truman grabbed Addie's hand again and gave him a big smile. "Truman called some of the greatest men in the country 'DBs'," Addie said proudly. "We even formed a DBs club.
Addie's nonchalance with the great almost became a trademark. Sent to St. Cloud outside Paris to carry a secret NATO memory message to Gen. Eisenhower in 1951, Addie felt almost too much at ease.
"Are you a career officer, Capt. Addie?" the supreme Allied commander in Europe asked in passing.
"Hell, no," said Addie without thinking.
"What?" snapped lke.
"I'm just a sportswriter who got captured again," quipped Addie.
Instead of a court-martial, Addie and Eisenhower chatted for three hours, lke wanting to know every detail of the West Point scandals that Addie had covered.
Addie's ingrained newspaperman's training that "nobody is too good to talk to as an equal," brought him not only exclusive stories and unique experiences but eventually led him to his wife.
In 1948, it seemed natural for Addie to ask Pauline Betz - four times U.S. champion in the pre-open tennis days and reigning world professional champion - if she would like to have a press-box date while he covered the Washington Redskins-New York Giants football game.
"I thought that was the end of that," said Addie.
But soon after, Addie got a call at the office from Betz when she was in Washington for a few hours between trains.
"In that case," charmed Addie, "I suggest we have a drink."
"I don't drink," came the answer.
"Well," recalled Addie this week, 27 years and five voting-age children later, "I was never much for lunch, but that day I ate it."
It did not take the columnist long to learn which half of the couple was more famous. "I took her to the Stork Club in New York," says Addie. "The maitre d' lifted all the ropes immediately and took us back to the Cub Room where Winchell and Pegler ate. I thought I was making a hell of an impression. I had no idea they recognized her and not me."
When did he find out?
"I went to the men's room." Addie said, "and I couldn't get back."
Perhaps only a man like Addie, sure of himself yet fond of a self-deprecating joke, could have survived hundreds of "Hello, Mr. Betz," introductions.
"Spencer Tracy and Sinatra would try to cultivate me to get to play doubles with Pauline and me," chuckled Addie. "I heard Bob Hope ask her, 'Who's that guy you married?'
"Pauline said, 'He's well-known back East.'"
Except at the Stork Club.
After the Korean War, Addie entered a second marriage of sorts - with the Washington Senators.
"I never missed a day with the Senators for 20 years," said Addie.
When the Nats needed a lefthanded starter, Addie traded for one. "Frank, give us Chuck Stobbs," Addie said to Cleveland general manager Frank Lane. "We'll give you Mike Fornieles."
"All right with me," said Lane, and one of the Senators' best trades was under way.
For years, Addie wrote six and seven columns a week, covered the Senators daily and wrote a weekly column for The Sporting News. In recent years, he wrote two columns a week and covered the national and area golf scene.
Stories that other reporters couldn't have dug out with a steam shovel took place before Addie's eyes.
Once, when a new Nat pitcher reported, he informed manager Bucky Harris, "Skip, I hope you don't mind if I drink, 'cause that's my way."
Harris pointed a gnarled index finger at him and said, "I don't care if you drink. But if you can't pitch, you are in Chattanooga."
When the next manager, Charlie Dressen, ordered the Nats to get drunk en masse after their 12th straight loss, Addie was put in charge of getting clean-living slunger Roy Sievers bombed.
"I don't drink," whimpered Sievers. "Charlie says you gotta," answered Addie.
Two drinks later, Sievers had thrown up and headed back to his hotel room. "But," reported Addie proudly "he hit two home runs the next day."
For all the Senator defeats Addie covered, he was rewarded one opening day when Camilo Pascual beat the Yankees. In the jubilant locker room, the Nats began throwing cold cuts at each other.
Suddenly, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, escorted by members of the Secret Service, marched into the clubhouse.
Just as Humphrey entered, a slice of roast beef thrown by Pascual hit him in the face. The clubhouse froze. "Camilo, you've always had great control, quipped Humphrey.
That sort of tale was always Addie's forte - immediacy, inside information.
"You never get over the thrill of seeing your own stuff in print. You are a creator and each day is new."
Then Addie grew uncharacteristically solemn.
"I always looked up to athletes, to generals, to politicians. And I looked up to my wife," he said.
But won't Addie, just once for the record, admit that many people here have looked up to him?
"I came out of RFK Stadium one day and I had to sign some autographs," said Addie. "My oldest boy Ricky, was with me and when we got to the car he gave me a big curous look and said, 'Daddy, who'd they think you were?'"
Quite appropriately, Addie's favorite story was the result of a rainout. The rest of the scribes gladly called it down to the locker room to chat.
There he found several Senators showing their bats and gloves to a group of blind children who had never touched the real thing. While the rain fell, the Nats' Jim Piersall took a child out onto the field to pace the distance from home to first base.
The story was written as simply as a blind child saying, "I never really knew what a base felt like."
Addie wrote, "Watching those kids lighting up the darkness of a gloomy day made one think of an old phrase: "The pebble and the diamond are alike to the blind.'"