This is the space age of sportswriting and we are all astronauts tethered to silent computers with typewriter-like keyboards. Typewriters with their warm clackety-clack are obsolete. Even as I write this, no words go down on paper. They appear on a teeny-tiny TV screen. The words, let me tell you, are colored green.
There may be two or three people who don't care if Kindred's words are purple, let alone green. Those people may go rake leaves until we're done. We modern-day sportswriters are pioneers in this space age of journalism. John Glenns with press credentials, and I am going to tell you what it's like to be in the vanguard of reporters turning out all those green words.
It's like recess at a lunatic farm.
Dear, sweet Miss Swinford, my English teacher in high school, tolerated with a smile my inability to pick a predicate nominative out of a herd of buffalo. Disappointment touched her voice, though, when she returned a theme I'd done entitled, "Why I want to be a sportswriter."
"Wouldn't you rather be a foreign correspondent?" the lovely lady said.
Back when typewriters went clackety-clack, I said no.
Today, when the words come out green, I say yes. Yes, pretty please, send me to Iraq, let me catch some bombs; send me to Kuala Lumpur if you want, I'll even to go Alabama.
The only problem with our space age computer gizmos is that they don't work all the time.
Oh, they will work perfectly.
Someday they will.
We spent $4 billion to get four rocks off the moon, but it's worth it.
Our sportswriter computers will work perfectly someday. They will be better in every way. And the newspaper will be better in every way.
Let me tell you about today.
Let me tell you about David Israel of the Chicago Tribune.
He's to my left in Kansas City's Royals Stadium last week. Sportswriters live and die by deadlines. If a game ends 20 minutes before you have to be done writing, you have no time to sweet-talk your computer into working right. So here is Mr. Israel, my distinguished colleague, dealing with a recalcitrant computer.
#$&%, &!!, *&+ machine," he says. He calls his office. "Help," he says.
The office says, "You can do it, Dave."
# &+*! office," Israel says.
We pioneers are nothing if not innovative. Obviously, something is out of place in Mr. Israel's computer. Only one thing to do, and he does it. He takes hold of the machine by both hands on the sides, raises it to eye level and drops it on the press table.
No brain waves start up.
So he does it again.
Despite these rescue attempts, the thing is still clincially dead.
So Mr. Israel, a decent fellow, does the decent thing. He buries the machine under the press table. He kicks it goodbye. He borrows someone's clackety-clack typewriter.
Before he put his suitcase away to become a stay-at-home sports editor in California, Leonard Koppett, late of the New York Times, formulated "Koppet's Law." It is gospel among sportswriters. "Whatever is most inconvenient for the greatest number of people," it says, "will happen."
After the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali fight in Las Vegas, I had 30 minutes to do a story on what Holmes said about the fight.
I typed 300 green words.
To get those words to the newspaper office, I have to hit three buttons simultaneously on my cute little Ambassador Telcon computer gizzmo.
See, noise upsets Telcon. These computers won't work if there is a lot of noise. Telcon likes it in my hotel room. Works every time in my hotel room. nIf Holmes and Ali had fought in my hotel room, Telcon would have loved it. But where there is noise, Telcon gets nervous and sometimes won't work.
And when Telcon gets nervous, Kindred gets crazy.
I had to find a telephone to call the office and dictate my story. Las Vegas being a foreign country, I had to run all over the building trying six different pay phones before I found one that worked. Billy Reed of the Louisville Courier-Journal says, "When the end comes, I won't slump honorably over my typewriter. I'll have my heart attack while crawling on my hands and knees under a press table looking for an electrical outlet for my computer."
For me, the end will come dictating on deadline into my sixth phone.
It was at that moment in Vegas that I first considered computercide.
A few days later, I heard of the computernapping in Philadelphia.
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had his computer stolen during the Phillies-Astros playoff there.
The thief demanded $300 ransom to return the thing.
"I'd tell the thief to put it on the phone and let me hear it beep, so I could be sure it was mine," said Mr. Israel.
"I'd want them to send me its ear as proof that they had it," I said.
Hummel did the most amazing thing.
He paid the ransom.
And the cops nailed the thief on the spot, thereby discouraging computernappers everywhere.
I'd give somebody a thousand to put mine in the bottom of the river.
I told Telcon this story.
Telcon was not amused.
Then, the next day, we went to work. Telcon and I at the Astrodome, where I had 20 miinutes to get my story into the office.
Telcon didn't work.
Telcon didn't like the noise the Astro fans were making.
So I had to dictate on deadline. You ever try to talk slowly and clearly when you have 30 seconds to say 10 minutes worth of stuff?
About here, I think, is when I snapped.
For the second edition, I thought madly, I would write my story in longhand, fold the paper into a little airplane and sail it off the upper deck of the Astrodome. Maybe it would come to earth in The Washington Post sports department.
And, as in Vegas, I considered computercide.
When the cops came for me, I would tell them I had tried to stop Telcon from jumping out of the upper deck.
I would tell the cops, "I tried to stop him, but he was despondent. He said there was too much noise in the world."
So maybe the police won't believe me. Big deal. Edward Bennett Williams, if he would take my case, would beat the rap for me in a minute. He would argue it was an open-and-shut case of self-defense.