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McGuff rides words of emotion, respect

DATE OF EVENT: Sunday, July 28, 1985

DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, July 29, 1985, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: The Kansas City Star’s sports editor, Joe McGuff, won the J.G. Taylor Spink award for baseball writing in 1985 and was inducted into the writer’s wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. McGuff was the 35th writer honored at Cooperstown, N.Y., joining greats such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon. During his years as a sportswriter and columnist, McGuff was instrumental in bringing the Royals to Kansas City and covered 31 World Series. He is the only member of The Star’s staff to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. McGuff later would serve as editor of The Star, from 1986 to 1992.

McGuff rides words of emotion, respect

By Jack Etkin

Cooperstown, N.Y.—They were driving through upstate New York on Friday, enjoying another relaxing day in another charming place. Joe McGuff and his wife, Kay, were nearing the end of a two-week vacation with fairy-tale overtones when his imminent day of honor suddenly took hold.

“It didn’t become real to me until we turned off the interstate at this little burg, Fort Plain,” McGuff said, “and saw the green-and-white sign ‘Cooperstown 26.’

“At that moment, the impact that this was going to be an extraordinary weekend in your life hit me. There’s still sort of an unreality about it until you get close to here and feel the emotional buildup. That was the first great feeling of emotion.”

There were several others Sunday when McGuff stood outside the Hall of Fame and received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, given by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for contributions to the game.

McGuff began writing about baseball during the final month of the Kansas City Blues’ 1950 season. As his plaque says, he “became a major-league writer overnight,” when the A’s came to Kansas City in 1955. He became a columnist for The Kansas City Star in 1966 and brought rock-solid professional credentials to Cooperstown. Still, he began his acceptance speech with words of doubt.

“A year or so ago,” McGuff said, “a book was published about something called the Impostor Phenomenon. The book has to do with actors, athletes and businessmen in prominent positions who feel they don’t deserve the success they have achieved.

“As the author puts it, you don’t see yourself as the person you appear to be to the rest of the world.”

McGuff had thought of this beginning months ago, but waited until arriving here, until Saturday evening and Sunday morning, actually, before gauging his feelings. Only then did he write out his complete speech.

He left no room for ad-libs, approaching this personal highlight with the same measured calm that he brings to his work. He had handled many tender moments as a journalist. Sunday was different. He wasn’t scribbling the sentimental thoughts of some athlete on a note pad, listening as some trusting person exposed innermost feelings. The sentiments and feelings this time weren’t those of someone else. They were his.

“Standing here in front of my wife, my children, my colleagues, my friends and so many great figures in baseball,” McGuff said and then paused, a lump in his throat, “I seem to be shrinking by the minute.”

This was not another exercise at the keyboard, a false start on a column that could be amended by simply hitting a button. This was different, not simply because a print journalist was dealing with the spoken word. Joe McGuff had received an honor from his peers, and the words that were coming to him were traveling through his heart. …

“You see so many things about people who’ve been part of your life,” McGuff said after touring the Hall of Fame upon arriving. “Roger Maris, who’s critically ill (with cancer). Ted Williams, who was tough to get along with when he was playing but when he was managing, I had a good relationship with him. (Enos) Slaughter who played with the Athletics.

“I guess to a degree it’s like walking back through 30 years of your life.”…

News of the award had come last October, bringing McGuff an endless stream of good wishes. Kay McGuff called the period “very exciting, and you want to hold on to it,” in part because it gave her a certain insight.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said, “Not anything I didn’t know about my husband. But he handled it with a great deal of class. I was never made to feel that I wasn’t a part of it — not that I really was — and that’s kind of neat.

“I think he wanted me to feel that this was my vacation, not that this was a prelude to the Hall of Fame. I think he has been very careful to be sure I was not bored to death, and this was my vacation, and I was very much a part of this celebration. But you know Joe.”

A lot of people do. They all should consider themselves lucky.