Two of the best: Fred Mitchell, Phil Hersh say farewell to Chicago Tribune

fredmitchellHershEvery day, it seems my Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with farewell columns from old friends leaving their newspapers after decades of fine work. It is yet another depressing commentary about the state of the industry.

Two of the best said goodbye to the Chicago Tribune Sunday: Fred Mitchell and Phil Hersh.

Both sportswriters were mentors, role models, and trusted teammates to me. As a young reporter, I remember being dazzled by Hersh’s exceptional talent. His profile of Jim McMahon was one of the best stories to ever grace the Tribune’s sports pages.

As for Mitchell, I can recall my old sports editor Gene Quinn citing one of his ledes as an example of simple, concise, yet elegant writing. After the Cubs lost Game 5 to San Diego in the 1984 NLCS, denying their fans the pennant everyone thought was in the bag, Mitchell wrote: “The Cubs flag flies at half-mast today.”

More than anything else, I will remember the good times I had with both of them. I always have said the friends you make in newsrooms and press boxes are the best part of this business.

Thankfully, both sportswriters aren’t retiring. Hersh still plans to write about the Olympics. Meanwhile, I am sure Mitchell, one of the most versatile talents in the business, will be busier than ever.

Here’s hoping their long runs continue for many years.

An excerpt from Hersh’s farewell column:

The events included 15 Olympics (following my first two, the 1980 and 1984 Winter Games, for the Chicago Sun-Times), 10 outdoor World Track and Field championships, 17 World Figure Skating Championships, 30 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 24 U.S. Track and Field Championships / Olympic Trials and seven soccer World Cups (four men, three women), three Wimbledons and one Elfstedentocht.

That doesn’t count the more mainstream events I covered for the Tribune, most notably the 1986 Super Bowl, where my assignment was “cosmic significance,” and my byline is on the front-page story immortalized in various commemorative items.

That was one of my approximately 6,200 bylines during 31 1/2 years as a Tribune staff writer.

Some were on stories as small as 140 words. One is on the 5,486-word profile of Jim McMahon that appeared a month before the 1986 Super Bowl.

And this story is my last as a full-time Tribune employee.

The lure of a generous, voluntary buyout offer means the first day of the rest of my life is Thanksgiving.

That timing is perfect, given how thankful I am for the Tribune having provided me a chance to bring the stories of athletes from dozens of countries a little closer to Chicago – and to readers kind enough to have taken the journey with me, even if they sometimes didn’t like its direction.

Mitchell wrote about his most memorable encounters with athletes he covered:

Charlotte Ditka and Mike Ditka Sr.: Mike Ditka’s parents showed me family photos in their modest government-subsidized house in Aliquippa, Pa., right after the Bears fired their famous son. “Whatever he wants to do is all right. But I would like to see him take a year off and get that hip fixed up and quit that golf long enough to get that hip right,” Mike Sr., wearing a Bears sweatshirt, said.

Bill Belichick: I made the generally grumpy Patriots coach smile and start chatting away in the locker room at Soldier Field a few years ago when I came up to him and told him my college coach was Bill Edwards, his godfather. His eyes sparkled as he talked about “spending happy summers with Bill and Dorothy” as a child. I had to cut short our conversation and walk away to finish getting interviews with players.

Minnie Minoso: I helped the Cuban Comet get into the Sox locker room to join in the 2005 World Series celebration when Astros security personnel did not recognize him. “Thank you, my friend,” Minoso said to me.

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