Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer on his career
As the effects of the pandemic diminish, planes to Philadelphia once again fly over our Chester County neighborhood as regularly as the broad-winged hawks.
Their return sparked a game with my 2 and a half year old grandson. Now, whenever we hear the hum of a jet engine on our occasional afternoon walks, we compete to see who can spot the plane first.
Austin can’t be beat. For some reason, his eyes go straight to the target, this little mind instinctively calculating the distance between the origins of the noise and the location of the plane. During this time, I am invariably drawn to the source of the sound, letting myself sweep the empty sky as the plane moves away from my focus.
Here on the verge of retirement, this difference seems profound. The light-eyed youth stared at the present. The old man who looks back, always back.
In 49 years of full-time journalism – 41 at The Inquirer, the last 31 as a sports reporter – I have looked back a lot, in obituaries and hundreds of stories about this city’s fascinating sporting past. fascinating.
But despite how often I have traveled with eagerness, the past has never been my rhythm. I’ve been there on purpose and occasionally, delivering both an interest in history and a desire to see our sporting present more clearly. It’s impossible, after all, to understand Philadelphia fans without knowing who Pete Adelis was. And the basketball landscape in 2021 makes more sense if you know how drastically Wilt Chamberlain changed it in the 1950s.
In fact, looking back was only a small part of what I did. I wrote features, projects, columns. Until 1990, when the bosses got tired of my incessant pleas and allowed me to write full time, I had been editor-in-chief in the subway and sports. Two years later, those same editors gave me the Macho Row Phillies
Talk about a lamb being taken to the slaughterhouse.
As a beat writer for These Phillies, my inexperience often showed, which led to frequent lectures by Jim Fregosi. In my first season, after another story he didn’t like, the old-school Phillies manager called me into his office and shut the door.
“I tried to help you,” he barked, “but you keep writing whatever you want.”
There was less friction with Ray Rhodes’ Eagles and Joe Paterno’s aging Penn State teams. Eventually, I escaped the rhythm carousel and was able to cover the Olympics, World Series and Super Bowls. For the next 25 years, I worked on the fringes of sport, delving deep into the horse racing scandals, the mysterious finances behind Philadelphia Park, the financial foundations of varsity athletics.
“I tried to help you, but you keep writing whatever you want.”
Some stories were so complex that it took years to complete them and a forensic accountant to unravel them. Others were so sweet and simple that they wrote themselves. All have been greatly aided by the contributions of editors and advice from The Inquirer’s endless pool of talented writers and journalists.
And it’s likely that none of this would have ever happened if it weren’t for an editor’s desire to redecorate.
In 1979, this newspaper was at the dawn of its glory during the time of Gene Roberts. I was 29 and worked across the river as the Courier-Post’s associate Sunday editor. But I really wanted to be in Philly. So I wrote an application letter and waited. And waited.
Eventually, convinced that I had been cocky to think I was worthy of joining talents like Bill Lyon, Frank Dolson and Jayson Stark, I gave up. Then, almost exactly a year later, I got a call from an Inquirer editor named John VR Bull.
“Frank,” Bull said, “I was redoing my desk and when I moved a filing cabinet I found your letter behind it. He must have fallen there some time ago. Why don’t you come for an interview? “
On the sweltering afternoon of July 21, 1980, I started working at the metro counter. If you’re wondering how it worked, I refer you to election night 1983. As the last copy bureau chief that night, I had to hastily retype the first paragraph of our main article afterwards. some last second changes. The next morning, when many Philadelphians picked up their Inquirers, they were no doubt surprised to read that the city’s new mayor was called “W. Wilson Goose.”
Speaking of my own name, my first Inquirer signature appeared on St. Patrick’s Day 1981, three days after the St. Joseph’s NCAA Tournament upset No.1 DePaul. I was still a night editor, but before I left for work on March 16, sports writer Jay Searcy, well aware of my writing ambitions, called.
“Upon entering the office, can you stop by St. Joe’s office and write me a story?” “
Well, if you insist, Jay.
My first job as a full-time sports writer covered high schools in the Northeast Neighbors section. In 1992, after two years of nothing more trying than field hockey, I made the leap to the Phillies beat. Arriving in Clearwater in February, a real estate agent informed me that she inadvertently booked the two bedroom condo I had rented and that I had to share it with a Toronto Blue Jays player. “You’ll like it,” she said. “I think his name is Robby Alomar.”
Like any journalist, I had strengths and weaknesses. Dining with history subjects certainly fits the latter category. At the start of that first Phillies season, just days after Alomar found a new spot, I put two gin-tonics on Fregosi’s lap at a dinner at Shephards in Clearwater. Years later, at a private, catered lunch in Ed Snider’s office, I turned down a corned beef sandwich, a refusal that eerily sparked a fury from the famous fiery Flyers owner.
Along the way, I wrote a few books and mentored at least one young author. After the publication of my book, And the walls have collapsed, I received a call from an Inquirer staff member whom I did not know. He was also thinking of writing a book.
I could not have been more obnoxiously condescending, bragging about my book’s sales – 15,000 copies – and critical acclaim.
“So do your best, kid,” I told him. “Maybe it will work for you as well.”
The kid was called John Grogan and before Hollywood turned their book, Marley and I, in a successful film, it has sold 3.5 million copies.
I will officially return my laptop on Friday 6/11. It seems fitting since 611 is also the state road number for Broad Street, the long-standing address of The Inquirer and the location of my alma mater (Temple) and the stadiums and arenas that were so often venues. of work.
READ MORE: NHL Wants More Women in Leadership. Valerie Camillo of the Flyers is ahead of this game.
And now ? Maybe another book, if I can find a topic and invoke the energy. An occasional interviewer essay or – surprise! – piece of history. Definitely more time for golf and the grandchildren.
Finally, let me look back one last time. Recently, I’ve often thought about the terror I felt in the late 1970s when I first read Ted Turner’s plan to start a 24-hour TV news channel. I thought at the time, the papers won’t be around when I’m ready to retire.
Well, thank goodness they endured.
And somehow, although I still can’t beat Austin at our game, too.