Decade has passed, but Star is still missed

Phil Jackman

August 07, 1991|By Phil Jackman

On the first sports page, the veteran columnist was railing about what a terrific sports town Washington was, is and always will be. Calvin Griffith and Bob Short hauled the Senators I and II out of town because of greed and impatience, he informed.

A little ways back in the section, there was a news story relating how major-league owners had voted to split the season into TC halves. They decreed the leaders of the four divisions in June, when the seven-week strike started, be declared winners of the first half.

On page 2, in a reminiscing piece, the author recalled a new staff member being dispatched to a Howard University football game on a Saturday. No game story was forthcoming and the cub next appeared in the office on Tuesday, explaining, "Well, there was a party after the game and. . ."

Sugar Ray Leonard was getting ready to fight Tommy Hearns the first time and he wanted it known that he was kidding when he made reference to Hearns' mental capabilities, or lack thereof. "I said he's a dummy so you guys [writers] would have something to write about. I truly respect him. Besides, he can knock out a brick wall with his right hand."

Despite the weeks of unrest in baseball, rest assured the game was going ahead with its All-Star Game in a couple of days -- after all, it benefits the players' pension fund. And, of course, guys were mad they hadn't been selected.

Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden theorized, "I can understand why Dallas Green picked Vida Blue [Giants], but I can't see the two guys from his own club [Phillies]. I guess he figured it was better to have me teed off at him than one of his own pitchers."

The date, this date, Aug. 7, a decade ago, was the 25th anniversary of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey fining Ted Williams $5,000, equaling the biggest baseball fine ever, for spitting at fans during a game against the Yankees in Fenway Park.

That evening, at RFK Stadium, the Redskins were due to play the Kansas City Chiefs in their opening exhibition game. It would be their first time out under a new coach named Joe Gibbs.

Another young veteran member of the sports staff wrote a touching story of how, just 24 days after taking a bride, he had had another paper, the Washington Daily News, fold beneath him. Instead of remorse, however, he set about thanking people who had helped him in his ill-chosen field.

The baseball writer, who had been hired out of Baltimore to travel with the Orioles two years before, recalled what joy Washington readers derived having day-to-day coverage of their adopted team, a procedure the vaunted Washington Post hadn't assumed. Accompanying his yarn was a huge picture of Earl Weaver scaling his hat skyward precipitating his removal from yet another game.

With no team of its own and during the strike, the paper, "as a service to fans" turned back the calendar to the 1971 season, the Senators' last campaign. In a swan-song article, it was pointed out why or how Nats owner Short would receive permission to move his ballclub to Texas -- attendance, 655,156. Making matters worse, he owed $150,000 in back rent and was dead broke.

The subsequent vote was 10-2 in favor of the move with Baltimore as one of the dissenters.

A newcomer, hired to cover University of Maryland sports just a month before, wrote of receiving a call from Terps football coach Jerry Claiborne, who called several staff members genuinely worried about their future job prospects.

There was a page of sensational sports pictures, topped by Bullets owner Abe Pollin embracing Wes Unseld on the occasion of the team's NBA championship in 1978.

Atop the front page of the paper, in 120-point war type, stood the ominous warning FINAL EDITION. The Washington Star, founded Dec. 16, 1952, was no more. The headline read, "128 Years of Service Ending."

Over the course of several months, Time Inc., owner of the Star, had talked with 60 potential buyers. None were willing to pledge $20 million to keep the paper going for a year, though.

A letter from President Ronald Reagan offering condolences started above the fold. The final press run fulfilled an order of 425,000 copies, about 100,000 more than the Star's normal press run. Aug. 7, 1981, a short 10 years ago, a good paper dies. So hard to take.

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