September 15, 1995|By BILL TANTON

It's still hard for me to believe this is the final day for The Evening Sun.

I was born in Baltimore. I grew up here reading The Evening Sun, the paper of H. L. Mencken.

My family considered Paul Menton the last word on sports. I read everything written by Jim Ellis and Randall Cassell. I wouldn't go to a movie unless it was recommended by Gilbert Kanour.

As a high school athlete, I thought the ultimate was to get my name in Allen Barrett's prep sports column.

I assumed The Evening Sun would be around forever. Oh, well. I assumed Hutzler's would be around forever, too.

As a teen-ager, I spent one summer working as a copy boy for The Evening Sun, then situated at Sun Square at Charles and Baltimore streets.

What a heady time that was for a school kid who dreamed of becoming a newspaperman.

James McManus was an Evening Sun reporter then. He's better known now as TV's Jim McKay. I ran copy for Margaret Dempsey. She's Mrs. Jim McKay. William Manchester was a reporter on that staff.

The city editor was an impressive man named Ed Young. His voice was magnificent, the very soul of leadership. If Ed Young were around today he would be doing those commercials for AT&T instead of James Earl Jones.

It was a great thrill to me when, after college at Johns Hopkins and graduate school at Columbia, I was offered a job writing sports at The Evening Sun. The pay was $88.50 a week. At Columbia, the dean, Dick Baker, asked me how I had been able to get them up to $88.50.

I left Columbia with the idea that professional journalists were just about perfect. No mistakes. Every staff member at a great paper like The Evening Sun had to be a whiz.

Could I possibly measure up?

In October of my first year the phone in the sports department was answered one day by the outdoors writer. This was before Bill Burton, by the way.

As the caller asked questions, the outdoors guy kept repeating them aloud so the staff could give him the answers. Keep in mind one thing about outdoors writers: They tend to know everything about hunting and fishing, and nothing about anything else.

"When does the World Series begin?" our outdoorsman called out, putting his hand over the receiver.

"It starts today," somebody on the desk grumbled.

"Who's playing in it?" our man cried out.

"Yankees and Dodgers," responded a sportswriter who couldn't believe the ignorance of his fellow staff member.

Then the hunting and fishing expert asked one final question:

"Yankees and Dodgers," he repeated. "Just those two teams?"

At that moment I realized professional journalists -- even those on big papers -- are not as flawless as Columbia would have had us believe.

Paul Menton, until the day he retired, Dec. 31, 1966, remained the best thinker among the local sports columnists. But working for him had another side.

Menton was commissioner of the Mason-Dixon Conference and the Maryland Scholastic Association. As such, he assigned all the game officials for high school and college sports in the area. I officiated football and lacrosse games for him.

"Can you work the Poly-City game tomorrow?" Menton asked me one spring day.

"Well," I stammered, "tomorrow is opening day for the Orioles. I'm supposed to cover that for the paper."

Menton looked at me as if I just didn't get it.

"I can get a lot of people to cover that ballgame," he told me. "I can't get anybody else to work the lacrosse game."

So while Memorial Stadium rocked as the Orioles opened their season, I was across 33rd Street, blowing a whistle at a lacrosse game. A J.V. game at that.

Better things were to come.

The Orioles, under the best owner they've ever had, Jerry Hoffberger, won pennants and played in the World Series in 1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971, plus 1979.

Now I was cooking. Now I felt like a real sportswriter, flying to L.A., New York, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to cover our Birds in the Series. Brooks and Frank and Boog and Jim Palmer were the stars.

Even then, the big excitement in this town was the Colts. This was the era of Johnny U., Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Artie Donovan and Gino Marchetti, all members of the Hall of Fame now.

I remember flying back into BWI, which was then called Friendship, after the Orioles had dropped their fourth straight World Series game to the Mets in 1969. The players were embarrassed.

"Gentlemen," the pilot said over the intercom as the team plane approached Baltimore, "the tower tells me there are 20,000 fans at the airport."

"The Baltimore Colts must be having a practice," Brooks Robinson said.

Brooks believed the captain, of course, but by then he had already been in Baltimore for a decade. He knew this was a Colts town. But that night the town opened its heart to the Orioles.

A wire fence separated the public from the players, but fans poked their fingers through the fence and reached out to touch the Orioles. Many players reached back, touching as many fingers as they could.

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