Remembering Earl Lawson

By John Ring

Before the days of ESPN, the internet, cable television and 24-hour news, a sports fan's reach was somewhat limited.

That's the way it was when I grew up in Galesburg during the 1960s-- especially in sports. Aside from Joe Morrisey and Paul King, it was one baseball game a week, one football game a week, an occasional NBA game and, of course, the Wide World of Sports.

If you didn't have a powerful AM radio, you were even more isolated.

So when I heard that Earl Lawson died last week, it was like losing an old friend.

Most of you have never even heard of Earl Lawson. But he was important to me. He talked to me once a week, every week, for many years.

Earl Lawson was what used to be called a ''beat writer'' for the Cincinnati Reds. He wrote for the Cincinnati Post and was a contributor to The Sporting News. And that's where his column was once a week for all those years.

Lawson started covering the Reds after World War II, in which he distinguished himself by being awarded the Bronze Star. He retired from the Post in 1985. In between, he covered 34 years of Reds baseball and earned his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He's credited with being one of the first sportswriters to use quotes from players and managers. Lawson had a distinctive writing style in describing the game of baseball. Although small in physical stature, Lawson had a few scrapes with ballplayers over the years. Once with Johnny Temple, twice with Vada Pinson and another time with pitcher Clay Carroll.

And while that hasn't changed, perhaps, current sportswriters who cover the major league teams are a lot different than in the days of Lawson, Jerome Holtzman, Watson Spoelstra and Dick Young.

In those days, writers rode the team buses and charters. It was common for them to go out with either the players or manager after a game to drink, play cards or carouse. Beat writers stayed with their teams for the long term instead of building up a resume. Writers such as Lawson staying with a team for three decades led to an incredible source of information and contacts that would lead him to breaking stories.

Lawson went down to a Cincinnati Police Precinct in the spring of 1961 to contact a bail bondsman for Reds star Frank Robinson. He celebrated with Reds Manager Fred Hutchinson after Cincinnati clinched the NL pennant in 1961 so hard that he was waken up by a phone call from his Sporting News editor about the story he forgot to write and send in.

There's a lot of great stories about Earl Lawson. My favorite is when Sport magazine contracted him to do a 2,000-word article on Reds outfielder Alex Johnson in 1968.

Johnson was quiet, moody and a physically strong guy. He had a natural dislike for sportswriters. Lawson knew he wouldn't get many good quotes from him on the article and even admitted that in all the years he covered baseball, Johnson was the only player that he was ever physically afraid of.

He approached Johnson, who went on to bat .321 that 1968 season, by talking about Reds manager Dave Bristol. He thought the mention of Bristol's name would bring about a response of ''Yeah, he leaves me alone. He hasn't messed with my swing. He just lets me play and I like that.''

Instead, Johnson replied, ''Basically, all those mothers--- are the same.''

I never met Earl Lawson. But if I had ever talked to him, I would have thanked him on two counts - for what he did in World War II and for talking to me indirectly for all of those years at least once a week.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website February 1, 2003

Back to The Zephyr home page at: