SABR

Bob Addie

This article was written by Lawrence Baldassaro.

With his trademark dark glasses and red socks, Bob Addie, the son of a New York City butcher, was a respected and popular fixture on the Washington sports and social scene for almost 40 years. A columnist and Senators beat writer for the Washington Times-Herald and the Washington Post, Addie served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America and received a National Press Club Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. He served in both World War II and the Korean War and married a US Open and Wimbledon tennis champion. He was on a first-name basis with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and counted among his friends a Supreme Court justice, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and prominent congressional figures.

Addie was born in New York City on February 6, 1910, as Robert Richard Addonizio. He was the fifth of ten children of Antonio and Teresa (Spaziante) Addonizio, Italian immigrants who came to the United States late in the 19th century. (One of Addie’s seven brothers was Johnny Addie, a renowned ring announcer at Madison Square Garden from 1948 to 1971 who worked more than 100 world championships.) At the time of Addie’s birth, the family lived in Greenwich Village, but later moved to Mount Vernon, a suburb north of the Bronx.

After graduation from Mount Vernon High School, Addie enrolled in the journalism school at the University of Alabama, where he joined the boxing team. In a retrospective of Addie’s career, Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post: “Addie was that rare youth who couldn’t figure out what he liked to do better – slug it out with a middleweight or write poetry and songs.” Addie recalled that in his second bout, the Southern Conference champion knocked him down 13 times, but Addie kept getting up. “Finally,” said Addie, “he was so tired he couldn’t raise his hands and I knocked him out.”1

After graduating from Alabama, Addie held a variety of jobs before joining the staff of the New York Journal-American. He left that job in 1938 to work for the Washington Times (later Times-Herald). Initially hired as assistant sports editor, he also served for a time as a general reporter. At one point his coverage of a sensational murder trial put him on the front page for 26 straight days.

When the United States was drawn into World War II, Addie enlisted in the Army Air Corps, ultimately rising to the rank of captain. For a time he was assigned to the Royal Air Force as a radar controller at Uxbridge, the radar center for the defense of London. One night Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a regular visitor to the center, brought along Generals Eisenhower and Patton. When Addie was asked by Patton to explain the entire operation, he told the general to wait because he was busy dealing with a German air raid.2 A later assignment was to temporarily administer cities in France and Germany that had been liberated by the Allies. “It was my misfortune,” he would later write, “to be the first one on the scene at both Dachau and Buchenwald, two of the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps. The scar has never healed.”3

After the war Addie returned to the Times-Herald as a full-time sportswriter. In February 1949 he married professional tennis player Pauline Betz. As an amateur, she had won the US Open Championship in 1942, ’43 and ’44, then again in 1946, the same year she also won the Wimbledon title and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. After being barred from major championships in 1947 for simply considering becoming a professional, she played professionally until 1960. In 1965 Betz was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The couple had four sons: Robert (Rusty), Jon (adopted), Gary, and Richard (Rick) Addie, and a daughter, Kim, a prize-winning poet and novelist who reclaimed the original family surname of Addonizio.

Addie’s career was interrupted again in 1951 when he was called into service during the Korean War. This led to another encounter with General Eisenhower, who was then in France as supreme commander of NATO. While escorting a group of American newspaper publishers interested in interviewing Eisenhower about a possible run for the presidency, Addie was assigned to deliver a secret message to the general. When asked by Eisenhower if he was a career service officer, Addie, who felt at ease with even the most eminent personalities he encountered, replied, “Hell no, I’m a sportswriter who was recalled in the Korean war.”4

They discussed sports for a while, then Eisenhower asked Addie for advice as to what to say if the publishers were to ask him about the presidency. Addie suggested that he say he was focused on his job with NATO but that he would not entirely rule out the possibility of entering the presidential race. That, said Addie, led to many US papers saying for the first time that Eisenhower might become a presidential candidate. Later, when Eisenhower was president, he said to Addie: “I don’t know whether to thank you or damn you. Look at all the time you’ve taken away from my golf.”5

After two years in the service, Addie returned to the Times-Herald. When the paper was purchased by, and merged into, the Washington Post in 1954, publisher Philip Graham asked Addie to stay on. With the two papers, he served as the Washington Senators beat writer for 20 years until the team moved to Texas in 1971. Addie was proud to say that he never missed a day covering the team. After the Senators’ departure, Addie covered the PGA tour until his retirement in 1977.

Two of his favorites among the Senators were managers Charlie Dressen and Gil Hodges.

Dressen, with whom Addie played gin rummy and went to the race track, “was a delight to be with because each day was a new chapter. He was like a sparrow always flitting about and chirping about what he intended to do on the field.”6 Addie and Hodges, a golf partner, would visit Indian graves when the team was in Kansas City, looking for artifacts. When Hodges left Washington to become the Mets manager, he sent Addie a note thanking him for his friendship and support, adding, “I honestly don’t know of another sportswriter who is more honest and respected than you.”7

Addie kept himself busy in his years at the Post. In addition to covering the Senators, for many years he wrote six or seven columns a week as well as a column, “Addie’s Atoms,” for The Sporting News from the mid-1950s to the mid-’70s. In 1967 he served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and in 1981 he was selected by his fellow baseball writers to receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, for which he is recognized in the “Scribes & Mikemen” exhibit in the Library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In the late 1970s he served on the Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans.

An unabashed sentimentalist, Addie was known as a fan’s sportswriter, a title he gladly acknowledged. “I wrote like a fan because I always was one,” he said. “I wrote like one of the players’ friends because I was that too. And I always emphasized the good.”8 His daughter, Kim, confirmed her father’s passion for sports. “He was in love with baseball,” she said. “He loved the human aspect of the game. He was a fan, and he was a real newspaper man. I remember him typing at the kitchen table on his old Smith-Corona.”9

In his 1977 retrospective, Thomas Boswell wrote: “Among sportswriters, Addie was most unique for the affection he inspired both among those who read him and among those about whom he wrote.” Addie clearly enjoyed being part of the sportswriters’ community. In a column for The Sporting News at the time of his retirement, he wrote: “Always, there was a great camaraderie in the fraternity. If you missed a quote that made a good column or a good dressing room story, there was always someone to refresh your notebook. Sportswriting always was for the free souls and once was the last rampart of opinion free from editorial nudging.”10

His light touch as a writer reflected his amiable and self-deprecating personality, which endeared him to many prominent athletes and other public figures. A well-known personality in Washington, Addie was immediately recognizable because of his trademark red socks and dark glasses. (The socks were a fashion choice, but the dark glasses were a necessity; shrapnel from a bomb blast in World War II had made his eyes sensitive to light.)

Addie worked at a time when sportswriters were more or less on an equal social and economic footing with people involved in sports. This meant that a writer, especially one as affable as Addie, would not only report on the people he covered but also socialize with some of them. In Sports Writer, the memoir he published in 1980, Addie recounted leisure-time encounters with athletes, coaches, and managers at local watering holes, card tables, and race tracks.

When the book was published, Morris Siegel, Addie’s former colleague at the Washington Post, wrote: “Those who have been privileged to be sportswriters could not have chosen a more qualified authority to speak for us. Addie was indeed a sportswriter, and a gifted one at that. It was all he ever wanted to be.”11

Several of Addie’s anecdotes involve athletes indulging their fondness for beer and booze, as well as their ingenious methods of avoiding curfew. The night before the fifth game of the 1956 World Series, Addie was at El Boracco, a New York nightclub, with Yankees pitcher Don Larsen. At 4 a.m. Addie left in order to get a few hours’ sleep before covering the game. According to Addie, Larsen, who would pitch the first and only perfect game in World Series history that day, “lingered a little longer.”12

One time Addie himself contributed to the delinquency of three players. Invited to a party at the home of a friend in New York, he asked Senators sluggers Jim Lemon, Harmon Killebrew, and Jim Allison to go along. When they reminded Addie that manager Cookie Lavagetto had a strict 11 p.m. curfew, he assured them that since Lavagetto was a pal of his they needn’t worry. When the players returned to their hotel around one a.m. they each found a note from Lavagetto telling them they were fined $200. When Addie went to Lavagetto the next day to accept blame for the incident, the manager said he would rescind the fines if the Senators won both games of that day’s doubleheader against the Yankees. Addie passed on the message to the players, then against all odds the Senators did sweep the doubleheader when Lemon hit a homer in each game and Killebrew and Allison hit one apiece.

While Sports Writer contains any number of interesting autobiographical tidbits, it is mainly a collection of his memories of sports figures, from the obscure to the world-famous, as well as of notable figures in politics and show business. Among the more prominent figures with whom he had more than a professional relationship were Vince Lombardi, Ted Williams, Rocky Marciano, Babe Zaharias, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Red Auerbach.

The most famous gathering place for athletes and celebrities in the 1940s and ’50s was Toots Shor’s New York City saloon, a favorite haunt of such notables as Joe DiMaggio, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra. Addie shared many recollections of time spent at Shor’s hanging out with Shor himself, athletes, fellow sportswriters, and celebrities such as Jackie Gleason and Don Ameche. Noted journalist and commentator Bob Considine, another regular at Shor’s, who wrote a biography of the saloonkeeper, was godfather to Addie’s daughter, Kim.

Working in Washington, Addie had the opportunity to establish close ties with an array of Washington dignitaries interested in sports. Two of his close friends were Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White (an All-American halfback at Colorado), and General Nathan Twining, chairman of the Joints of Staff. He knew every president from Truman through Ford, except for Kennedy. He did, however, know Kennedy’s sister Kathleen, who worked with him at the Washington Times-Herald before World War II and had a desk across from his. When he returned to the paper after the war, Kathleen’s desk was occupied by a young photographer named Jacqueline Bouvier, the future wife of John F. Kennedy. They did not see each other after she left the paper, but in November 1963 Addie was approached at a restaurant near the White House by Dave Powers, an assistant to President Kennedy. Powers said that the president knew of Addie and that he was sure that Kennedy would like to talk about sports with him. He then told Addie that he would arrange a meeting when the president returned from his trip to Dallas the following week.

One indication of the range of friends and admirers Addie acquired over the course of his career was the dozens of congratulatory notes and telegrams he received upon retiring in 1977. Among the well-wishers were President Carter, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, League Presidents Lee MacPhail and Chub Feeney, Judge John Sirica, Angelo Dundee, Red Auerbach, Sonny Jurgensen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Billy Martin.

Kim Addonizio said of her father: “He was very warm, a big-hearted person. Often I wouldn’t see him when I was young because he’d come home late and I was asleep. I asked him to wake me when he got home. He would, and then I’d sit on his lap and we’d watch TV. He had the soul of a poet. Retirement was hard for him. Writing was his life.” 13

Addie concluded a personal retrospective he wrote for The Sporting News when he retired with the following: “Maybe I’ll get used to living a day without a deadline. Or maybe it will be like the great line Jimmy Cagney, the actor, wrote. He tells about an old man who was crying and was being comforted by a young girl. ‘Old man,’ she asks, why do you weep?’ He answers: ‘I thought that the years of my youth were mine to keep.’”14

Bob Addie died of cardiac arrest on January 18, 1982. He is buried in Saint Gabriel Cemetery, Potomac, Maryland.

 

Sources

Addie, Bob. Sports Writer (Lanham Maryland: Accent, 1980).

The Sporting News

Washington Post

Bob Addie file, Baseball Hall of Fame Library

Telephone interview, Kim Addonizio

Thanks to Kim Addonizio and Bill Francis (Baseball Hall of Fame Library) for their assistance.

 

Notes

1 Thomas Boswell, “Addie Closes a Page,” Washington Post, August 28, 1977.

2 Addie, Sports Writer, 48.

3 Addie, Sports Writer, 189-90.

4 Addie, Sports Writer, 49.

5 Bob Addie,“Sports: My Entree to the White House,” Parade, July 23, 1978, 19.

6 The Sporting News, September 24, 1977.

7 Addie, Sports Writer, 287.

8 Boswell, “Addie Closes a Page,” Washington Post, August 28, 1977.

9 Kim Addonizio, telephone interview, August 20, 2013.

10 The Sporting News, September 24, 1977. Kim Addonizio, telephone interview, August 20, 2013.

11 Morris Siegel, “From Sandlots to Majors, Bob Addie was a Fan’s Writer,” Washington Post, undated clipping in Addie’s Baseball Hall of Fame file.

12 Addie, Sports Writer, 24.

13 Kim Addonizio, telephone interview, August 20, 2013.

14 The Sporting News, September 24, 1977.

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