Dec. 15, 1999
There were a couple of send-off parties earlier this month for Mark Nusbaum and his family, wishing them well in Lubbock, Texas, where he is the new publisher of the uniquely named Avalanche-Journal. I remember it as the only newspaper I ever saw printed blue raindrops on the front page of the weather report.
Nusbaum is a local boy who made good. He started at the Topeka Capital-Journal as a copy boy, almost as low on the totem pole as a local retiree columnist, and he was executive editor when he left.
He became a sportswriter, and as he moved up, he worked on both the news and business sides of the paper. He became a good newspaperman, well qualified to go off at the tender age of 44 and take over a big daily.
When he told his wife he was surprised by how well he got along with the key players on his new team in Lubbock, a West Texas city of 186,000, she said it was because he had enough redneck in him to make it work. It wasn’t the answer he was expecting, but he agrees.
He also has been around long enough to remember he’s publishing a newspaper, and not some kind of trendy daily lesson on modern living, but he’s young enough to accept change before it overtakes him. Odds are he’ll continue to climb in the Morris Communications Empire.
I mentioned about how he started as a sportswriter, and it is with a touch of pride that I add he’s not the first from the playground department of this newspaper to make it to the top news side job here or elsewhere. Nusbaum was the first native Topekan to do it, but a lot of immigrants blazed the trail.
My personal history goes back to 1950. Maybe before that time there were sportswriters who gave up the press box to cover the so-called real world, but I didn’t know them. I do know that the man who hired me at the daily Capital, executive editor Jim Reid, was a former sports man.
Before he hired me as a sportswriter, he had hired Gene Gregston as sports editor, and after he hired me, he added Bob Hurt to the sports staff. Gregston left almost before he unpacked, and I succeeded him, and soon hired three guys named V. L. Nicholson, Frank Boggs and Ken Bronson.
The remarkable thing is, all of us became a managing editor, and a couple went well beyond that.
Gregston returned to Fort Worth, but eventually became managing editor of the San Diego Union. Hurt followed me as both sports editor and managing editor of the capital and capital Journal. Nicholson became managing editor of the Kansas City Kansan and later, of a national Methodist magazine.
Boggs went on to become a newspaper executive in both Colorado Springs and Oklahoma City. Bronson was from Kensington, Kansas, but he’d say it so fast it sounded like air escaping a tire. He escaped here to be publisher of a weekly in Missouri, but he returned and eventually was in charge of newspapers in the Stauffer Communications Empire.
And here’s the most impressive thing – maybe the only impressive thing – about us: we’re all still alive, some more so than others, spread from Arkansas to California.
Also still alive is Pete Goering, current managing editor for sports for the Capital-Journal. He once was executive editor. The way he puts it, he spent five years in the corner office one month when Nusbaum was on the business side of the business then fled back to, then fled back to sports.
I’m a little like Pete in that in my time I had to deal with jobs that weren’t for me. In the 1950s the Class C Western Baseball Association, of which Topeka was a member, was choosing a new President. George Barr, former Major League umpire, was the clear-cut choice, but for some reason, Topeka owner Link Norris nominated me. I couldn’t even explain the infield fly rule, and still can’t.
I declined, which upset Link, but I thought Barr took a liking to me because, when the league needed an official statistician, he offered the job to me. Knowing no better, I took it. I quickly learned Barr didn’t like me; he was getting even with me for drizzling on his parade.
For a full season that nearly drove all of us mad, my wife, Nick Nicholson and his wife, and I kept every statistic on every player and team in the league. When the season ended, I resigned, and told Barr not to do me any more favors.
In the early 1960s, the Big Eight was naming the NCAA’s Wayne Duke as its new commissioner but didn’t want it to look like a slam dunk, so for some reason invited me to apply. I called Duke, a good friend, and said I was going to run a dirty campaign against him unless he bought me off. He did, with a promise of early access to hospitality rooms.
Today, we remember we had sports in common, but there’s no magic to it. Good writing is good writing on any page, and if you happen to write something where everything seems to fall into place, there’s a feeling hard to explain unless you’ve been there and done it.