The Fifth Down

Bob Markus recalls career in new book

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One afternoon in late September 1959, I was sitting in the Jug, a bar located across the street from The Moline Dispatch, watching a National League playoff game between the Milwaukee Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.

I was not drinking alone, because in those days newspaper guys used to routinely stop off at the designated watering hole to toss back a few while rehashing the day's highlights. Nobody drank iced tea and nobody had ever even heard of Perrier water.

I was in a rather melancholy mood to begin with, because this would be one of my last times to drink with people I had come to know and respect over the previous five years.

A week earlier, I had driven up to Dubuque, Iowa, and had interviewed for the job of assistant sports editor. The sports editor, Terry Bledsoe, hired me on the spot, and I went back to The Dispatch and gave my two weeks' notice.

Now, as I nursed a gin and tonic and watched the ball game, I heard my name being called. There was a telephone call for me. The caller was Terry Bledsoe, who told me, in brief, that a friend of his had just gotten out of the army, and Bledsoe had given him the job he had already promised me.

I was more stunned than angry, and a little bit panicky. I was out of a job for the first time since leaving the University of Missouri five years earlier. I called home and told my parents, and when they asked me what I planned to do, I said I'd probably go to San Francisco, a city I loved, and drive a cab until something opened up on a newspaper out there.

That's when my father said to me, "Would you consider a job at the Chicago Tribune?" Sure I would, but I'd tried that once, during my senior year in college. In fact, I had tried all four Chicago newspapers and had batted 0 for 4.

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
Hicks: The Courage Award and beyond
Plain Dealer's Lesmerises claims first beat writer award
Award news: New schedule announced Eddie Robinson Award; 1962 Outland winner to get his trophy
Markus recalls career in new book

At The Tribune, sports editor Arch Ward had walked me out to the sports copy desk and, like an Arab sheik surveying his domain, made a sweeping gesture with his hand. Seated around the rim of the copy desk, he pointed out, were a former sports editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a former sports editor of a paper in Lincoln, Nebraska, and several other imports from various papers around the Midwest I got the message go out and get some experience.

The other three sports editors had the same message in more or less the same words. Although I really wasn't interested in working in radio, I even had an interview with Jack Brickhouse, already famous and soon to become legendary television voice of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox.

This meeting had been arranged, I was told, by a lawyer named Ernie Feldman, a good friend, supposedly, of Brickhouse's and a business acquaintance of my father. Brickhouse had patiently listened to me, asked a few questions, and then personally passed me over to Arch Ward. Before he left me in Ward's office, he said, "Be sure to say hello to Ernie Feldman and his beautiful wife."

Although I had no idea who Ernie Feldman was, I assured Brickhouse that I would do that. Several years later, when I was still a young sports writer at The Tribune, I met Brickhouse at a party and reminded him of how we'd met. I went off to refill my drink glass and when I returned, Brickhouse said to me, "You know, I've been thinking about what you told me and one thing has me puzzled: Who the hell is Ernie Feldman?"

Editor's Note: A 1955 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Bob Markus, after a short stint at The Moline (Illinois) Dispatch, spent 36 years as a sports writer and columnist for The Chicago Tribune. He now lives in Fort Lauderdale with his wife of 48 years, Leslie. They have two daughters, Cathy and Trish, and a son. Mike. Here is an excerpt from his new 585-page book: "I'll Play These: From Ecstasy to Angst, A Sports Writer's Journey." Bob will be glad to sell the book (payment by check) and provide free shipping. Soft cover book sells for $24. Just call him (954-525-4165) or email him (bobmarkus34@gmail.com).

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