Oct. 29, 2005 –
Bob Broeg was so many things to so many people, it's impossible to
capture the meaning of his life and career in the space of a single
column. We'd have to wear out dozens of typewriter keys, the way Broeg
did. And we'd have to write so many books – as he did – that you'd need
a ladder to reach them on the top shelf.
We'd have to write thousands
of columns, in the tradition of the verbose Mr. Broeg, with each
sentence becoming an incredible journey in and of itself, the commentary
zig-zagging through curious but connected detours until reaching the
final paragraph, period and destination.
B.B. was a character in life, a character in print. They keep no
records for sportswriters, but surely Broeg has to be a contender for
the most career words banged out by a sports columnist. If we're talking
word counts, he would have given Webster a run for his money. As reader
and adoring Broeg fan Joe Kissane suggests, the Oxford School of Letters
should retire the comma in Broeg's honor.
And that is just B.B.'s written record. This master storyteller led
all major-league sports columnists in banquet speeches. And random
conversations with Broeg were never brief, so if you wanted to engage
him on a topic, you'd better – to use one of his pet phrases – pack a
In a 20-minute conversation, Broeg could rattle off everyone from
Connie Mack to Big Mac, Hack Wilson to Mookie Wilson, Triple Crown
winner Carl Yastrzemski to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
No wonder young writers loved him so. Soliciting guidance on the
sportswriting game from Broeg was like a young outfielder getting
fielding tips from Willie Mays. More than a few aspiring scribes called
Broeg, hoping to get two minutes of his time for advice. Such
conversations usually lasted two hours instead.
Why? As a child, Broeg read four newspapers a day, his imagination
stoked by the words and images. He knew he wanted to be a sportswriter.
He'd done it – run off to join the circus – and was more than happy to
encourage other dreamers to do the same.
And the spirit never waned.
As a kid, the wide-eyed Broeg was in awe when he got Babe Ruth's
autograph near the visiting-team dugout at Sportsman's Park.
And in his final days, Broeg reacted just as enthusiastically and
boyishly when he got word of the Albert Pujols home run that beat
Houston in Game 5 of the NLCS.
Always approachable and ready for adventure, Broeg once was stopped
on a downtown street by the leaders of a scouting expedition. They'd
gotten lost in their search for a city landmark. Instead of giving
directions, Broeg led the Boy Scouts on a two-hour tour of the city.
It was more evidence that Broeg was born with some Peter Pan in him,
and in his exuberant quest to find the sporting neverland, Pan stayed in
him until the moment he died Thursday at age 87.
That boundless joy was perhaps the Bob Broeg's most abundant quality.
And it was his greatest gift to us.
So many writers in our profession sour and turn bitter as they age
and move aside to make room for younger colleagues and modern athletes.
Not Broeg. He stayed in the moment, able to apply his old-school wisdom
to new-world issues and make it fit. Broeg evolved and kept up. We
fondly recall a Broeg column in 1999, taking the Cardinals to task for
failing to re-sign free-agent outfielder Brian Jordan.
During his vast expanse of days that led him from Ruth to Pujols,
Robert William Broeg turned his life into a history museum.
He was called to the White House to chat about baseball with Harry
Truman and Ronald Reagan.
He swapped stories and drank cocktails late into the Cooperstown
night with the cantankerous Ty Cobb.
Broeg once won a friendly $10 ringside wager from Muhammad Ali.
Ted Williams would often call Broeg at home with a question, needing
to search through the baseball encyclopedia stored in Broeg's memory.
The gregarious Broeg could even succeed in warming up the notoriously
cold Joe DiMaggio, who always loosened his tie and personality when
sitting down to talk baseball with B.B.
Of course, Stan Musial wasn't "The Man" until Broeg picked up on the
murmurs of the crowd in Brooklyn and gave Stan the world-famous
It was Broeg who advised the photographer to stick around and get
into position for the famous photo of the midget Eddie Gaedel taking an
at-bat for the Browns.
Broeg wasn't some self-serving crusader, but as an icon he used his
clout in important ways. He helped devise, and successfully pushed for,
the first pension plan for veteran major-league league players. He
successfully championed the Hall of Fame causes of Cardinals Red
Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter and Chick Hafey (among others).
And from his post in the center of the nation, Broeg represented St.
Louis with authority and distinction, for years writing commentaries and
stories for national publications such as The Sporting News and The
Saturday Evening Post. Even in those days, the New York writers tried to
bully their way into power, but St. Louis was never going to be some
forgotten flyover country as long as Broeg had that overworked
typewriter at his fingertips.
By now it should be obvious to you, dear reader, that there will
never be another Bob Broeg. Not in the press box, not in the newsrooom,
never again in our lifetime.
If there's any comfort in Bob Broeg's passing, it's that he went with
his beloved Mizzou football Tigers riding a three-game winning streak,
before they headed to Kansas on Saturday to lose by 10.
This column appeared in the Oct. 29, 2005 editions of the St.