When Stan Hochman started working as the Phillies beat writer back in 1959, he was just one of three local newspaper reporters covering the team. The Connie Mack Stadium locker rooms weren't crowded with journalists, TV cameras and public relations people, and developing personal relationships and conducting one-on-one interviews with players were not only possible, but commonplace.
"The sportswriting game has changed," said Hochman, a Jewish man who's been writing for the Philadelphia Daily News for 49 years. "You're elbow-to-elbow with a pack of writers, and the television camera's going to be hitting you in the head, if you're not careful."
When he started at the Daily News, his sports editor at the time — longtime HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant — offered two important pieces of advice. He told Hochman where to park at the stadium so his hubcaps wouldn't be stolen and, on writing, he said "Inform 'em, entertain 'em and, every so often, surprise 'em."
With that advice — and plenty more lessons learned over the years — Hochman's columns became a fixture of the Philadelphia sports landscape, whether it was the Phillies' collapse in 1964, the Flyers' Stanley Cup wins in the '70s, the Phillies' and Sixers' championships in the early '80s, the slew of close-but-no-cigar finishes for all four teams in the '90s and 2000s, and finally the World Series title a month ago.
On Nov. 13, Hochman was inducted as one of the fifth class of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
"I'm Stan Hochman. I'm old-school and I'm proud of it," he told the crowd at the Hyatt Regency at Penn's Landing. Among those in attendance were Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, former Eagle and NFL Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright — and even Merchant.
Hochman's seen such changes in the business, he said during his induction speech; for example, he actually used to type a page of copy and then hand it to a worker in the second row who translated it into Morse code.
"He would send dots and dashes, and a man named Shorty at Western Union at 13th and Locust would translate it into words, get on a bicycle, and pedal it over to the Daily News," he said. "Do you think I've seen some changes in the business?"
With layoffs at newspapers around the country, how does Hochman — who started writing before ESPN, Comcast SportsNet and sports radio — see the sports journalism business today?
'Still Room for Good Writing'
"I see a shrinking newspaper base — it's just so difficult to be profitable. It costs more, and more people are getting their news from the Internet or from television," he says. "Yahoo and Google have hired a lot of talented writers, and they use them and pay them well. [But] there's still room for good writing."
While there are just a handful of Jewish players in the four major professional sports, sports writing has drawn great numbers of Jews to its ranks.
"They love the game, and, if they're not athletically skilled enough to play the game, this might be the next best thing — to be able to write about it," he said.
Also inducted were Philadelphia 76ers coach and former player Maurice Cheeks, Philadelphia University basketball coach Herb Magee, golfer Dorothy Porter, LaSalle University basketball star Lionel Simmons, former Flyers coach Fred Shero, Olympic track star Leroy Burrell, boxer Tommy Loughran, former Philadelphia Eagles Al Wistert and Harold Carmichael, baseball players Ed Delahanty and Mickey Vernon, and the 1929 Philadelphia A's.
These days, Hochman appears in the paper at least twice a month, has no desire to report from the busy locker rooms and claims that seniority doesn't allow him to write about whatever he wants.
"In a city that cares so much about its sports teams, it's a joy to [just] write," said Hochman, "because you know people are eager to read what you wrote."