Stan Hochman was the ideal sports columnist. He was smart, he was tenacious, he was funny and, oh, how he could write. On the day after a big event, every Philadelphia fan knew Stan’s column was a must read.
He was that good and he was that good for a very long time. He was there for every big story from the Eagles’ 1960 NFL championship to the 1964 Phillies collapse to the Ali-Frazier fights to the Flyers’ Stanley Cup parades. He was there for all of it and his accounts of those events, written in his distinctive rat-a-tat-tat style, are part of this city’s sports treasury.
Stan died Thursday at age 86. It is hard to believe we won’t be seeing his byline again in the Philadelphia Daily News, where he was a fixture for more than half a century, or hearing his voice on WIP and Comcast SportsNet. He was the voice of experience and always the voice of reason. When he spoke, we listened.
I started reading Stan in the Daily News when I was commuting from my home in Delaware County to Temple University in the ‘60s. He was covering the Phillies in those days, cranking out three or four stories a day. I devoured every word. His writing was so vivid you could almost smell the grass and hear the hiss of the locker room shower.
Later, I had the privilege of working alongside Stan and I marveled at his passion for sports and his love for newspapers. He was a pure journalist, a man of impeccable accuracy and integrity. He was a great reporter and a gifted writer. He could make you laugh one day and shed a tear the next but, always, he made you think.
He was a master at coming up with ideas. In the ninth inning of a baseball game, or the closing minutes of a football game, when we would gather in the back of the press box to decide who was writing what, Stan would have a sheet full of ideas. We’d divide them up like kids splitting up Halloween candy then we’d head to the locker room. Stan made us all look a lot smarter than we were.
I learned so much just being around him. He was a great interviewer, the best I’ve ever seen. He was able to get even the toughest subjects to open up. I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar waving everyone away from his locker after a tough game at the Spectrum. A few minutes later, I looked over and there was Abdul-Jabbar talking and Stan taking notes.
Later, I asked Stan how he got Abdul-Jabbar to open up.
“I asked about his record collection,” Stan said. “He loves jazz. We started talking about Miles Davis.”
Stan smiled. “Then we started talking about basketball,” he said.
Stan was the only print reporter to get a quote out of Duane Thomas, the Dallas running back, after Super Bowl VI. Thomas refused to speak to the media for the entire 1971 season and after winning the Super Bowl and giving a one-word interview to Tom Brookshier on CBS, he was walking away when Stan stepped in his path.
“Duane, you don’t look happy,” Stan said.
“Happiness is in here,” Thomas said, tapping his chest.
As usual, Stan had the scoop. The rest of us had to read about it the next day.
Philadelphia is a great sports town and part of the reason is the city has a rich history of sports journalists, both writers and broadcasters. If you’re a Philly fan, you grew up absorbing the wisdom and insight of Stan Hochman. It was there every day for all those years. Every day you plunked down those 15 cents or 50 cents or whatever for the Daily News, you were buying an advanced education in sports as taught by Stan.
He was the city’s first multi-media sports star. In the early ‘60s, while he was covering baseball for the Daily News, he began doing commentaries on WCAU radio. For three years, he was the weekend sports anchor on Channel 6. In 1965, he was part of the Eagles’ radio broadcast team, joining play-by-play man Andy Musser and color analyst Charlie Gauer. I still don’t know how he did it all, but he did and did it well.
The golden age of Philadelphia sports writing began in the late 1950s when a young editor named Larry Merchant assembled an all-star staff at the Daily News. He brought in talented writers like Sandy Grady, Jack McKinney and Stan Hochman, and together they set the standard by which all future sports sections will be measured.
Of the group, Stan was the most enduring. Merchant hired him in 1959 after reading some of the stories he had written for the San Bernardino (Ca.) Sun. He put him on the Phillies beat and the rest is history.
“I don’t deserve any credit for discovering Stan Hochman,” said Merchant, now best known as a boxing analyst on HBO. “It’s like a baseball scout going out and seeing Roy Hobbs. You’d have to be blind not to know he’s a big-league talent. It was the same thing with Stan. Like Roy Hobbs, he was a natural.
“He knew how to work a story. He knew what questions to ask and how to ask them. He was meticulous in his reporting and he was a wonderful writer. And on top of all that, he’s a good guy.”
The amazing thing about Stan was his longevity, yes, but more than that, it was how he remained at the top of his game so long. He wasn’t stuck in the past droning on about the good old days. He stayed on top of the current scene and as anyone who heard his delightful “Poobah” spots with Angelo Cataldi on WIP knows he had solid opinions on everyone from Shady McCoy to Sam Hinkie. Stan never lost his fastball.
I remember Stan telling me that in San Bernardino, the sports editor’s motto was “Keep it bright, keep it tight, get it right.” He actually had it printed on each sheet of copy paper. Stan said it was good advice and he kept it in mind years after we all stopped using copy paper.
Well, for more than 50 years and thousands of deadlines, Stan Hochman kept it bright, kept it tight and got it right. It is a legacy to be cherished.