TORONTO - Bobby Smyth awoke last week and headed for his computer.
“First thing as usual I check the Toronto Sun sports site and click on a story with ‘Bob Elliott’ in the headline,” said Smyth from Ladysmith, B.C., the other day.
“Since it takes time for the page to load, I initially thought you had died. Your name is never in a headline,” growled the former Etobicoke baseball coach in the same manner he used to growl at Joey Votto.
“Then the full text evolved, I was relieved to see that not only were you still alive, but you had won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.”
Yes, it has been an unforgettable week as we move towards to the Baseball Writers Association of America presenting the Spink award at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 20-22.
After finishing second in the voting three consecutive Decembers, I had people in my corner:
Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, who nominated me.
Again and again and again.
Plus, Dayton’s Hal McCoy, New York’s Murray Chass, Ross Newhan of Los Angeles and secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell, who form the Spink committee and kept me on the ballot.
There isn’t any 15-year guarantee.
And then the voters.
As soon as O’Connell made the announcement — a few minutes after 8 a.m., on Dec. 6 — e-mails began arriving, each expressing “hearty congratulations.”
I spoke, despite being heckled by a non-card-carrying BBWAA member — Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick.
When I finished thanking the electorate my cell phone went off loudly, interrupting the speaker in the midst of his presentation.
“It’s the Prime Minister calling,” yelled speaker Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times.
When I returned home Friday, I checked the messages and the PM had not called.
After looking at Wednesday’s coverage in the Sun for a second, I thought maybe Smyth was right. Maybe I had taken the escalator all the way to the top floor.
Ten pages! (And a Maple Leaf had not even been traded.) The stories and columns could have been a series of obits.
A former boss e-mailed to say he had not seen that much baseball in the paper since Joe Carter hit that homer.
There was glowing (too glowing) words of praise from Steve Simmons, Ken Fidlin, Bill Lankhof, Mike Zeisberger, Mike Rutsey, Mike Ganter, Terry Koshan, Mike Koreen and Gregor Chisholm.
But no Beezer. No doubt he is still angry from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when I, as a fill-in coverage co-ordinator, told him no, we did not have room for a 14th sidebar on sprinter Donovan Bailey.
Guess the first thing we should address besides praising all those deskers at the Kingston Whig-Standard, Ottawa Journal, Ottawa Citizen and the Sun, who caught all my mistakes, land mines and typos, plus bosses Doug McConnell, Pete Fowler, Ron Brown, Edward MacCabe, Gerald Redmond, Graham Parley, Wayne Parrish, Mike Simpson, Scotty Morrison, Pat Grier, Dave Fuller and old what’s his name — Bill Pierce — who paid all my phone bills and seldom made it seem like a job, would be the nickname.
This Boxin’ Bob bit.
The nickname has nothing to do with me going six rounds with Conroy Nelson or Gaetan Hart.
In 1986, the Montreal Expos were in Atlanta, losing the season opener 6-0. The next day, I took Expos Rule V draft Jeff Parrett for lunch at the rotating restaurant on the 73rd floor atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza.
The year before, he was on the first floor of a bus out of class-A Stockton in the Milwaukee Brewers system.
That night, I went with dear friend Gerry Fraley and Chris Mortensen of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution to watch Wrestlemania II on the big screen at the Fox Theatre.
During breaks we counted plenty of Expos in the crowd: Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Hubie Brooks, Tim Wallach. Tim Burke, Mitch Webster, Herm Winningham, Mike Fitzgerald, Floyd Youmans, Al Newman, Bryn Smith and others.
The Boston Red Sox, by way of comparison, were known as: “25 players, 25 cabs.”
We thought Wrestlemania II, with so many teammates out together, might mean good things for the 1986 Expos. It meant they were wrasslin’ fans.
They won 78 games.
Wrestlemania II was held in three locations: The Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, the Rosemont Horizon outside of Chicago and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
One match pitted Bob Orton, a wrestler I liked, against actor Mr. T — in a boxing match. As the match unfolded, bad guy Orton slugged Mr. T, the hero, in the eye and it went like this:
Announcer Vince McMahon screamed: “C’mon ref! That’s a disqualification! He thumbed him, thumbed him in the eye. Are you blind, ref?
Award-winning analyst Jesse (The Body) Ventura snarled: “What are you talking about, McMahon? That was the finest overhand right I’ve ever seen since Rocky Graziano!”
(I always thought that approach would work in pro sports ... if Jerry Howarth ripped the Jays on every pitch and Alan Ashby praised the home team. Or vice-versa.
Next day, walking into the press box, Fraley looked up and said: “Here’s Boxin’ Bob.”
The nickname stuck, eventually becoming Boxer.
The next year, I came to work in Toronto so I no longer was accompanying the Expos on the road. Writers in National League cities asked: ‘Wwhat happened to Elliott?’
One Expos writer would say: “Oh, he quit to become a pro wrestler. Covers his own fights.”
One guy in St. Louis believed him and, seeing me years later in the Dunedin ball park lunch room, asked me if “I’d appeared on the same card as Hulk Hogan?”
It would have been dopey except he asked it in front of St. Louis broadcasters Jack Buck and Mike Shannon, plus GM Dal Maxvill and other Cards executives.
The name lives on. In one of the e-mails I received last week, Mark Whicker said he told his son about my Hall honour. I’d met Philip, now 10, a couple of years ago in Long Beach.
“How can a boxer be honoured by the baseball Hall of Fame?” Philip asked, before adding: “Has he been retired for five years?”
It was overwhelming when O’Connell phoned my room with the news. Same when I stood to speak as everyone else stood and clapped.
It has been equally humbling ever since.
Not counting Twitter notifications, we have received 393 e-mails, 129 Facebook comments and 201 Twitter messages, as the followers jumped by roughly 500 into Bob McCown territory.
Add it all up and people have written 23,222 words to me. That equates 27.3 open pages of writing.
(While we have had lots of space in the sports section, Pierce, said ‘no’ to running 27.3 pages of e-mails.)
Those e-mails, meanwhile, are 90% answered. Then it’s on to my other assignments and the 78 texts.
Phone messages? Uh, I wrote down all the numbers ... but left the sheet of paper in Dallas.
Among the missed calls as I mumbled through six TV and four radio interviews: Canada’s only Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins called, as did Paul Quantrill and Votto. Robbie Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Terry Puhl, Jeff Francis, Justin Morneau, Ed Sprague, Jason Dickson and Bill Stoneman sent messages.
GMs expressed congrats at the winter meetings. Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan was concerned about my health (I’ve lost 52.8 pounds thanks to Weight Watchers but I’m not throwing out any old pants because I’ve been down that road before and come back.)
Because I also write for CanadianBaseballNetwork.com there were e-mails from the amateur scene from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island.
I heard from readers, friends, travelling secretaries, secretaries, young players we’d written about and their parents, managers, ex-managers, scouts, writers, broadcasters, P.R. directors, grounds keepers, equipment men, college players, athletic directors, minor leaguers and co-workers.
Even my favourite all-time baby sitter.
Two readers asked me to autograph a ball. Who wants a writer’s autograph on a ball unless the writer’s name is Gary Smith, Tom Verducci, Ray Ratto or Wright Thompson?
Things finally began to return to normal Saturday night. Then it was time for Coach’s Corner and the well-dressed guy was talking about another Kingstonian, holding up the sports section front of the Sun.
“That’s my pal he’s talking about,” said Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, who was watching Hockey Night In Canada at a Christmas party in Kansas City.
John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press was viewing Channel 9 in Windsor and e-mailed writers:
“Boxer got a huge salute on Hockey Night in Canada from Don Cherry between the first and second. This is like Bob Costas saluting the Spink winner at half time of the Sunday night NFL game on NBC. Only it’s even bigger than that.”
Then, the e-mails started again.
My favourite note came from a respected colleague:
“Congrats on a richly deserved, long overdue honour. When I heard the news, it brought tears to my eyes. Besides with your unrivalled reporting and stable of sources, you’ve done more than anyone to promote the game in Canada — and to generously welcome newcomers to the biz, as you did with me.
“In this case, it is not an overstatement to say: A nation thanks you.”
And I say thank you. Thank you, everyone.