When I first came to The Charleston Gazette as an intern in the early 1990s, one of the first people I met was sportswriter Mike Whiteford. I often sat back in the sports section, because there wasn’t an empty seat in the news department, and “Whitey,” as everyone knows him, struck up a conversation every time he saw me. We usually talked about baseball.
Today is Whitey’s last full-time day at the Gazette. After nearly four decades, he’s retiring.
I didn’t know until several years after I met him that he had written a baseball primer: “How To Talk Baseball,” part of a series of “How To Talk” various sports books. The baseball book, first published in 1983, shows off Whitey’s style, breezy and informal, yet completely authoritative. He obviously knows his stuff front and back, but he doesn’t rub his knowledge in your face.
Do you know, in baseball lingo, what a “blue darter” is? Or a “cousin”? Or a “parachute”? I didn’t (or I’d forgotten), but all of those terms are found in the “lexicon” section of Whitey’s book. There’s also a pretty sweet series of a dozen profiles of men who have “enriched baseball’s lore and language,” including writer Red Smith, broadcasters Red Barber and Bob Prince, and players Dizzy Dean and Reggie Jackson.
The book is illustrated by Taylor Jones, a national cartoonist then and now. It’s got a foreword by Dick Schaap, back when he was one of America’s foremost sports reporters and before he was best known for hosting ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters.”
The good news is, Whitey’s retirement doesn’t mean he’s done writing. He still wants to do some features for the Gazette; in fact, since he won’t be laying out pages and putting stories on the Internet and performing all of the other chores at a modern newspaper, he might end up writing more than he does now.
And yesterday, I finally got him to sign my copy of “How To Talk Baseball.” I’ve been meaning to do it for years.