I’m no longer the rabid baseball fan I once was, although, with the 2018 season getting underway, reading about the activities of several of the teams who’ve been training here in the Phoenix area awakened a few memories. For many years, my dad was Sports Editor of The New York Times and, every March, my mom and he would head to either Florida or Arizona, where he’d check on the activities of the Yankees or Dodgers or Giants, all of them New York teams back then.
One of my favorite stories involves the Yankees, specifically an event that took place while they were training in Florida in 1921. (No, I wasn’t there; it was long before my time.) I read about it when Babe Ruth’s autobiography, appropriately titled The Babe Ruth Story, (as told to Bob Considine) was released. What makes it special is a story Ruth told about my dad.
He wrote: “Ray Kelly…was a kid baseball writer with us that year…and just about the best-eating newspaperman I ever saw. I was interested in such things. Ray was with the old Tribune at that time, and the club roomed him with a young reporter from the Post, Bob Kelley, who had been gassed during the first World War and was given to fainting spells…We called Ray ‘Carniverous Kelly’ and Bob ‘Collapsible Kelly.’
“I now had a body of 220 pounds and it took a lot of food…Some of the writers tried to plot up an eating contest between me and ‘Carniverous Kelly.’ I was willing to take on anybody, including a hungry cannibal, but Hug [Yankee manager Miller Huggins] heard about it and nixed the idea.”
My dad always denied the story but, having seen him eat over the years, I can testify that he was definitely up there as a knife and fork man, and I have no doubt about the story’s accuracy.
In 1923, my dad moved from the Tribune to the Times, and was named Sports Editor in 1937, a position he held until he retired in 1958. Back in those days, before the term “conflict of interest” became popular, the various baseball, football, basketball and hockey teams gave lots of free season tickets to media members, so I spent much of my time during Sports’ Golden Years at Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds (Giants), and Madison Square Garden, with an occasional trip to Ebbets Field thrown in.
I can’t think of a better job the father of a sports-crazy kid could possibly have had. They were memorable times.