It’s past time we gave this man his due while he’s still among us, still covering games and still banging out copy on, we hope, a Royal manual typewriter. Furman Bisher, forever an Atlanta Journal guy dragged kicking and screaming into the AJC, is 90 years old and still covering sports in Atlanta, Georgia. Let’s pin a medal on this guy’s chest now, but not too hard. His column Sunday was worthwhile reading, with a first-hand account of a baseball Hall of Fame committee’s machinations as it tried to select from an old-timer’s ballot. It was a most fitting topic for Bisher. It began thusly:
It must have been easier to escape old Alcatraz than it is to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Its gates are zealously — and jealously guarded.
This is the fellowship that Joe DiMaggio couldn’t make in the first round. Or the second. Or the third. Nine members of the Baseball Writers of America, the voting constituency, passed over Henry Aaron.
Look, it’s not the Supreme Court. It’s about baseball, the national pastime. A sport.
Here’s to old school punctuation, truncated sentences, old-timey observation and the perspective that comes from decades of experience. This is a guy who got the definitive interview with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (right, 1949). He called this year’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game “the most unusual… I have watched, and this was my 58th.” He buried that bit of jaw-dropping personal trivia halfway into the column.
Bisher isn’t the best writer on the AJC sports pages, a section that has remarkably retained most of its marquee players despite gruesome staff reductions. He leans on the tried-and-true, especially when describing the grass and sunshine observed at a daytime Braves game. Sometimes he crankily clings to his 1940s values, embarrassingly so, the way your grandfather might. But hey, he’s 90 years old and still bringin’ it.
He’s earned the right to be less PC than the younger (are any of them younger than 50?) sports columnists at the AJC. When he’s gone, an important, public, living link to the mid-twentieth century goes too — the Greatest Generation and all that. Journalism is supposedly the first draft of history. Furman Bisher is history and journalism combined.
- Durwood McAllister died Monday while playing golf in Conyers. Before there was Jim Wooten, McAllister was the editorial voice of the conservative Atlanta Journal until his retirement in 1992. He’d been with the Journal 38 years.
- Mike King’s departure from the AJC was well done. He composed a routine column Saturday about a local controversy in Cobb County. Then, in a sidebar box, he quoted Mark Twain: “If there is anything more uncalled for … it is one of those tearful, blubbery, long-winded “valedictories” —- where a man who has been annoying the public for ten years can not take leave of them without sitting down to cry out a column and a half.” It was a classy departure.
- King’s departure came the same week that the AJC announced it was reducing its circulation to the immediate Atlanta area and cutting 100 more jobs. Earlier this month, Cox announced it was eliminating its Washington bureau. It is breathtaking and horrifying to watch this newspaper struggle for its very survival.