Sports Illustrated had a great story the other day on the life and times of the Central Park Press League, a softball competition that flourished for a couple of decades before withering and, at last in 2018, dying. The story by John Walters is a terrific read for anyone, but for this wire service and newspaper industry veteran, it struck close to home.
I spent five years at Associated Press headquarters in New York but never played in the press league. It was generally the province of the “night-siders” who had daylight hours off while those of us suits were watching the clock to make sure we’d catch the right train home out of Penn Station or Grand Central.
Not that I wouldn’t have preferred to be out there on the diamond.
As a reporting intern at The Milwaukee Journal in the late 1970s, I was invited to play in the weekly newsroom pickup softball games at a city park one evening a week. The Journal (since merged into the Journal-Sentinel) was an afternoon daily, and we’d play after work.
I loved every pitch, every inning, every week. I was a 22-year-old grad student at Marquette University, thrilled to be playing ball with the newsroom regulars like City Hall reporter Ron Elving and Sports Editor Bill Dwyer. The games were called the Synthetic Conflict League, a joking reference to Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier, who once said the Journal was always creating “synthetic conflicts.” That was a more eloquent take on “fake news.”
After getting my degree, I moved to Illinois for a year, then came back to Milwaukee to join the AP. The bureau was on the Sentinel side of the Journal complex, and I was thrilled to be invited back to play again in the SCL.
I remember the camaraderie the most, the gibing from the newsroom carrying over onto the ball field and back into the newsroom the next day. I remember just two specific plays, one a bang-bang 5-4-3 double play in which I was involved to end an uprising, and my last play in my last game. That was a catch I made in center field, racing to my left, leaping for the ball and tumbling to the ground, then trotting off the field with a big grin on my face.
Four decades ago, I had no inkling that the newspaper industry would be gasping to survive in the year 2020. Nowadays, many newsrooms have shrunk to the point where they’d have trouble finding nine or 10 players to take the field, let alone have enough for an intra-squad game. But I recognized back then that those innings in a Milwaukee park were destined to be “the good old days.”