Columnist Judy Salamacha

Flashback on the Life of Sports Journalist Dan Hruby

By Judy Salamacha

Since 1903, baseball’s American and National Leagues have ended their seasons seeking to crown a Championship team during the World Series.

San Luis Obispo’s Dan Hruby covered many World Series before he retired in 1995 from a 45-year career as a sports journalist/columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. He wrote in his last published column, “I never envisioned in 1950 that I would have opportunities to cover eight Olympics, not to mention innumerable World Series, Super Bowls, Kentucky Derbys, British Opens and championship fights.”

Hruby first flowed ink in his veins working for the Daily Independent as a teenager in Grand Island, Neb., before the family moved west. While attending San Jose State and editing the Daily Spartan, he happened to answer the phone when the San Jose Daily News was looking for a summer replacement. He took the job looking for a career, but timing was such he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War to serve two, non-combat years in counter-intelligence stationed in Baltimore. The good news is that’s where he met the love of his life and bride, Gerry.

He became the first full time baseball writer for the Mercury News after the rumor was confirmed the New York Giants would be moving to San Francisco. “I was competing for every story,” he said. “You had to be very creative to write three or four columns a week.”

At the same time, area sports reporters, including San Francisco’s Chronicle and Examiner, were buddies and competitors for the most unique — the most read — scoops and commentary. Covering the teams meant road trips away from family that could last up to 21 days, six cities in seven days.

Hruby’s San Luis Obispo home office is full of photographic memorabilia with tales to tell his friends and family since he and Gerry relocated next door to his daughter, Jane Hind. He was first to write a column about Willie Mays in 1958. Joe DiMaggio was his golfing buddy and preferred not to talk about Marilyn Monroe, especially her famous photo with her skirt flying up around his waist.

In 1968 he was invited to play the Bing Crosby/Tennessee Ernie Ford annual charity golf tournament. He noticed some “cheating” happening on Dean Martin’s team and told Crosby, who said, “The fun seems to be a little out of control. It won’t happen again.” Hruby also covered Olympian Peggy Fleming’s efforts to establish an eye program for people with problems and the Holmes vs. Ali fight and took a picture of Ali’s tablet doodles for an autograph.

Some of his favorite memories were reported in his final column: the U.S. Hockey team beating the Soviets in the 1960 and 1980 Winter Olympics; the rush he got when Billy Mills shocked all by seeming to get an extra burst to win the Olympics’ 10,000 meter in Tokyo in 1964; the surprise he and others experienced at Candlestick Park during the 1989 World Series Earthquake; and amazement in the 1970’s attendance success of the San Jose Earthquakes.

“This was the Golden Age of Journalism,” Hruby said, “with Joe Montana quarterbacking the 49ers and [head coach] Bill Walsh.” Walsh was developing and popularizing the West Coast offense while coaching at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, then broadcasting and writing.

“Everybody was looking for a scoop,” he said. Hruby’s big one came in 1966 while playing golf, then having dinner with Joe DiMaggio at the popular Paolo’s in San Jose. “’Sandy Koufax is retiring,’ he told me. It was at the peak of his career.” Hruby’s scoop came out several months before Kofax made the announcement, and broke the hearts of Dodgers fans everywhere.

During the 1972 Munich Olympics, he and fellow journalists were not only there during the shooting of the Israeli athletes, but thought nothing of the danger they were in as they stood, “…a few yards from negotiations between the German Government and terrorists, as huge tanks rumbled past…The Germans were in tears not believing it could happen under their noses.”

One column Hruby did during the time was about his friend Mark Spitz, who had just won his seventh Gold medal and intended to celebrate, but it was rumored he was Jewish so they whisked him away for his own protection.

When Clint Eastwood started a Pro/Amateur Charity Golf Tournament with guest players such as John Wayne, he came to Hruby and said, “I need publicity.” He and Gerry got to view the 1975 filming of Eastwood’s “Eiger Sanction.”

He was only frightened once on the job. It was the late 1950s. He was wrapping up the paper for the evening. The door was unlocked and “…a shabby guy came in ranting. I walked up to him and all he wanted was a story. I was able to calm him down.”

“It was also the Golden Age of Baseball,” Hruby declared. He was proud to be there working the desk and writing their stories. So many more stories to tell and not enough room to share them, but life is good in San Luis Obispo being with family instead of on the road.

Freelance writer, columnist and author of “Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story,” Judy Salamacha’s is a regular contributor to Simply Clear Marketing & Media. Contact her at: judysalamacha@gmail.com or (805) 801-1422 with story ideas.

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