By Theodore N. Beitchman
Stan Hochman had high standards
For the teams he was covering.
For the restaurants he reviewed.
And especially for his writing and reporting.
When he died this week at the age of 86, he got a wonderful and deserved send-off by those who worked with him at the Daily News and on radio and TV.
Hochman came to Philly in 1959 to cover the awful Phillies for the Daily News, and he went on to become a great columnist, maybe the greatest ever in this greatest of all sports and newspaper towns.
His only real competitor as a columnist was the Bulletin’s Sandy Grady, who was hired away from the Daily News. Together, they made up the Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton of Philly journalism — Grady’s elegant prose up against Hochman’s succinct and poignant style helping to make 1960s Philly a wonderland of newspapering:
Hochman and Grady, the Inquirer’s Frank Dolson and Sandy Padwe, the Bulletin’s Joe McGinniss and George Kiseda, the Daily News’ Bill Conlin and Jack Kiser.
It was the golden age in a town where even the great Red Smith had toiled back in the 1930s for the Record.
For those too young to remember, it may surprise you that before bloggers and TMZ and talk radio, newspapers were the only source of information for a sports junkie hungering for news and commentary.
The man who was Philly’s Godfather of the Golden Age of Newspapering now lives with his wonderful wife Pat in Santa Monica, within jogging distance of the Pacific and always within shouting distance of a boxing ring.
Most sports fans know Larry Merchant (left) as the HBO boxing commentator who told Floyd Mayweather that, “If I were 50 years younger I would kick your ass” after the boxer disrespected Merchant (they have since made up). But in 1959 he was sports editor of the Philly Daily News.
Stan Hochman’s death hit Merchant, who had hired him in 1959, especially hard.
In 1957, the Daily News was a bare-bones operation that Merchant, then 26, was hired to improve.
He did. Right away. Hiring Grady out of North Carolina to cover the Phillies and Kiser out of North Carolina to cover the ponies and the Warriors.
When the haughty Bulletin offered Grady more money and, most importantly, a column, he left and Merchant thought about how to replace him.
“A friend of mine from OU (the University of Oklahoma, where Merchant was a scrub on Bud Wilkinson’s great teams) who worked with Stan in San Bernadino sent me a couple of columns he wrote,” Merchant recalled in an email.
“And a year or so later when the Bulletin stole my first hire, Sandy Grady, I reached out to him. He stayed in my pad on Spruce Street for a couple of weeks, while covering the Phillies, and doing it seamlessly.
“And then out of the blue he wrote me a letter of resignation, saying he felt like a Triple-A guy. I literally begged him to stay on (though not in my pad) and he did for 55 years.
“He was as good as it gets, and I loved him.”
Stan was also something of a foodie. He loved to eat and especially to write about it.
After he and his bride Gloria visited the French Laundry in northern California’s wine country, where it takes six months to get a reservation, I asked him how it was.
“Worth the wait.”
That was his style, succinct and to the point.
Stan reviewed restaurants for REAL PHILLY, and when he went to a new steak house in town he told me that it was terrible and asked if he should write the review because they were an advertiser.
I said sure, and he and I visited again.
His review was even more negative, I suspect, than if he hadn’t revisited.
Stan was also a very penetrating interviewer. Tough questions were his middle name.
When Jerry Wolman came out with a book detailing his life as Eagles owner and Ed Snider’s role in bringing Wolman down with a stunning act of disloyalty, Stan had no compunction about teeing up tough questions for the Flyers owner.
Here is an excerpt from Stan’s 2009 piece:
In Philadelphia, Ed Snider tells people that the Spectrum is his “baby” and that he will be heartsick when they implode it before the end of the year.
In Potomac, Md., Jerry Wolman gnashes his teeth and snarls, “Ed Snider didn’t put a dime into the Spectrum.”
Whose fingerprints are on the blueprints? Whose DNA is in the design? Can we put the Spectrum on the Maury Povich show and have him yelp at the doomed 41-year-old arena, “Who’s your daddy?”
Wolman says he borrowed the money to build the Spectrum, picked the architects, hired the construction company that brought the project in ahead of schedule and under budget. That’s him, alongside the mayor, James Tate, at the groundbreaking, wielding hockey sticks instead of shovels, because the project was inspired by Snider’s quest for a National Hockey League franchise.
Wolman is 81, still porcupine-sharp. Agile, mobile, at times hostile. Could get to South Philly in less than 3 hours. He has not been invited to any of the “closing” events. Will he be invited to the implosion?
“Yeah,” Snider grumbles, “if he’s inside the building!”
Wolman is working on a book and a movie script about his life and turbulent times. He says it makes him sick to hear Snider talk about the building as his “baby.” He says, bitterly, “I took him out of the gutter and then he fucked me.”
And Stan was also stingy with his praise, so when I exposed Snider for his disloyalty in PHILLY SPORT, I was honored to have gotten this email from him:
Ted, that was an outstanding piece on the Snider-Wolman history….well- researched, well-reported, well-written.
sincerely, stan hochman
I was a kid when I first met Stan, who was covering the 1966 Quaker City Festival college basketball tourney at the Palestra.
Louisville had a great team, led by Westley Unseld, the Barkley-before-there-was-a-Barkley 6-6, 250-pound dynamo who was averaging 19 points and 19 rebounds a game.
The Cardinals beat Princeton in the finals of that Quaker City, though Unseld didn’t play very well.
The next day in the Daily News, Stan gave his appraisal:
“Westley Unseld may be Louisville’s ticket to an NCAA title, but as far as I am concerned his name should be:
Rest in peace, Stan. You were one of the greats.