Behind the Mic: Dick Tracy

I spent 35+ years working alongside Dick Tracy announcing football, basketball, and baseball.  I knew Dick as a coach, a teacher, a professional colleague, and, most importantly, as a friend ever since I began my broadcasting career.  He passed away on Friday, September 4.

Six years ago, while I was on vacation and out of the country, the news broke about Dick Tracy’s retirement after 40 years of announcing basketball, football, and baseball here at RCN.  Dick and I chatted about his decision right before I left and he specifically asked that there be no publicity.  And, at the very end of his life, he still did not want any publicity.  His instructions to the funeral director included this line:

“Others will write and talk about all of the accomplishments, so why should I pay to talk about myself.”

He was right.  I will happily write about him for free!

His coaching career speaks for itself with his phenomenal record (205-51) and a state basketball title in 1982.  I can still vividly recall following the ’82 team to their state semifinal win only to be told that we could not broadcast the state championship game from Hershey.  Bob Gehris and I could not have been more disappointed.  We had followed this wonderful team made up of wonderful young men, coached by a defensive basketball genius. We wanted to call their last game.  I watched Dick’s team put the defensive clamps on that night to win the state title.  The telecast was on Channel 6 out of Philadelphia and all night long they showed the school librarian who was on the Whitehall bench and referred to him as Coach Tracy.  I think that is where the cliché “I could have thrown my shoe at the set” came from.  The announcers and the production team did not even know the state championship coach.  They did not talk to Dick or, and this is probably closer to the truth, Dick would not talk to them.  “Pleasant”, “congenial”, “sympathetic”, “sociable”, “complaisant” are all words I would NOT use to describe Dick Tracy.  “Cranky”, “obstinate”, “hard-nosed”, “stubborn” and “ornery” seem to come to mind much more easily.  But, with that said, the game announcers did not do their homework.

They did not do their homework.  It seemed so ironic because these are words that could never be uttered ABOUT Dick Tracy.  He ALWAYS did his homework.  Nobody was more prepared for an opponent; nobody was more prepared for class; nobody was more prepared for a broadcast.  Nobody was more prepared!

Dick’s preparation, however, never got easier because he was a technological misfit.  All his notes were done by hand.  He had to write out lineups, background information, records, stats, etc. each and every time we did a game.  There was no computer file- there was no computer.  Why would there be?  Dick could never use one – a TV remote pretty much stretched his technological wherewithal.  But for Dick it all worked.  He was passionate about everything he did and everything he enjoyed.  He didn’t just root for the Yankees – he lived and died after every game.  He didn’t just love Notre Dame – he worshiped the Fighting Irish.  He didn’t just go to a game – he tirelessly understood the game before we got there.

What I most remember, however, about the man I spent so much time with the past 35 plus years is the iconic persona thrust upon him by so many people.  Dick was a former Marine and certainly knew the meaning of “semper fi”- “always faithful.”  His former students, his former players, his former assistant coaches absolutely adored the man and I always had the sense they would do anything for him and that they knew him so well he did not have to solicit their help.  They anticipated what he needed and they were “always faithful” as he was to them.

If respect and friendship are the true measure of a man, Dick Tracy was immeasurable.  Today they refer to these people as “peeps” or the “posse”.  Dick only heard the words “Coach” or “Mr. Tracy”.  These three words represented who this man was to so many people and represented the love and respect they thrust upon him.

Dick gave his time, his effort, his insights, and his friendship to his students, to his players, and to all of us at RCN for so many years.  He was a pioneer behind the microphone and he did the job with grace and humility.  His spirit, for me and my colleagues, continues to be a part of every broadcast.

Finally, on a personal note, I will miss my color analyst and my friend.  We had a great run together!  I have no greater wish than for him to meet up with his beloved Mary.  Much like the nights when I returned Dick home only to see her waiting at the door, I am quite certain she waited for him at the Gates!  They will be together again and, despite my sadness, that puts a smile on my face.

Frances Richard “Dick” “Coach” Tracy – May you rest in peace!

However, with both Dick and Mary in heaven together again, I am a bit concerned about God’s peace!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

Not in “Musing” mood this week.

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The SportsTalk Shop: Local Leaders Keeping Kids First

I have long admired the local athletic directors in the Eastern Pennsylvania region. From Dick Tracy (who was also my English and Journalism teacher while he was Athletic Director—(which is a story for another blog entry), to Mike Schneider to Bob Shriver, and several other former athletic directors that I’ve always admired, I have always felt (and would frequently hear them say) that they would always want to keep the student-athletes’ best interests in the forefront of any major decision that they would make. Even now that those gentlemen have retired and I have the good fortune of being able to talk with them, they continue to preach that mantra as the directive of all administrators. I also feel that the people who have succeeded them have very much continued with that message in mind.

That point was hammered home once again this week—with some help from other community leaders — as the District XI re-established the pact with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to have their playoff championship games be played at a first-class facility, Coca-Cola Park. Here are some of the highlights from this week’s press conference (in order): Dylan Dando—LVBA Director of Baseball Operations, Scott Cooperman—District XI Baseball Chair, Kurt Landes, IronPigs General Manager and Terry Schadler from ECTB.

I think it’s so wonderful for the local athletes to continue to play in a Triple-A professional baseball venue. It’s a tribute to the local leaders to get together and work out a deal to continue this tradition. I’ve covered the PIAA Baseball and softball playoffs for several years. While the games are played at very nice facilities at present, there have been some places (sorry Shippensburg) that have not been worthy of playing the ultimate spring season championship game. You could argue the teams in District XI—thanks to this deal—may play in one of the finest facilities in the country for a high school contest. To play in a pro baseball site creates a memory that will last a lifetime, and in an age where many big business men and women are always looking for the best deal financially for themselves, it was refreshing to see these organizational leaders work out a pact that will see future athletes enjoy this rare and incredibly special experience.

Surely, there’s no drawbacks to this move. Other advantages include having a professional grounds keeping crew on hand to battle inclement weather, and the stadium lights allow games to be played later, which allows parents a rare chance to see their kids play without having to sacrifice their work schedule. What do you think of the news, and would there be any local sites that you think would do a better job hosting the playoffs? Feel free to post your comments below. This will be just one of the issues we’ll be discussing on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show featuring current ADs, in which we’ll show more video from the press conference.

Speaking of the former athletic directors in this region, they’ll be part of some very special “SportsTalk” shows coming up in May. Here are upcoming show lists for our program, which airs live on RCN-TV on Thursdays at 6pm:

April 25th: College Football Spring Recaps

May 2nd: Local Sports Issues w/Former Athletic Directors Bob Shriver, Dick Tracy, Les Kish

May 9th: “Radio Announcing Legends” featuring Al Raber, Dick Hammer, Tim Cain

May 16th: TBD

May 23rd: Former Major League Catcher Brian Schneider, plus Mike Schneider & Don Harakal