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Photograph by Irene Young

Good Sport

Kris B. Mamula

A Chass Act

A quarter century is a long time to spend looking over your shoulder. But that's exactly what Los Angeles Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre has had to do. He says he really has no choice. Not only does Dwyre keep watching his back, probably every other sports writer and editor in America does as well. The guy they’re looking out for is New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass. "He’s a competitor," Dwyre growls. "He’s a pain in the ass."

Murray Chass

Chass is clearly pleased by the compliment. "It’s good to have people snarling at you," says Chass, a 1960 graduate of Pitt’s College of Arts and Sciences. Coming from a fellow newspaperman, Chass knows the comment is high praise indeed.

Chass began a 44-year career in newspapering as sports editor of the Pitt News. He has been called a pioneer in sports writing. Dwyre says Chass was among the first journalists to go beyond who won and who lost the game in his stories. This was during a time when sports writers were like the kids who wound up joining the high school band—bumbling, but in a pleasant kind of way. Chass is best known for his coverage of the organized labor side of baseball, which has its roots in the first collective bargaining agreement between players and owners in 1968.

For nearly a century, team owners gave baseball players take-it-or-leave-it contracts. Even in the mid-1960s, the minimum player salary was less than $10,000, roughly what it had been since 1947. Labor contracts in those early days prevented players from negotiating better deals with other teams.

All that changed in 1975. Two pitchers challenged baseball’s reserve contract clause, and an arbitrator sided with them. The decision opened the door for players to sell their services to the highest bidder for the first time. Chass made his name in journalism with fairness and balance—by giving players and their union a voice equal to what the owners had to say.

Chass’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Dwyre or many of his other colleagues, for that matter. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has voted Chass the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. That’s an award presented annually since 1962 to a sportswriter "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing." Chass will receive the Spink award during this summer’s induction ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. He will be forever recognized in the hall’s Scribes and Mikemen exhibit.

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