Jay Greenberg was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday. He made his name covering the Flyers for two Philadelphia dailies from 1975 to 1989, before moving on to the Toronto Star and New York Post.
Jay was a writer’s writer and a reporter’s reporter. He was fastidious about facts and context, packaged in his signature voice, which combined irony, wit, compassion, and indignation.
I had the privilege and benefit of knowing Jay before Randy Rota and Bobby Clarke knew him. He was a year ahead of me at the University of Missouri, covering Mizzou football and writing a column for the Columbia Missourian. The Tigers went 1-10 in 1971, a miserable season for the faithful and especially new head coach Al Onofrio. It was redeemed only by Jay’s coverage, which initially reflected his sense of grievance, and then progressed to humor, because eventually what could he do but laugh. Characteristic of Jay, he was patient with Onofrio, a soft-spoken and decent man.
When Jay graduated, and went to work for the Kansas City Star (along with his classmate Mike DeArmond), I inherited the football beat and his column in the Missourian. From Columbia, I kept an eye on Jay’s work, as he covered high schools and filled in on the Chiefs with veteran Bill Richardson. When I graduated I was hired by the Star, and there I was again, in Jay’s astute footsteps.
Jay’s hockey-writing career began in 1974 when the NHL expanded into Kansas City with the Scouts. Having grown up in Johnstown, Pa., where a minor league team was the inspiration for the film “Slap Shot”, Jay had an affinity for hockey. He was handed the beat, along with Ken Rudnick, and chronicled the inaugural season of the Scouts, which at 15-54-11, was another version of Mizzou’s 1-10. Again, Jay handled it with patience and perspective, all the while milking coach Bep Guidolin for colorful quotes, and plumbing the personal stories of the players for copy that caught the attention of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. In the summer of ’75 Jay left KC for Philadelphia. At this point you can guess who inherited the Scouts beat upon his departure.
In 1977 when a position came open on the Boston Globe covering the Bruins I applied. In my application one of the references I listed was Jay, who by that time was established and respected on the NHL beat. With Jay in my corner, I was hired. Although my stint as a Globe hockey reporter was relatively brief, I never lost touch with Jay, nor stopped admiring his work. (He was my first interview subject for this blog) He had a profound and positive influence on my career. Nobody deserves more to be up there, with Elmer Ferguson, on hockey Olympus. (I don’t know much about Ferguson, for whom the award is named, but my guess is that his nickname was “Fergie”.)
Good luck to Jay on his new book with Mark Howe: “Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey”.