Donnie Scott keeps the old newspaper in a photo album. There he is at bat next to this headline: “STAGGERING: 18 home runs .782 average and he pitches.”
Scott was 12.
The story changed his life. “Donnie Scott could demand premium rates in the advertising market,” Bob Chick wrote for The Evening Independent back in 1974. “He’s a walking billboard, a 4 column ad in the newspaper, a one-minute television commercial. Every time Scott swings the bat it rings in his dad’s cash register. When they ask his father how’s business, they know Donnie is the business. For effectiveness, Donnie Scott couldn’t be beaten by the Pied Piper. Dad operates a batting cage and his son operates on pitchers. Put them both together and it’s like getting all the bonus lights working on a pinball machine.”
That 12-year-old would go on to play 2½ years with Major League Baseball.
“You can put my life into two segments,” said Scott, now 60. “There was before Bob and there was after Bob.”
Chick’s story changed how people looked at him, Scott said. And it changed how he looked at himself. The journalist covered the ball player’s career, the year he went back to the minor leagues, his move into coaching. Chick’s coverage motivated Scott. It pushed him. And it took him a while to realize something else about the journalist.
“This guy was a coach that happened to be a sports writer,” Scott said.
Chick, who spent 21 years at The Evening Independent and 15 years at The Tampa Tribune, died March 22 of natural causes. He was 82.
Stories in the shadows
Chick, or “Chickie” to his friends and fans, worked his way up from a paperboy at the Indy to a copy boy to a stringer covering high school football. While serving in the Army, he married Peggy. Once home, they started a family and Chick joined the paper as a sports writer. By 1968, he was a sports editor and columnist.
In his late 20s, Randy Beard started to work for Chick and found in his editor an example of the kind of editor Beard hoped to become — a good writer, fair, encouraging. After a good story, Chick left a typed up note of praise in his reporters’ mailboxes. Beard saved several of them.
If I could give you a gold star for service above and beyond the call of duty, I’d do just that for your superb handling and major legwork that went into the Rowdies and indoor soccer. I’d like to hold a newsroom meeting and call everyone’s attention to your work. That is not possible, of course, so the best I can offer is a pat on the back and a high five …
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When Bill Plaschke joined the Indy as his first job out of college, he worked for Chick.
“When I got there, it was clear that on the pecking order, the St. Pete Times was the bigger and supposedly better paper. We were the JV, the minor leagues was what the perception was. Except Bob disabused me of that perception right away,” said Plaschke, now a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. “He’s the one who taught me so much about how local journalism is the most important journalism and writing about the people you live with, your neighbors, it’s far more important than writing about celebrities and superstars.”
Chick wrote about regular people, Plaschke said. He looked for the stories in the shadows.
“There was no story that was too small for him.”
During his career, Chick won about 75 writing awards, worked on the committee that named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the group that brought the Rays to Tampa Bay, and he was inducted into the Boca Ciega High School Sports Hall of Fame.
The journalist was also an actual coach for his four sons, David, Doug, Bruce and Ryan, and nearly 20 years of neighborhood kids who played baseball at the Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg. In 1989, his team won a state championship. The next year, he was named amateur baseball coach of the year by the U.S. Baseball Federation.
Their dad was always taking pictures, said David Chick. He hosted pool parties for the team each year. And Chick had a rule that he stuck by.
“If you don’t come to practice, you don’t get to play in the game,” said David Chick.
It didn’t matter if it was the best player on the team, he said.
“You have to show up. Just like he did for work. You’ve got to show up every day and do your best.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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