by Jim Riggs
December 1, 1979
Goodbye To An Institution
The dictionary lists one meaning of institution as an established custom and that is what Frank was in the sports department. He didn’t just run it. He was the sports department. Frank was always at work, usually seven days a week and after 34 years people began to take it for granted.
I discovered that soon after I began handling the page makeup when Frank took a rare day off or an even rarer vacation. For instance, I would answer the phone, the caller would say, “Hi, Frank” and start his conversation. I would jump in and say, “Frank is off today.” That led to a long period of dead air while the caller lapsed into a coma. He must have been thinking, “Frank Hyde off? He’s never off.” I would then break the silence by asking, “Can I help you?” Finally the caller would stumble around and say, “Well, er, ah, I guess so.”
After getting at least two calls like that every day I filled in for Frank it began to get annoying. I wasn’t just annoyed because the callers didn’t think that I could run the sports department in Frank’s absence but I was mainly annoyed because they always assumed Frank would be working. Since Frank was always at the desk they must have thought he didn’t deserve a day off like everyone else.
Why, even the other Post-Journal employees acted the same way. When I first began filling in for Frank I would be working at my desk in the morning and the city editor would come in, take a look at me and suddenly display a look of shock. It had happened to me before since I’m not a Robert Redford look-alike. However, it was not my looks but my presence that stunned him. Then, with a new look of concern, he would ask, “Is Frank sick?” I would tell him Frank was taking a day off which changed the city editor’s look to puzzlement. He would then leave shaking his head since he knew Frank never took a day off.
That used to happen every time I filled in for Frank in the morning. Soon the other employees became accustomed to Frank’s absence and they would ask if he was off instead of sick. However, when Frank took a rare vacation, panic would set in again. The first day would be okay and possibly the second. But by the third day someone would see me still working and then inquire about Frank’s health.
Institution also refers to a place of learning and Frank was definitely that. I learned more from Frank in one day than I learned at journalism school in a year. Textbook theories are fine, but getting out into the real world with a man who had been sports editor longer than I have been alive was a real education. Just like any job, handling a sports department involves a lot of “politics.” There are plenty of do’s and don’ts and vital tricks of the trade that I didn’t get in J202. Frank taught them all.
The dictionary I referred to also stated an institution of confinement, as a mental asylum. Many people would say that describes the sports department. I found working with Frank an insane experience since he has a sicker sense of humor than me. It is not often a young Whipper-snapper in his 20s fresh out of college can get along with a boss in his 70s, but Frank and I hit it off great. That is because his mind is in the 70s, the 1970s. Just when you’d least expect it he would throw out a one-liner that would have me blushing and wishing I had thought of it. You have to laugh a lot to survive in this business and Frank has laughed plenty and made others do the same. He has helped me pile up enough chuckles to last until I’m 100.
There is one thing Frank preached that I always disagreed with. He always said that a sportswriter can’t be a fan. Well, I’m a fan – of Frank Hyde.