He’ll stand on the shoulders of writing legends this summer at the Hall of Fame, taking his rightful place among the outstanding baseball journalists of all-time.
But when 2010 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Bill Madden looks back on his career, he thinks first about basketball – and a legendary coach who put him on the path toward Cooperstown.
“I owe a whole lot, probably my whole career, to Frank McGuire,” said Madden of the legendary men’s basketball coach at St. John’s, North Carolina and South Carolina. “If there was ever a case of ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ – well, it was me.”
The 64-year-old Madden, who became a household name for New York baseball fans through his work at the Daily News, became the 61st winner of the Spink Award – which is given annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”
Madden will be honored July 25 in Cooperstown at the annual Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Born Aug. 9, 1945, Madden grew up in New Jersey and was encouraged to read the great New York City papers of the 1950s by his father Charlie. With his future writing already shaped by the likes of future Spink Award winners Damon Runyon, Red Smith and Dick Young, Madden left for the University of South Carolina after winning a track scholarship.
“In my senior year, I wrote to Jack Griffin, the sports editor of (United Press International) in New York City,” Madden said. “Well, I didn’t hear back for a few months. But one day, I was working for The State (newspaper) in Columbia, S.C., and the sports editor comes out of the office and tells me I have a phone call from Frank McGuire. Basketball was my main beat in college, so I knew Frank, but I hadn’t used him for a reference or anything.
“Frank says: ‘I just got off the phone with Jack Griffin. You got the job.’ I found out later that Griffin had been a ballboy for McGuire when he was at St. John’s.”
With his foot in the door at UPI, Madden worked his way toward the baseball beat under the watchful eye of legendary writer Milton Richman – who would go on to win the Spink Award in 1980. Then in 1978, Madden left for the Daily News – and the New York Yankees beat.
“I was prepared for the Daily News; what I wasn’t prepared for was covering the Yankees,” said Madden, referring to the team’s Bronx Zoo era. “But my predecessor on the beat, Phil Pepe, taught me the ropes, and I was on the beat for nine years. But you really need to multiply that by seven to take into account the Steinbrenner factor.”
In 1988, Madden became the paper’s national baseball writer – a position he has held ever since.
“In all the years I covered the Hall of Fame ceremonies, starting in 1979, I never thought there would come a time where I’d be on the other side of those ceremonies,” Madden said. “You never think of yourself in the class of a Red Smith, a Damon Runyon, a Dick Young or a Milton Richman.
“This whole process has been just overwhelming.”
2010 J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner Bill Madden (Ben Platt/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)