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Thu December 22, 2005
Stop the Presses (So I Can Get Off)
A retired sports writer takes no prisoners and tells all in this memoir.
By Don Noble
During his 46 years as a newspaperman, 40 of them with the Birmingham News, Clyde Bolton earned a reputation as a straight-talking reporter.
He covered mainly sports, all the major sports and teams in the state of Alabama and, along the way, wrote 16 books before this one.
Six of those books were novels, the best being Nancy Swimmer; Story of the Cherokee Nation.
Although Bolton is a self-educated, plain-spoken country boy with no affectations, airs or frills, he was subject to some of the same pressures as any working reporter.
It was important not to alienate sources or appear to be for Auburn or Alabama because he wanted access to all locker rooms, he wanted everyone to return his calls, to grant the interview.
In retirement, Bolton tells all, and it?s fun.
To begin with, he levels a few shots at the newspaper industry, especially its revoltingly parsimonious nature. Having earned a pittance over the years, he was horrified to learn that the two Newhouses who earned the Birmingham News were worth over $7 billion each.
Bolton tells us several times in this memoir that he had a real fondness for Auburn coach Shug Jordan, who was friendly and liked the press.
For Paul Bryant, not so much.
After declaring Bryant was ?the greatest football coach who ever lived,? Bolton goes on to say Bryant?s ?success as a motivator was rooted in fear? and tells this story he has been saving for 40 years.
A fan, probably a tailor, goes up to Coach Bryant in a hotel lobby in Athens, Georgia, and presents him with a hand-made crimson blazer.
?Bryant snatched the coat, threw it on the floor and bellowed ?I don?t want that bleep-damn thing.??
There are other stories in this same vein.
In these chapters Bolton unloads a lot of judgments.
C. M. Newton was his favorite basketball coach.
Bo Jackson ?of course, was the finest athlete [he] ever covered.?
Coach Ray Perkins was a ?cold, abrasive strange person,? and he suggests ?getting rid of Ray Perkins and the Birmingham Stallions in the same year is better than curing world hunger.?
Bolton applauds the rise of the UAB Blazers and has many kind things to say about Coach Gene Bartow.
Having been in the sports world for so very long, Bolton has seen lots of changes, and most not for the better. He laments the huge amounts of money involved now in college football and basketball, but he is downright bitter about major league baseball.
He doesn?t care ?which spoiled millionaire was hitting a home run off which spoiled millionaire between work stoppages.? Pro baseball has become ?an exercise in greed.?
Bolton has never forgiven the players union for striking.
I forgive him this error in judgment.
About pro basketball he remarks, he ?stopped caring which hideously tattooed NBA dopehead was caught with drugs.?
Bolton also gives capsule histories of all the failed professional franchises in football, hockey, etc. in Alabama, and anyone reading these summaries should be reluctant to invest in the next one.
But professional sports in Birmingham, like remarriage, demonstrates the triumph of hope over experience.
Bolton made a name for himself as the premier reporter covering what was NASCAR and is now NEXTEL. He is enthusiastic about his ?sport??declaring that ?Richard Petty was the greatest champion in any sport??and I would like to understand the whole thing better, but I have to admit that, even after reading Stop the Presses, I still don?t get it.
The drivers are nice fellows, friendly and modest, but their greatest athletic talents seem to be stamina, courage, even a willingness to die, and Bolton reports grieving for many of them.
He closes his own story, however, with these lines: At his party at the News, he ate his ?last bite of finger food . . . and was retired. And I lived happily ever after.?
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.