On Tuesday night, the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis honored Rick Hummel, Post-Dispatch baseball columnist, with its Media Person of the Year award, and it bestowed Lifetime Achievement Awards on Bob Uecker, baseball announcer, and Bob Duffy, campaign director of St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon.
Was there a theme for the evening? Sports, sports, arts? Commentators? People whose work often touches those things that bring enjoyment to others?
OK. But what makes these folks stand out?
Duffy is one of the founders of the St. Louis Beacon, and my colleague now at St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon. (Full disclosure: Duffy has been my colleague since we started at the Post-Dispatch within two weeks of each other.) He was praised as a reporter, an editor and a critic. But in his introduction of Duffy, Rocco Landesman got to the core of what elevates those in our craft who are deserving of achievement awards.
Landesman, the theater producer and former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, said he came to praise Duffy not to bury him. But “if I were to bury him, I would order up a tombstone and I would write on it ‘Robert W. Duffy’ and give the date of birth and that other date and I would write only one other word below that and that would be ‘Journalist’.”
“Being a journalist is a state of mind,” Landesman said. “Journalists are actually interested in other people, in other things. I have had my whole career in the theater so you can imagine the number of narcissists I’ve had to deal with.
"Bobby Duffy is probably the most interested, most curious person I’ve ever met. And his career has reflected his curiosities. He is curious about art, about architecture, about politics, about gossip. About anything that you can possibly imagine, Bobby is interested in it; he is curious about it. He is the anti-narcissist in that sense. And he is not just interested in those subjects; he’s interested in you. It’s personal with him. He’s interested in you, and you, and you; and he’s interested in your families and your friends and your clubs and your communities.
"When he writes — when he puts pen to paper — it is to connect you, us, with the things that he is interested in, that he’s covered, that he’s talking about. He’s interested in those connections, in connecting to the real world that’s out there, which is why he is never writing down to anyone.”
There, in that very proper tribute, is a key link among the honorees: “connections.”
The genius of Bob Uecker was alluded to simply in Bob Costas’ introduction: “When you talk about Uecker, you can’t do better than quote his own material.” His self-deprecating humor connects clearly with the guys in the seats and watching games at home.
Hummel, “the Commish,” was lauded as the man who “has no fish to fry,” as John Rooney said, and as the person who does it all, who always gets the quotes and makes it look so easy when it isn’t, as Kevin Horrigan said.
Hummel and Uecker are in the Hall of Fame because their work makes every fan a baseball expert. The connection was so direct in Hummel’s case that pitcher Joaquin Andujar told the rest of the media members assembled before a World Series that Ricky Hummel could answer his questions.
And Duffy helps others see the connections among arts and politics and life.
As Landesman observed: None of these men talk down. They all lift up.