Bob Elliott, or Boxer as we all call him, retired this week after 50 years as one of Canada’s great sportswriters. Baseball was his trade. He all but introduced Major League baseball to Canada. Nobody worked harder to give the full picture of a story. Nobody told baseball stories with more love for the game. It’s only right that I tell a quick Boxer story.
A few years ago, I wrote a big story for Sports Illustrated on Jose Bautista. When you work on a bigger story like that, you try to do some advance work, get word the person you are writing about, get a sense for their comfort level, try to arrange ways to see the person in a more natural way. For instance, when I wrote about race car driver Jimmie Johnson, I worked it out to go back with him to where he grew up in San Diego. When I wrote about Tony Pena, I drove with him to the field in the Dominican Republic where he was scouted. When I wrote about Jackie Stiles, I had her direct me to her home in tiny Claflin, Kansas, and see the basketball court her father had built for her in the backyard of their house.
Well, I reached out to Jose Bautista through the Blue Jays, well, they were very helpful and they made it pretty clear that he would make some time to talk with me … but that was about it. It’s understandable. Jose is a passionate man who is not always easy to get. He didn’t know me, didn’t know what I represented, didn’t know what kind of story I REALLY wanted to write. When I got to Toronto, I quickly introduced myself to him, and we set up a time to talk, and I understood from his tone and abruptness that he was probably not going to be particularly forthcoming. So it goes in this business. So it goes.
And then Boxer saw me in the clubhouse. He wandered over to talk and asked me what I was doing. I told him.
“Have you met Jose?” he asked me.
“Yeah, we just talked for a second there.”
Boxer shook his head. He put his arm on my shoulder and we walked together over to Jose’s locker. And then, Boxer introduced me with some of the kindest words one person has ever said about another. He made it clear that Jose could trust me, that I would write an honest story, that I was someone he would enjoy talking with.
And — just like that — Jose Bautista looked at me in a whole different way. And when the interview came about, he was absolutely fantastic. And when we talked the second time, he was just as good. I had the Boxer seal of approval. And that was good enough for Jose Bautista.
And you know what? It meant even more to me. Good on ya, Boxer. We’ll miss you.