Hawkins on Baseball Hall of Fame ballotFormer Superiorite is a finalist for the Spink Award for baseball writers
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
Jim Hawkins grew up loving the sport of baseball as a youth in Superior.
Whether it was playing a pick-up game near his home in Hammond Park, collecting baseball cards or going to watch the Superior Blues as a member of the “Knot Hole Gang” in the 1950s, Hawkins loved baseball.
His love for the sport led him into a 40-year sports writing career, which included covering the Detroit Tigers from 1970 until his retirement in 2011.
On July 10, Hawkins learned he was one of three finalists for the 2013 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which is the highest award given by the Baseball Writers Association of America to its members.
The award was instituted in 1962 and named after J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News from 1914 to 1962 and the award’s first recipient. Winners are recognized in a wing at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“It’s quite an honor and exciting,” Hawkins said. “I knew I was under consideration, and Tuesday during the All-Star game friends started asking if I got the call from the committee yet. Then after 4 p.m., I got the call that I was on the ballot for 2013.
“I don’t know if I have a chance of getting in, but just being on the ballot is a huge award.”
The 2012 baseball writer entry was Bob Elliott of the Toronto Star. Among previous Spink Award winners are well-known writers such as Fred Lieb, Shirley Povich, Jerome Holtzman, Ring Lardner, Sam Lacy and Peter Gammons.
“That’s a pretty staggering list of names,” Hawkins said.
The other two writers on the 2013 Spink ballot are Paul Hagen, who covered the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies, and Russell Schneider, who worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer before retiring in the 1970s.
Hawkins attended Pattison Elementary School through the third grade and then transferred to the new Cathedral School, eventually graduating in 1962.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1966, Hawkins knew he wanted to be a sports writer and took an intern position at the Milwaukee Journal.
“All I wanted to be was a sports writer,” Hawkins said.
His first fulltime job was with the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. He then spent two years at the Baltimore Evening Sun before getting hired by the Detroit Free Press in 1970 to cover the Tigers.
“At the time I was the youngest regular baseball writer in the country,” Hawkins said. “When I retired in 2011, I held BBWAA card No. 12. The cards are based on seniority, so only 11 writers in the country — the world, actually, since we have members in Japan and Latin America — had been covering major league baseball longer than I had. I guess that means I’m old.”
Hawkins, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., keeps busy working part-time for MLB.com. He recently covered a game in which Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Holliday was making a re-hab start.
Hawkins is married to the former Penny Johnson of Brule, and they have two children: Leslie Dinauer, who lives in Boulder, Colo., and Mark, who works for a cruise line out of the Grand Cayman Islands. Penny’s mother, Minerva Johnson, still lives in Brule.
Hawkins worked at Peoples Drug Store through high school and remembers years earlier watching sporting events on a TV placed in the window of the drug store.
“We didn’t have a TV at home, a lot of people didn’t at that time, but we could go to Peoples and watch the big games on their TV,” Hawkins said. “I remember watching a World Series game there in the mid-1950s, and during one game Bob Bennett was among the crowd.”
Bennett was a Superior police officer and former professional baseball player for the Superior Blues. He was on the Blues championship team in 1952 and after that was a professional scout with the Chicago White Sox organization.
“Bob was there watching the game with a bunch of us kids and he was calling all of the pitches,” Hawkins said. “We were amazed he knew what pitch was going to be thrown.”
Hawkins also remembers having a Superior Evening Telegram paper route from 1956-57.
“I picked up my papers at the old Telegram Building on 13th and Tower Ave., and my first stop was J.C. Penney’s across the street,” Hawkins said. “Then I’d make my way up to Globe News, down Belknap, then back down Ogden Ave. Boy this brings back a lot of memories.”
During his career Hawkins has written eight books, the latest in 2010 on Al Kaline, who Hawkins said “was the best Tiger player I covered by far.”
Other books included the biography of Mark “the Bird” Fidrych and the autobiography of Ron LeFlore, which was published in three languages and made into a TV movie starring LeVar Burton.
“The book on LeFlore came out in English and Japanese, because he played a number of years in Japan,” Hawkins said. “Then when he signed with the Montreal Expos, I got a call and was told they were going to release the book in French.
“I still keep in touch with Ron, and unfortunately he lost a leg last winter. It had to do with smoking. He told me the disease, I can’t remember what it was, but it had nothing to do with diabetes. How ironic is it that a man that once led both leagues in stolen bases now had one of his legs stolen from him.”
Hawkins also wrote books on the Daytona 500, The Masters, an instructional manual on golf, another book on the Tigers and a diary of the Tigers team during the 2008 season.
“They had a good team that year and thought they were going to win it all,” Hawkins said. “They went on and finished dead last. I guess we kind of jinxed them.”
Hawkins said the sport of baseball has changed drastically since 1970.
“The game is so much different,” Hawkins said. “Writers were closer to the players back then and now players are multi-millionaires. When I started we were able to get a lot closer to the players. We traveled with the team and hung out them on the off days.”
When Hawkins started covering the Tigers, he had something in common with a number of the players who played in the minor leagues for the Duluth Dukes.
“Denny McLain, Gates Brown, Bill Northrup, we had a lot of guys that played in Duluth,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins also had his run-ins with Tiger players, including McLain, who was going through a slump and dumped a bucket of water on Hawkins’ head.
“He was struggling and thought he would take it out on me,” Hawkins said. “He got suspended for the incident, but we remained friends after that. It was stuff that went on in the clubhouse.”
Hawkins also had his differences with manager Billy Martin.
“He blamed me in 1973 for getting him fired,” Hawkins said. “He said I was close with the general manager and I told him to get rid of him. I told Billy, ‘If I had that much power you would have been fired a long time ago.’”
Martin got hired right away as manager of the Texas Rangers, but he didn’t forget Hawkins.
“I remember when I walked into the Rangers clubhouse Bill starting yelling, ‘Here comes Benedict Arnold, here comes Benedict Arnold.’ I didn’t have anything to do with his getting fired in Detroit, but I wish I would have.”
Hawkins also made some friends in Detroit and three of his favorite Tigers were Kaline, Alan Trammell and Willie Horton.
“Kaline was a very private person, I’m glad I was finally able to write a book on him,” Hawkins said. “Trammell was also a great guy and Willie was great with the kids. My son thought he was the greatest. After all these years he still asks about my son.”
Hawkins also remembers when an 8- or 9-year-old Prince Fielder was running around the Tiger clubhouse with his dad Cecil.
“He was a big kid and at the time if anybody would have told us that he’d end up being a major league star nobody would have believed it,” Hawkins said.
If Hawkins is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he would be the second person from Superior so honored.
Dave “Beauty” Bancroft was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1971. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies, N.Y. Giants, Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins, and was a part of the Giants’ World Series championship teams in 1921 and 1922.
“I remember seeing him in the local pool hall when I was a kid,” Hawkins said. “Just being named along with Dave Bancroft is another huge honor.
“Thinking back when I went to see the Blues as a member of ‘Knot Hole Gang,’ I never dreamed of going to visit the Hall of Fame, let along being in it.
“I also never dreamed I’d be covering baseball for a living.”
NOTES: Baseball writer winners are not considered to be members of the Hall. They are not “inducted” or “enshrined” but are permanently recognized in an exhibit at the Hall’s library. … The first vote Hawkins ever cast as a member of the BWAA Hall of Fame electorate was for Kaline. … Ballots for 2013 voting are due in September and the inductee will be announced at the MLB Winter Meetings in early December. … Hawkins’ brother, John, passed away in Superior last November. … Hawkins was also in the sports memorabilia business and at one time owned McLain’s Cy Young Awards from 1968 and 1969 and his AL MVP award from 1968.