Rick Hummel died last weekend due to an unrevealed illness that took him rapidly over the last couple of months. This came as a shock to friends and to followers of the St. Louis Cardinals, the ballclub that he had reported on for nearly a half-century with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Hummel was 77. He also was four months younger than me.
Rick started assisting in Cardinals coverage in small doses in 1973 and became the full-time beat writer in 1978.
St. Louis had joined the American Association — a claimant to big-league status — in 1882. They were the Browns then, joined the National League (the now-recognized major league) in 1892 and soon became the Cardinals. The Browns became a recycled nickname for St. Louis' American League team (1902-1953), which eventually became the Baltimore Orioles.
St. Louis was always a great baseball town, even for the 70 years when it was the end of the line going West for big-league baseball.
St. Louis was also vital to my youthful zealotry for big-league baseball.
You could listen to Cardinals games with Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck at night on KMOX, and get your father to pop for the Sporting News — "The Baseball Bible" published in St. Louis — once a week.
Which gets us to the fact St. Louis had high standards for receiving a Baseball Writers Association of America card, what with reporters and editors from two newspapers and also the Sporting News in that city's BBWAA chapter.
Hummel had to wait until 1976 to get a BBWAA card, providing unfettered access to big-league press boxes across the country. Here in the Twin Cities, I got a card in 1971, based on being assigned to do a few Twins stories in the summer for the afternoon St. Paul Dispatch.
Which meant, this year's seniority list for active baseball writers had me at No. 5 and Hummel at No. 11.
That didn't fool me. Hummel was the dedicated baseball writer; I was the guy who had a card for a long time.
Rick took over the baseball beat in 1978 and was either 1A or 1B for 44 years in covering the Redbirds. I landed the Twins beat at the St. Paul papers in 1974 and my last season was 1978.
I answered the siren call to become the sports columnist for the Dispatch on Feb. 5, 1979. The prestige was such that, in that afternoon's edition, there was an overline at the top of the front page announcing the start of said column.
And the new columnist's name was spelled "Ruesse."
Hummel deserved all the accolades that went with being elected in 2006 to the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I deserved those decisive third places on three-person ballots two or three times a few years back.
Me: Five years full-time on "ball," which I loved, for a daily newspaper. What a chump.
Rick: Forty-four years on ball, to which he was devoted, for a daily newspaper. What a champ.
He got to talk to Whitey Herzog every day for a decade. The only thing better would've been talking to Earl Weaver every day as an Orioles beat writer.
I had that duty with Gene Mauch for three years. And then I walked and only got to talk to him 50-60 times a year instead of 200 in 1979, and maybe another 175 before he headed home in August 1980.
Who cares about covering Olympics or Super Bowls or even Final Fours when you could have daily conversations with Mauch, the Little General, or be there to cover Rod Carew, Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle every day all summer?
Or maybe check into a Boston hotel in May 1977, and pick up a Globe, and turn to the sports section, and see five stories with different angles from the Red Sox previous night's game in Yankee Stadium — from Bob Ryan writing the gamer in his one year on the Sox beat, to Leigh Montville and Will McDonough (I swear Mr. Football was included) writing columns, and a story from each clubhouse … on a game in May.
And the next night, the next night, the Twins are playing a twi-night doubleheader in Fenway, and they collect 35 hits — including 24 in the opener — and sweep the two games. Even Mauch stopped in the bar for a drink that night.
I weep for the days of covering ball. I weep now for Ricky, the "Commish," and I weep for the great Gerry Fraley gone way too soon, and I smile for my friend Johnny Lowe going into Cooperstown this summer, and would like to say this:
I've always been a ball writer at heart. The difference being, Hummel and select other great ones had it in their heart and soul.