Finally, Gage sums up his wildly divergent emotions.
“I would wish this on everybody,” Gage said. “And I would wish it on nobody.”
Saturday, Gage will experience the pinnacle of his career when he accepts the J.G. Taylor Spink Award during induction weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It is the ultimate honor for a baseball writer, marking his quality coverage of the Detroit Tigers since 1979. Gage’s name will reside on a plaque in the Hall that features previous Spink winners such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Shirley Povich, and Peter Gammons.
Gage recalled he was stunned when he received the call informing him of the award last December.
“I had to sit down,” Gage said. “My first thought was I was surprised they called the guy who didn’t win.”
Yet Gage’s big moment comes at a time when he is out of a job for the first time in more than 45 years. Despite covering the Tigers for 36 years for the Detroit News, the paper decided to take its Hall of Fame baseball writer off the beat in 2015.
Gage, 67, still wanted to cover baseball. So he left the News to join FoxSports.com in Detroit in time for opening day. However, the new job lasted only a few months, as Fox decided to get rid of its regional reporters throughout the country.
The whole situation has left Gage’s head spinning.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘What on Earth happened?'” Gage said.
When the move was revealed in February, Detroit News managing editor Gary Miles issued a statement to Deadline Detroit saying the paper was changing up some of its sports beats. Gage said Detroit News publisher Jonathan Wolman told him in a meeting that he had a policy of rotating its beat reporters.
“He told me it happened to him, that it happens to everyone,” Gage said. “I said, ‘This is my life. This is what I’ve been doing for 36 years.'”
Gage also was told that with Jim Leyland ending this long run as manager of the Tigers after the 2013 season, the paper thought the timing was right to bring in a new beat reporter to cover his replacement, Brad Ausmus. Again, it didn’t make sense to Gage.
“I said, ‘But I know Brad. I covered him as a player. Nobody in this town knows him better than I do,'” Gage said.
Gage stressed that the News said the move wasn’t based on his performance. He feels he still is on top of his game as a reporter and writer. He did the requisite duties of a modern beat writer with blogs and social media.
“I found myself having to defend myself,” Gage said. “People think, ‘Did you do something wrong?’ Nothing they told me indicated that I was underperforming.”
Gage thought winning the Spink Award might force the News to change its mind, at least for 2015. Usually, most papers would celebrate having a Hall of Fame honored reporter on the beat.
“It didn’t seem to matter,” Gage said. “They were determined to do this.”
Initially, the News assigned Gage to being a general assignment reporter for sports. That meant coming into the office and occupying “someone else’s desk.” Gage said he did a handful of stories, some of which ran on page 1 of sports. However, he knew the job wasn’t for him.
“I wanted to be in the Tiger press box,” said Gage of moving to FoxSports.com.
Gage is a true baseball lifer. I can appreciate the special dedication required by Gage to last 36 years on the beat. The grind of the unrelenting travel and endless season took a toll on me after I covered the White Sox for three years in the late 80s for the Chicago Tribune. It felt like 300 years.
Gage has covered more than 5,000 games. He says he truly loves the people and writing about the game.
“Baseball lends itself to the tapestry of being different every day,” Gage said. “It can be a challenge. Sometimes you have everything ready to go and you have to throw it all away because the game just changed in the ninth inning. That’s what appeals to me the most.”
Gage knows Saturday will be a humbling experience in Cooperstown. He is being rewarded for doing a job well for a long time.
Of his speech, he said, “I’m going to say I’m grateful to all the colleagues I respect and who respect me.”
In previous years, Gage’s trip to the Hall of Fame would be a small break during his coverage of the Tigers. Normally, he would be back on the beat on Monday.
But this hasn’t been a normal year for Gage. The baseball season is going on without him as he sits on the sidelines.
Gage says he has some feelers out, but jobs are scarce these days. However, he knows one thing: He still wants to be in the press box again.
“I may be 67, but I still have some words left to write,” Gage said.
Recommended reading on sports journalism:
Jeff Pearlman has an interview with Dave Maraniss in which he discusses his books about Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente.
Jim Cramer gives career advice to a young blogger for the Philadelphia Phillies.
AWSM has a post on improving the relationship between reporters and PR representatives.
Correction: Detroit News publisher Jonathan Wolman’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story.