By Michael Lewis
I know what you are thinking.
Horrors! A press pass other than a soccer one, especially on this website! Yeah, well, before writing about the beautiful game on a regular basis, I covered other sports.
That picture is a press pass from the New York Racing Association from Feb. 17, 1977 a Q&A with Steve Cauthen, who was all of 16-years-old at the time.
For those of you who don’t know who Cauthen, he took the horse racing world, actually, the sports world, by storm as a teenager back in the day, winning race after race.
I had just returned to Rochester from a two-week Florida working vacation in which I visited several baseball training camps in southern Florida and the Tampa area. I wound up among three or four reporters interviewing Reggie Jackson during his first spring training with the New York Yankees in Fort Lauderdale. The late, great Ed Ingles of WCBS Radio and Robert Ward of Sport magazine. Yes, the same Robert Ward, who wrote the infamous “I am the straw that stirs the drink story” about Jackson and Thurman Munson (I believe he interview Jackson that night, after the public interview).
I got a few questions in, but Ingles and Ward dominated the interview. I recorded it and it became this 2,500-word behemoth of a story that took over several pages in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. It was part of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s Timeout! feature in which sports celebrities and people in the news were profiled in a Q&A. While Ingles put on a master class on how to interview a celebrity, it must be noted that you could have gotten an educated response from Jackson by just saying, “Hello, Reggie.”
A couple of weeks later, I visited my family on Long Island and since Cauthen had made some major headlines, I decided to pull off another interview — at Aqueduct Racetrack. I set up the interview by phone (no emails in those days) and my mother, yes, my mother drove me to the track. My parents had two cars at the time, but they needed them both.
Cauthen was besieged by five media members – me, three radio broadcasters and a writer from People Magazine.
Not surprisingly, the requests were becoming ridiculous.
“The time element is the thing,” Cauthen’s agent Len Goodman said at the time. “They don’t let him breathe. He hasn’t had a chance to think of the work he’s got to do. He understands they [the media] have a job to do but he’s entitled to time to do his job, too. I got a call from one writer the other day who wanted to interview him between races. He has to have [time] to change his silks.”
We were forewarned that Cauthen wasn’t the most quotable athlete at the time.
“Remember, we’re dealing with a 16-year-old kid here, not a 30-year-old jockey,” a track spokesman said. “He doesn’t have many anecdotes to tell. He’s only been racing there since the end of November.”
He was correct. Cauthen answered all the questions. The answers were solid, but nothing fancy. But remember, he was only 16.
To my surprise, when I returned to Rochester, I saw a promo ad in the newspaper, heralding my upcoming Sunday Q&A with Cauthen. I was horrified. No one had seen the story, did not know its content and they were boosting it, probably because of the Reggie Jackson interview. Wow!
The story ran in the Sunday, Feb. 27 edition of the Democrat and Chronicle.
It didn’t compare to Jackson piece. Heck, nothing would. But I give Cauthen a lot of credit during a ridiculous time in his life. He was cordial and answered every question. As a writer, that’s all you could ask for from an interview.