Bob Dolgan was with the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 45 years, from 1957 to 1963 and from 1967 to 2006, when he retired. Forty of those years were in the Sports department. Dolgan has won sportswriting awards in five decades, from the 1960s to 2000s.
In 1985, the nation’s sports editors named Dolgan one of the top 10 sports columnists in the country. In 1987, he won the U.S. Football Writers Award for the best column in the nation for a piece on late Browns player Don Rogers. In 1997, U.S. sports editors named his series on black baseball pioneers one of the top 10 in the country. In 1998, he wrote a summer-long series on the World Series champion 1948 Indians, visiting the living players on that team, from New Jersey to California.
Dolgan’s sports columns and stories have been reprinted in Golf Digest, The Sporting News and Baseball Digest. He was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame in 1999 by the Press Club of Cleveland. He's the author of three books, "America's Polka King: The Real Story of Frankie Yankovic and His Music," "Heroes, Scamps and Good Guys: 101 Colorful Characters from Cleveland Sports History" and "The Sportswriter Who Punched Sam McDowell and Other Sports Stories."
He now lives in Indian Head Park, Illinois, near his five grandchildren, with his wife, Cecilia. (He's also my dad.)
And now...just the facts!
Bob Jr: What made you think of getting into sportswriting?
Bob Sr: My best subject in college was English. And I was always involved in sports. I loved sports. So I decided to put the two together. I always thought sportswriting would be a good job. But I thought you needed a connection with somebody like a father-in-law or uncle to get a job on the paper. I made a decision about a month before I graduated that I would try to become a sportswriter since those were the two things I liked the most, sports and writing.
Bob Jr: Did you ever think about the fact that your dad was a laborer and your mom was a seamstress and you were doing something new for the family?
Bob Sr: My grandfather, who came from Slovenia and couldn’t speak a word of English, when I was about 10 years old gave me a mechanical pencil and said ‘You’re going to be the first person in the family to go to college.’ But when I was thinking of a job, I had no thoughts that I was going to be anything special. I was just trying to find a way to make a living. A couple of my friends said, ‘What are you going to do with that degree? You’re going to work in a factory with us.’ That filled me with dread.
Bob Jr: Who were your greatest writing influences?
Bob Sr: My favorite writer was Franklin Lewis, sports columnist with the Cleveland Press. Of course I knew all the guys with the bylines: Harry Jones, Frank Gibbons and Hal Lebovitz. They were the three major baseball writers (in Cleveland). But as I went along I developed some other favorite writers like Roger Kahn, I began reading him when he was at Sport magazine. He’s the guy who wrote “Boys of Summer.” I loved Red Smith, of the New York Herald Tribune. I liked Jimmy Cannon a lot, another New York columnist. And I got to know all those guys. Roger Kahn offered me a job later on with the Saturday Evening Post. And I met Red Smith at the World Series and at the Kentucky Derby. And Jimmy Cannon I knew from the baseball beat.
Bob Jr: What about outside of sports? I know there are some literary figures you admired.
Bob Sr: I liked the style of Somerset Maugham a lot. I liked F. Scott Fitzgerald. I liked Hemingway’s first book, “The Sun Also Rises,” and his last book, “The Old Man and the Sea.” But you can name just about every major writer. I’ve read Tolstoy, Sinclair Lewis. Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson. I really liked that. His first book, “Path to Power,” is probably the greatest biography I’ve ever read.
Bob Jr: Jumping to when you were assigned the Indians beat, what was it like being a baseball writer in the early 1960s?
Bob Sr: The overriding thing was, you were on your own. Those days, you never called the editor and said, ‘What should I do?’ I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but that’s the way I operated. I never asked anybody for advice and learned as I went along. Today it’s easy. After every ballgame they hold a press conference. They bring everybody in to address the media. You don’t even have to know anybody.
The players didn’t care about the media as much in those days. They might talk to you because they were feeling good or because they knew you. It wasn’t important to them to talk to the media.
Bob Jr: It seemed like they didn’t think about what they were going to say, or plan on it. And the writers had all access. You could talk to players at any time, on the field, off the field, at the bar or at the hotel.
Bob Sr: I think we got to know the players better because we traveled with them. It was all much more personal. The Indians’ traveling secretary treated me like I was a member of the ball club. Just have your suitcase outside your hotel door by 9:30 in the morning.
Bob Jr: You were alongside the players more than separate from them. You had to create some boundaries, though, because if you wrote something that made them mad they might not talk to you again. At the same time, you were fighting for scoops.
Bob Sr: That was the tricky part, dealing with the players and still not being a PR man. I didn’t want to be known as a PR man. I was among the first to really treat the job like a news thing. But at the same time you had to be friendly with the players. That was the tricky stuff.
Bob Jr: I remember the story where someone got mad at you and gave you the cold shoulder, and another where you were called names, like with Jim Piersall. Were there other examples?
Bob Sr: Well, John Romano, he was a catcher, a hard-hitting catcher. But he wasn’t very good behind the plate defensively, just average. The team was struggling and all of a sudden Romano wasn’t playing, he missed five games in a row. I thought they were giving him a rest. So one of the ballplayers I was drinking with said, ‘You know why he’s not playing. The other day when that winning run scored on the wild pitch he got hit right in the mask by the pitch.’ We couldn’t see it from the press box because we were up on top. But it hit him right in the mask, more like a passed ball, and the manager benched him. I wrote the story and we even had a cartoon of Romano being in the doghouse.
When I came to the dugout the next day—I always showed up. I didn’t hide out. You couldn’t hide out. If you hid out they’d really hate you. Bubba Phillips, who was Romano’s roommate, said ‘That was the worst story I ever read. You ruined his career, he won’t ever be able to play again.’ Romano came out waving a bat and said ‘You better never write anything about me again!’ He was threatening me with a bat in the dugout. Then we went on the road and he hit five home runs in six games.
Bob Jr: Whatever happened to Romano?
Bob Sr: Romano had a substantial career. I called him up years later and we had a very nice conversation. He probably forgot all about it. [laughing]
Another guy, Frank Funk, a relief pitcher, during a game it was announced they’d send him down to the minors. I went down and talked to him and Funk lashed into the manager, Mel McGaha, and I wrote all the quotes down and put it into the paper. That night the television station read my story and called Funk and asked him for an interview, and he said ‘I never said that, it’s all baloney and I don’t know where he got that.’ The next day Gordon Cobbledick (sports editor) called me up and said, ‘Bob, Funk said you never talked to him and the story is all baloney.’ I said, ‘Cobby, take my word for it, I swear to god, I talked to him and that’s what he said.’ And Cobbledick said, ‘OK, Bob, we’re standing by your story.”
Bob Jr: Do you think that today’s media climate results in less interesting coverage?
Bob Sr: Oh definitely. When’s the last time you saw anybody come up with a big story? I felt the writers should hang around with the ballplayers. There were always seven or eight guys who liked to go out at night and hit the bars and I’d go with them. And I picked up stories that way. For example, Johnny Antonelli was a starting pitcher and had been a big star in the National League. One of the guys told me, ‘He’s going to quit the team tomorrow night when we get back to Cleveland.’ Antonelli had been with the Indians for half a year. So I walked up to him and said, ‘John, can I ask a question? Is it true you’re quitting the team?’ He said, ‘How’d you find that out?’ I questioned him further and he said was going to go in and talk to the general manager as soon as we got home and tell him he was quitting. He was finished, retired.
Bob Jr: Did you break the story before it was announced?
Bob Sr: It wasn’t ever announced. My story was it. You would never get that today.
Here’s another one. Gabe Paul was the general manager of the Indians. He joined the Indians early in the 1961 season. He had left his previous team, the Reds, and I got word from a broadcaster who’d give me stories. He couldn’t put them on the air because he was working for the ball club. He said, ‘Bob, I have a good one for you. Gabe Paul still owns a piece of the Cincinnati Reds.’ [laughing] He was the general manager of the Indians, that’s a conflict of interest.
So I walked up to Gabe and said, ‘Is it true that you still own a piece of the Cincinnati Reds?’ Even though we were friendly, he called me a ferret...muttered it. He said, ‘You know I’ve been trying to sell it.’ I wrote the story and he sold the piece the next day.
Bob Jr: Your goal must have been to tell the stories so that all the fans out there knew what was happening.
Bob Sr: I was writing for the fans, the readers, more than the editors or anybody else. Some guys only wrote stuff to make the players happy. There were players who were having good years and doing well, and I wrote that, too. I wasn’t just looking for the bad stuff.
Bob Jr: Tell me about Art Modell (longtime Cleveland Browns owner) because you wrote about him a lot.
Bob Sr: Here’s one for you. A season ticket holder called me and said that Modell for the first time is making me buy tickets to exhibition games, which are worthless. They never did require buying tickets to exhibitions because all the subs were playing. I called Modell and said why are you doing this. He said, ‘Well, other teams do it. I could have had three exhibition games to buy, but I’m doing it for only one.’
Bob Jr: But his job is to make money for the team. And he found a way.
Bob Sr: He was making tons of money already. He was drawing 80,000 people every game! He had the biggest stadium in the league!
Bob Jr: Did it surprise you that he then moved the team to Baltimore in 1995?
Bob Sr: Modell committed the two biggest sins in Cleveland sports history. First, he fired Paul Brown, the greatest coach in football history. But moving the team, that was a shocker. Again, he had the biggest stadium in the league, drawing 80,000 people. The Browns had some success, but overall his teams were below .500. At one point they didn’t win a playoff game for 20 years. But he always talked to me, that was the good thing. [laughing] One time he said, ‘Where’d you hear that? The bowling alley?’ He’d heard I was bowling.
Modell was mad because the Indians got a new ballpark and were getting all the attention at Jacobs Field. He even said at one point he was going to have the stadium remodeled. He wanted to be the top guy in Cleveland sports. It was like he wanted to drive the Indians out of town, he made life miserable for them. Gabe Paul said he was trying to drive him out of town.
Bob Jr: But the Ravens did win two Super Bowls with him.
Bob Sr: OK, but that has nothing to do with him taking the team out of Cleveland. And they didn’t win two, they won one.
Bob Jr: Well, I think the vestiges of his regime were in charge in 2012 when they won their second Super Bowl.
Bob Sr: There should be a law against moving. These teams are institutions. They are such a big part of the city. There should be a law that if a team is losing money, the owner should at least have to sell it to somebody that would keep the team there. Then if they can’t do that, let them move.
Bob Jr: I wanted to switch over to some of your non-sports writing, interviews with the likes of Cesar Chavez. Was that any more challenging than covering sports?
Bob Sr: The only challenge with him and the United Farm Workers, the only tough part was finding him. They told me he was near Bakersfield, California, that was his headquarters. But he wasn’t in an office in a city. He was up in the hill country, and I talked to him up in a retreat in the country. Very nice guy. I agreed with everything he wanted.
The job was tougher in the baseball world because I’m dealing with people close up and trying to tell the real story. As a result, you have conflicts with some of the players, managers. What I found, I wrote columns for most of a year, on politics and other things, and they all wanted to cooperate with the press. Talking to Chavez, he wanted to get his message out and so he was happy to talk to me.
I did a column on John Wayne, who was a big advocate for the Vietnam War. And I wrote what right does he have to talk about it, when he was young he didn’t go into the army.
Bob Hope was another advocate for the war. He was at a press conference in Cleveland, and I asked questions about Vietnam and he got mad at me. He yelled out, ‘Look are you in favor of the Viet Cong?’ I wrote a whole story and he came up and said, ‘I’m sorry I said that, people ask me questions, and it really bugged me.’ It was a front page story.
Bob Jr: How did the autobiography of Frankie Yankovic, “America’s Polka King,” come together?
Bob Sr: I had met Yankovic a couple times in my younger days. My father was a boarder in his house. So I began interviewing him. He was a great interview. I’d talk to him and I’d come over to his house. He was telling the story, and I wrote it. Then about 20 years later, I updated it.
Bob Jr: Turning back to sports, you were able to get interviews with a lot of athletes who didn’t want to talk to the media. How did you do that? Ted Williams, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Dave Kingman, Jim Rice, Kirk Gibson, Steve Carlton and Albert Belle to name a few.
Bob Sr: I’ll give you an example. I was talking to the Detroit Tigers' manager, Sparky Anderson, in the dugout and a couple writers were there. I said, ‘Where’s Kirk Gibson? I want to do a column on Gibson.’ And the writers said, ‘He won’t talk to you. He hasn’t talked to us all year. He doesn’t talk to anybody.’ So I thought I’ll give it a try. So I walked in and said, ‘Hello Kirk, I’m with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mind if I ask a few questions?’ He said, ‘No, sit down.’ [laughing] Then when we were finished I said, ‘You know, the guys said you didn’t give an interview all year, why did you talk to me?’ He said, ‘Some people know how to approach a person and some don’t.’
Ted Williams was another one. Both times I talked to Ted Williams, we had a real long conversation.
Bob Jr: I was going to ask you about the column on the death of Browns safety Don Rogers.
Bob Sr: It’s the biggest response I ever got. It may have been the biggest response in the history of the Plain Dealer. Of any piece. Of anybody. He died of an overdose. I was astounded when I was starting to get letters and people calling me. I got close to a thousand letters, they were bringing in boxes full of letters from the mailroom. And an equal number of phone calls. The response was favorable. Everybody loved it. This went on for two weeks. It kind of scared me because I never had that reaction before or since.
Bob Jr: What's the best team you ever saw?
Bob Sr: The most impressive team I ever saw was the 1961 Green Bay Packers. They came into Cleveland to play the Browns. They got the ball on the 20-yard line four times in the first half and they drove down and scored each time. Jim Taylor was the running back and Bart Starr the quarterback. It didn’t seem (Hall of Fame running back) Paul Hornung had done much in the game. I went down to talk to Coach Vince Lombardi, who was very shy by the way. Not at all the tough guy. I said, ‘Who was the guy blocking all those ends, taking the ends out.’ And he said, ‘Hornung. Yeah, he’s a great blocker.’ So I talked to Hornung and wrote a story about him as a blocker. Everybody else wrote that he was a decoy.
Bob Jr: You also covered The Drive (1986 AFC Championship game).
Bob Sr: They used to say, ‘No cheering in the press box,’ but I ignored that. Because I used to see the old guys do that (cheering). I did it when it was deserved. I didn’t always do it. But in the fourth quarter against Denver, I was saying ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl!’ I was cheering. That team deserved it.
Bob Jr: Who else did you enjoy interviewing?
Bob Sr: I was one of a group of writers traveling with Pete Rose in the final week as he pursued Ty Cobb's hit record of 4,192. I saw him tie the record in Wrigley Field, and two days later he broke the mark in Cincinnati. Rose held a press conference before and after each game. He was always a great interview. I also interviewed him one-on-one several times before and after he broke the record.
Bob Jr: We’ll close with this. Could you tell me the story about World B. Free, who joined the Cleveland Cavaliers late in his NBA career, in 1983?
Bob Sr: He was a great character, always talkative. The Cavs had a rookie coach, George Karl. They started the season winning two and losing 19 right off the bat. I was thinking they’d break the NBA record for fewest victories, which was nine. So I was pursuing a story on that angle, about setting the record for losing. I asked World, ‘Do you think the team can win nine games?’ He said, ‘You kidding? I’ll win nine games by myself.’ [laughing] After that, they went on a hot streak, played over .500 basketball the rest of the year and almost beat Boston in the first round of the playoffs. He was a great guy.
Welcome to the fourth edition of The Fact Sheet. Throughout 2019 I'll be posting these one-of-a-kind conversations with social impact innovators.
Bob Raidt is a marketing professional who most recently has served as an EVP, Group Account Director at Leo Burnett Group, where over his 22-year career Bob has held global account leadership roles on McDonald's, Samsung and Coke. He also served as CEO of Arc Worldwide. Bob received his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He has long been active civically, and is currently a board director of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), as well as Chicago Tennis Patrons—making tennis available to kids in disadvantaged communities.
Bob recently wrote an op-ed for Little Black Book on the opportunity brands have to gain greater traction with Millennials and Generation Z by being more assertive on social issues.
And now...just the facts!
BD: Why don’t you think brands have acted in a more socially responsible fashion in the past two to three years even though we’re in a cultural moment that demands action?
BR: I do see some brands taking braver, more assertive positions on social issues. But, in looking across the marketing landscape, I think there is plenty of opportunity for more brands to do more of it. A good and useful starting point for brands is action regarding environmental sustainability. This is low-hanging fruit. While policy-makers may be weaponizing their rhetoric around the subject for political purposes, the National Climate Assessment released in November, among many other studies, leaves little room for doubt that the dangers of climate change are very real and particularly meaningful for younger consumers who are most threatened over their lifetimes by the consequences of today’s inadequate government policies as well as insufficient action by corporations and individuals. I believe Millennials and Gen Z will reward companies and their brands who are bold and proactive in helping to address the problem.
As I said, there are brands that are stepping up. In the quick service restaurant segment, for example, it’s great to see McDonald’s participation in the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. And Dunkin’ announced they will discontinue use of polystyrene cups in 2020, eliminating 1 billion foam cups per year from the waste stream.
I admire Columbia Sportswear for pledging $10 million in tax savings from the GOP’s corporate tax cuts in order to fight climate change. And, I’d love to see more companies do what Allbirds recently did by applying a carbon tax on themselves based on a study they commissioned that identified the carbon impact for every pair of shoes they produce.
I’m impressed by these commitments, and I’m eager to see brands do more in response to climate change and other charged social issues. I was also encouraged to read recently Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh say, “It’s imperative that companies not be afraid to weigh in on the issues that are really impacting the world, whether that’s gun violence or climate change."
BD: It seems to me that brands that are reactive rather than proactive appear out-of-touch with the present reality of 2019.
BR: I believe that brands that will have enduring success in the coming years will successfully and consistently express both their yin and their yang. By that I mean the yin is what the brand does for consumers by way of product or service, and the yang is how consumers see the brand behaving based on its beliefs, its values. Where I think marketing tends to overcorrect now is by focusing much more on the yin—promoting product attributes and benefits (differentiated if possible) to drive immediate commerce. But the opportunity cost for marketers is that many aren’t sufficiently nourishing their brands to have more meaning in people’s lives, to give consumers more reason to care about them and regard them as being proactively on their side in addressing the generational problems they face. Again, I think this is particularly true for Millennials and Gen Z, who have inherited profound social problems whether they be climate change, gun safety, social justice…you name it….that in many respects require all hands on-deck to solve – government, individuals and, very importantly, corporations and their brands. Unfortunately, there are still too many brands that are malnourished because attention to their yang and communication to consumers about it have been insufficient.
BD: Do you think it’s always been true that younger generations are more attuned to the yang part or do you think that it is especially prevalent now with millennials and Gen Z?
BR: What excites me, and gives me great hope, is the willingness that I see among young people to speak out and act. I think the Parkland Students’ March for our Lives initiatives and the way Greta Thunberg has spoken climate truth to power are super inspiring examples. I want to help them. I want to see brands help them.
I continue to see observations that political divides are becoming increasingly generational. I recently had the privilege of attending an Economic Club of Chicago event where Bono was interviewed by Mellody Hobson. It was inspiring, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what was said in the interview. When asked about capitalism and globalization, Bono said he certainly supports them, particularly the innovation and commerce that they enable, but that we are all threatened by the fact that capitalism has been “off the leash,” that capitalism is more in control of humanity now than humanity is in control of capitalism. Consequently, vast populations have not been sharing in the prosperity.
I think younger people see that capitalism has not been sufficiently balanced by democracy, by civic participation to influence better policy. They see that a strong Dow Jones Index isn’t by itself a sufficient measure of prosperity. Quality of life, quality of society matter just as much and more. The consumer opportunity for brands today is certainly to enhance consumers’ lives through their products or services, but to demonstrate that they care just as much about helping to nurture the quality of society that consumer life occurs in, and that they are acting on that care. Corporate social responsibility isn’t just a nice to do; I think it’s now a must for successful, enduring brands.
BD: Let’s turn to the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad. There was a boycott and a ton of criticism of it from some circles. Your piece noted that Nike stock rose by $6 billion, though. Does that suggest more brands should take that authentic approach and ignore the noise and the naysayers?
BR: There is a very long list of morally virtuous stands that brands can take to help improve quality of society. I think it’s useful that the stands brands choose to take be anchored in relevant brand associations. I applaud Gillette, for example, for taking on toxic masculinity. To me, it was sufficiently close to home for their brand. They have grooming products that enhance the civility and expression with which people present themselves. But, civility, of course, isn’t just about the way one physically shows up, it’s also very much about the way one conducts oneself and communicates. Consequently, with civility and personal expression being close to home, I do think it makes sense for Gillette to share its POV on this larger social problem that consumers care about. As for Nike, the brand has always been very much about competition. For competition to be real and beneficial, there must be fairness, equality, a level playing field. Colin Kaepernick has taken a position to put the spotlight on inequality in our society and, its tragic and fatal consequences, and he’s done it at considerable personal sacrifice. I think it’s highly relevant for Nike to express its support for an athlete, an individual who is fighting for fairness and equality.
BD: In your op-ed, you mention that a friend was incredulous when you said you set out in your career to make the world a better place through marketing. Can you tell me what’s been behind that goal?
BR: Every person deserves to decide what mindset is going to propel their performance in life and career. Driving revenue and profit—yes, that’s obviously crucial in the marketing profession and it's a crucially important priority for me in a marketing leadership role—but that’s solely not enough for me and, I’m sure, for most everyone. We live in a vibrant culture, and marketing has resources behind it that can have a positive impact on that culture. I think there’s an opportunity with marketing and advertising to not only use creativity to help brands perform commercially, but to use creativity to help brands perform in a society that is made better by what brands do and by what brands say. It’s in a brand’s radical self-interest to help create a higher quality, more livable society. I always want to challenge myself to contribute thinking that can help make the world a better place by what we do and say on behalf of a brand. I believe brands ultimately benefit from that aspiration.
BD: I know of your charitable involvement and wondered about your participation in Dancing with Chicago Celebrities and what drew you to that. How does one decide to do that? It is not only giving time to a cause, but it’s learning all these dance steps.
BR: There is a book I read a number of years ago called 30 Lessons of Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, which I highly recommend. A social psychologist visited all these nursing homes, and he interviewed 80- and 90-somethings about their lives. And one of the lessons that he drew from them was just the importance of saying yes to new opportunities. Sometimes fear can prevent people from stepping out of their comfort zones and doing things that they can really benefit from. My friend who is one of the organizers of Dancing with Chicago Celebrities has asked me to participate in the event for a number of years and I kept saying no, because the idea of performing ballroom dance in front of an audience is kind of terrifying, especially if you have two left feet like I do! Plus, I’m certainly no celebrity! It was something I’d never done, so it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. But, this year, in the spirit of that book, I said yes. And, I’m glad I did. What I discovered is that while I’m not particularly good at it, I really do enjoy ballroom dancing. It was fun! Also, I was very inspired by Arthur Murray Studios and my professional dance partner and instructor, and what I saw that they do for people every day. If you really think about ballroom dancing, it enables so much positivity in participants’ lives: emotional well-being, communication, fitness, connection, creative expression and just a lot of fun. I’m very grateful to those who helped me raise nearly $20,000 for breast cancer research and care access with my dancing effort. I found it all to be a great life experience in doing something to raise money for a great cause and discover a side of myself I didn’t know was there.
Yes is a great word. Earlier in my career at Leo Burnett I was asked to work as an ex-pat in Singapore and Tokyo. I said yes, and my family and I had six amazing years in Asia. Initially, the prospect of doing it and being away from many friends and family and the American life I’d always known was kind of scary. I look back now, and I realize how exhilarating it was and how much of a confidence builder it was to adapt to working within so many cultures across Asia. For example, to work in Korea on a Monday, the Philippines on a Wednesday, and to finish the week on a Friday in Thailand was a rewarding, unforgettable life and work experience. It’s good to say yes.