Conlin has been exposed to a whole new generation of sports fans as a sad, bitter old man. He certainly doesn’t want to be that guy — and he’s tried to reform. “My e-mail responses are personal and only rarely mirror the intended vitriol in back-atcha form,” Conlin says (via e-mail). He says he’s learned to heed “the advice of my bosses and hit ‘delete.’” But he does want people to know how good he is, was, could have been, that his contributions were worthwhile — not just to baseball, but to a loftier, literary set. Conlin clearly feels slighted that he was never inducted into the baseball writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame (though he will enter Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame this fall). He was hurt that the producers of ESPN’s long-running Sports Reporters stopped calling him for appearances not long after host Dick Schaap died, even though Conlin’s oversized presence and loudmouth outbursts while cradling a coffee cup earned him national notoriety. “People used to stop me in airports and ask for autographs,” Conlin laments. But the bottom line is how he held the torch higher than anyone else; Conlin feels that as a writer — a pure blood-and-snot writer — he’s more nuanced, creative and inspired than the rest of the in-game typists. To prove his point, Conlin will forward you (unsolicited) the e-mails from McLoone with the fat man’s very own column at the top of Philly.com’s list of “Top 10 stories/columns.” “This is a better answer to why I haven’t retired,” he’ll tell you. Because he crafted art while other daily scribes hit the obvious notes and merely collected paychecks.
And that’s what makes a mere baseball moment with Bill Conlin — “Now Madson’s got this cutter, plus a change-up, plus the fast ball? And you know what other reliever has those types of pitches working for him all the time? Mariano Rivera” — on his back deck in Turnersville so much more. The foghorn toughness, the rants, the beautifully crafted twice-weekly columns, all of it is Bill Conlin, staring at me with those old red eyes, still demanding to be heard.
“If his health keeps up and he enjoys it, he won’t stop,” McLoone says. “Has he lost the fastball? I don’t think he has.”
Conlin doesn’t think so, either. Go ahead. E-mail him about it.