Former Post-Gazette baseball writer Charley "Pally" Feeney, 81, looks at the Pirates' 13 consecutive losing seasons a little differently than most. "It's very difficult covering a losing team. I think it's good for awhile, but not this long," he said. Feeney saw his share of outstanding teams and big losers in a lengthy newspaper career (1946-1986). He covered major-league baseball for more than 30 years, the last 20 as the Pirates' beat writer, and was inducted into the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Aug. 3, 1997. Feeney lives with his wife of 48 years, Bea, in an apartment complex in North Versailles. Former Pirates reliever ElRoy Face, a good friend, lives in the apartment above. Feeney has attended very few baseball games since his retirement 20 years ago, but keeps an eye on things. He recently sat down with Post-Gazette sports writer Steve Hecht to share his thoughts on the game he covered for so long.
Q: What was the first year you covered a major-league baseball team?
Feeney: I covered the New York Giants in 1951 for the Long Island Star-Journal. I only made one road trip that season -- the last one to Boston -- and we went by train. It was the year the (Brooklyn) Dodgers had the big lead (131/2 games, Aug. 11), but the Giants came back to tie the Dodgers for the National League title. They had a three-game playoff, and Bobby Thomson hit the famous home run (a three-run walkoff shot), giving the Giants a 5-4 win and the pennant. It's got to be one of the all-time highlights of major-league baseball. I remember going to spring training (in Arizona) the following year and Giants manager Leo Durocher invited all the players and writers to a big, fancy party outside of Los Angeles (when the Giants and Cleveland were barnstorming). Leo was married to a movie star -- Laraine Day -- and at this party were entertainment stars like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye. Anyhow, I'm sitting at the bar with movie stars, and they're asking me 'What was it like to see Bobby Thomson's home run?' Finally, one of the older baseball writers turns to me and says 'Kid, do you realize what an incredible first year you've had?'
Q: Which home run do you think was bigger: Bill Mazeroski's in 1960 to beat the New York Yankees or Bobby Thomson's?
Feeney: In this area -- no question -- Mazeroski. One thing that a lot of people don't realize is that there were a lot of people in New York who were happy when Mazeroski hit the home run. They were not necessarily rooting for the Pirates. They wanted the Yankees to lose. They were anti-Yankee. They were people who were teed off at baseball -- still mad because the Dodgers and Giants left (for the West Coast). I grew up in Queens and, if you had 20 kids, you might have had two or three who were Yankees fans. The rest were Giants fans or Dodgers fans. Now, if you were from the Bronx, it was a different story.
Q: What do you remember most about the Giants and Dodgers leaving New York after the 1957 season?
Feeney: I remember the Yankees didn't draw any more fans the next year than when three teams were there. But, more people were going to the horse races.
Q: Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
Feeney: Joe DiMaggio. He just seemed to glide out there. He didn't play two years and develop. He was an instant star.
Q: How about the best pitcher?
Feeney: For winning the tough games, Bob Gibson stands out in my mind.
Q: Most exciting player?
Feeney: Pete Reiser. He played with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. He could run like a deer. And, he played the outfield with no fear. He used to run into walls going after fly balls and was once given last rites. I think he stole home about 10 times one season.
Q: Best player to interview?
Feeney: Pete Rose was as good as anyone.
Q: What were your most memorable moments as a baseball writer?
Feeney: The Pirates winning world championships in 1971 and 1979. The reason it was exciting was because the other team looked better, but the Pirates won. The 1971 (Baltimore) Orioles had so much pitching. One thing I found out covering the Pirates in the late 1970s was that (manager) Chuck Tanner's enthusiasm is real. I didn't always believe that. But, after a while, I could see it wasn't phony.
Q: How about the saddest baseball moment you witnessed?
Feeney: Pitcher Ralph Branca in the Dodgers' clubhouse after giving up the home run to Bobby Thomson. Also from that same game, Dodgers infielder Pee Wee Reese having the guts to come into the Giants' clubhouse and congratulate Leo Durocher and then breaking down and crying. And then Leo, shouting at the photographers 'No pictures.'
Q: You were there for the decline of Pirates pitcher Steve Blass, when he went from World Series hero to unable to throw strikes. What were your thoughts?
Feeney: It was tough to feel sad, because, if you were around Steve Blass, he wouldn't let you feel sad. He's a funny guy and a wonderful person.
Q: You covered three Pirates who ended up in the Hall of Fame -- Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. What are your memories of them?
Feeney: With Mazeroski, I remember coming home during the first year I covered the Pirates and saying to my wife: 'I'm watching a guy play second base who is as good as anyone I've ever seen.' Clemente was a heck of a player. You see him now on replays of old World Series. He could do everything. Willie Stargell was a unique person. He could hit home runs, but he could also smile after losing games. He always made sure players were in an upbeat mood, preparing for the next day's game. When the Pirates were down, 3-1, in the 1979 World Series to the Orioles, Stargell had a smile on his face. He seemed to be saying 'It's never over, until it's over.'
Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?
Feeney: My education is limited. I dropped out of high school in ninth grade. I'm not ashamed of it at all. I never did anything wrong, or against the law, to anybody. I served in the Navy in World War II (for 39 months). The service was very good for me, and afterward things worked out.
Q: How about a non-baseball memory as a sportswriter?
Feeney: Before I ever came to Pittsburgh, I was fortunate enough to meet Art Rooney Sr. before a Steelers-Giants football game in New York in the early 1960s. We were talking horse racing, and I mentioned to him how great it would be to have a horse named after you. About two years later, Mr. Rooney named one of his horse's Charley Feeney. He won his first race at Aqueduct and ended up winning five of his first 13 races.
Q: You grew up in New York and spent the first 20 years of your newspaper career there. But, you've lived in Pittsburgh the past 40 years. Have you ever missed New York?
Feeney: No. It wasn't like New York was my life. There's a lot of good people in New York, but there were people I dealt with that I wouldn't want to have at my house. There were a lot of people there that thought they knew it all. When I came to Pittsburgh, there was a lot of people asking 'What can I do for you?' People like (public relations directors) Ed Kiely and Joe Gordon and (former football coach) Chuck Klausing were nice to me. There were many, many more. They had a friendly way. I wasn't used to it. Besides marrying my wife, coming to Pittsburgh was the best thing that ever happened to me.