Obituary: Charley Feeney / Longtime Pirates beat writer for PG

Nov. 26, 1924 - March 17, 2014


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Sports writer Charley Feeney covered Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in New York. He covered Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell in Pittsburgh. He covered Bobby Thomson's "Shot heard 'round the world" and many other big moments in baseball over a 36-year span.

Mr. Feeney was so respected by so many that he not only earned a spot in the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he had a thoroughbred racehorse named after him by Art Rooney Sr. He counted among his close friends Pulitzer Prize winners Jimmy Breslin and Dave Anderson in New York.

Nowhere, though, was Mr. Feeney more revered than by the gaggle of young sports writers he took under his wing, showing even his competitors what it was like to be a professional in the big leagues of sports journalism.

Some of those now not-so-young writers reminisced about the man they knew as "Pally" after Mr. Feeney, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who covered the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 21 years, died on St. Patrick's Day in Long Island, N.Y. He was 89.

Bob Smizik competed against Mr. Feeney when Mr. Smizik covered the Pirates for The Pittsburgh Press in the 1970s, and later joined him on the Post-Gazette staff as a columnist.

"Like a lot of young guys, I thought I knew it all," Mr. Smizik said Monday. "He gently let me know that I knew almost nothing. He regularly crushed me with breaking news. He had sources throughout the team, front office and clubhouse, and throughout the league. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew him -- team president, clubhouse guy, visiting manager, visiting writers.

"But while he embarrassed me on the reporting front, he was gently mentoring me in so many ways. He taught he how to be a reporter, how to handle deadlines, whom to tip, everything about being a newspaper guy and being on the road. He didn't do this just for me but for all young writers who crossed his path."

Another was Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook, who first met Mr. Feeney in 1974 when Mr. Cook was a young writer at a suburban newspaper. Mr. Cook nominated Mr. Feeney for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the highest honor baseball bestows on writers. Mr. Feeney, who retired from the Post-Gazette in 1986, won the award in 1996, joining writers such as Damon Runyon and Grantland Rice in gaining the hall's recognition.

Mr. Feeney spent 41 years in the business, starting in 1946 after he served two tours of duty in the Pacific with the Navy during World War II. He received the Bronze Star for his work as a radio man on the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

The son of a New York newspaper man, he went to work after school as a messenger boy for the old New York Sun before the war. Mr. Feeney began covering the New York Giants baseball team in 1951, and he covered the playoff game in which Bobby Thomson put the Giants into the World Series with a ninth-inning home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mr. Feeney moved on to cover the Yankees, the Mets and the NFL's Giants for the New York Journal American. When that paper folded, Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams hired him to cover the Pirates in 1966.

There, he covered two World Series winners, the death of Roberto Clemente and baseball's 1980s drug scandal in Pittsburgh. He also met what would become his best friend, a little pitcher for the Pirates, Elroy Face. The two met in Mr. Feeney's first spring training covering the Bucs in 1966. Mr. Face invited Mr. Feeney and his wife, Bea, to a party at his house and they hit it off.

"He never knocked anybody unless they deserved it," Mr. Face recalled Monday about his friend's coverage of the Pirates.

Covering baseball was quite different in Mr. Feeney's time. There was no World Wide Web, no Twitter, no "chats." But Mr. Feeney's work day was full. He arrived at the ballpark at mid-afternoon and filed an early story for the old Post-Gazette "bulldog" evening edition that would go on sale in the ballpark before that night's Pirates game ended. He then had at least two separate deadlines to meet after the game ended. He also served as one of two official scorers who alternated at home games.

He called everyone, even his close friends, "Pally" because he was not good at remembering names and he did not want to offend anyone. Naturally, he earned that nickname himself, leading to this famous exchange when he phoned the Post-Gazette one night and clerk Danny Palmer answered.

"Pally," Mr. Feeney addressed him. "This is Pally, get me Pally."

Mr. Feeney's Spink Award at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., includes a brief bio about him along with this descriptive paragraph:

"Highly respected for his integrity, knowledge of the game and journalistic skills, Feeney thrived under the pressure of A.M. deadlines. He had a unique ability to satisfy readers and please editors while simultaneously maintaining a positive relationship with ballplayers and front office personnel, earning their confidence and trust."

Bea, his wife of 50 years, preceded him in death. Mr. Feeney is survived by his brother Arthur and sister Marie Cronin.

Viewings will be held Wednesday from 2 to 4:30 and 7 to 9:30 p.m. at James Funeral Home, 540 Broadway in Massapequa, N.Y. A Mass will be celebrated at St. James Church in Seaford, N.Y., at 10:15 a.m. Thursday.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com. First Published March 17, 2014 4:05 PM

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