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Joe Hirsch, Retired Racing Form Executive Columnist, Dead At 80

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Ben_Hecht, Jan 9, 2009.

  1. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    Been ill, for a good while.

  2. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Joe Namath's roommate in NY when Namath joined the Jets. Can't imagine the stories Hirsch never told.

  3. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    The standard line went like this:

    "Joe (Namath) learned a little about racing. I learned a lot
    about girls."
  4. Tim Layden

    Tim Layden New Member

    I have never posted before, but Joe is worth knowing:

    He was an oldtime sportswriter. Pictures of him adorn decaying racetrack press boxes and in them he wears stylish hats and dark suits. Subjects sought him out; for many years he was the validation of all that took place in his sport, back when his sport -- and his profession -- had life.

    In 1976 I was a summer intern at the Schenectady (NY) Gazette, near Saratoga Race Track. I was sent one day to ``cover'' the races. Clueless, I sought help. Joe sat at the back of the press box, with his manual typewriter perched on a narrow table. I didn't know who he was, but he looked important and knowledgeable, so I asked him how to read the program. He pulled up a chair, told me to sit down and painstakingly showed me how to read the program.

    Eight years later I wrote a story for the Albany (NY) Times Union. It was published on a Sunday in August. I was a columnist then and I again went to Saratoga in search of subject matter. Joe found me and said, ``Your story should win an Eclispe Award.'' Eclipse Awards are horse-centric honors for horses and people, journalists included. My story did win an Eclipse Award and I've always suspected that Joe rigged the voting in my favor to boost my career. The award was presented at a dinner in Manhattan. I wore a rented tuxedo and gave a terrible, stammering speech. Afterward John Pricci, a writer and handicapper at Newsday (then New York Newsday) introduced me to his boss, Dick Sandler. A week later Dick called me and asked me to send some clips and a month after that he hired me. Seven years after that I got a job at SI and like all of us in this business, I am now hanging on and staring at a very uncertain future, but privileged to have had the experience.

    There are many very good sports journalists who never get the chance to reach a wide audience or avail themselves of significant resources. It usually takes help and I have had a lot of that (far too much to list here). I never asked Joe if he supported me (like most of us, I wanted to think it was all me), but I strongly suspect he did. That's the way he was.

    And he roomed with Joe Namath in the 60s.
  5. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    I don't have a link. I just got this in an e-mail from the NTRA:


    New York, NY, Jan. 9 -- Joe Hirsch, the dean of American turf writers, died
    Friday morning at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. He was 80.

    A funeral service will be held Sunday, 10 a.m. at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel,
    Amsterdam Ave. at 91st Street in Manhattan.

    Hirsch worked for 55 years at Daily Racing Form and its sister publication The
    Morning Telegraph. During that time he covered races around the globe, from the
    Middle East to the Far
    East, to Europe and at every major racetrack in the United States.

    "Joe Hirsch was much more than just the dean of American racing writers for half
    a century," said St even Crist, DRF's Publisher. "He was a global ambassador for
    the sport, a mentor to two generations of journalists, and probably the most
    universally respected figure in the world of horseracing."

    Hirsch was widely decorated for his work. Among his awards are the Eclipse Award
    for newspaper writing in 1978; the Eclipse Award of Merit, 1992; the Lord Derby
    Award from the Horse Race Writers of Britain; the Jockey Club Medal; the Walter
    Haight, Joe Palmer, and Mr. Fitz Awards from the National Turf Writers
    Association; the William May Award from the Association of Racing Commissioners
    International; and20the Alfred Vanderbilt Award from the New York Turf Writers

    Hirsch founded and served as the first president of the National Turf Writers
    Association and has press boxes named for him at both Saratoga Race Course and
    Churchill Downs. He is also the namesake of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, a
    prestigious grass race.

    Hirsch wrote or co-authored five books on racing, including "Kentucky Derby: The
    Chance of a Lifetime" with Jim Bolus.

    Hirsch began working for The Morning Telegraph in 1948 after graduating from New
    York University with a degree in journalism and a short stint with The New York
    Times. After serving in the armed forces, he returned to the Telegraph before
    moving the Racing Form in 1955. Hirsch covered racing in Boston, Chicago, and
    New Jersey, and in 1957 was tapped to cover the Kentucky Derby with a feature
    called "Derby Doings." Hirsch's singular reports on America's greatest race
    continued for the next 40 years. During that time he became racing's most
    important voice and broke some of its biggest stories, including the creation of
    the Breeders'
    Cup, the sport's championship event in 1982.

    Hirsch became the Racing Form's executive columnist in 1974, replacing the
    legendary Charles Hatton.

    Hirsch was a respected figure in many circles outside of racing. Among his close
    friends was Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, who asked Hirsch to look
    after his bonus-baby quarterback Joe Namath. Hirsch and Namath struck up a
    lifelong friendship and roomed together for 11 years.

    Hirsch's wit and wisdom were famous. When a writer once opined before a big race
    that "it was a shame that the track came up sloppy," Hirsch replied, "It was a
    shame about Marie Antoinette."

    And most famously, "Once upon a time there was a horse named Kelso, but only

    Hirsch struggled with Parkinson's Disease for 20 years but managed to continue
    writing daily columns for much of that time. He retired in 2003, with his final
    column published on Nov. 29 of that year.
  6. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    Glad I decided to post this, here, for Layden's bit, alone.

    Hope to see more.
  7. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    My first real job was at the Louisville Courier-Journal. There it was necessary to know horse racing. I knew nothing. Whatever I learned could be traced back to four teachers -- Mike Barry, Jim Bolus, Billy Reed, and Joe Hirsch. I knew nobody, Joe knew everybody and, on the backside the week before the Derby every year for decades, he insisted on introducing me to them all. The introductons passed for the Joe Hirsch Seal of Approval. Once Joe took you into a barn, you were golden with owners, trainers, jocks, grooms. Joe in his last years was bent almost double by Parkinson's. But he still came to Kentucky at the end of April every year and he still loved the world he had helped make.
  8. Bubbler

    Bubbler Active Member

    You didn't feel it was right at the Kentucky Derby unless you saw Joe Hirsch in the press box. RIP.
  9. Clerk Typist

    Clerk Typist Guest

    RIP to a guy I never knew, but from covering a bit of racing, I knew this: Joe Hirsch was one of the two most important reporters the racing game ever had. The other, Charles Hatton, who popularized the term "Triple Crown," was mentioned in Hirsch's obit.
    I don't know that anyone was as wired into the sport he covered as Joe Hirsch. You've got to be to have the press box at Churchill Downs named after you.
  10. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    At this point, must mention Joe Palmer, who did a ton of beautiful stuff for the Herald-Trib before dying too soon. "This Was Racing" is one of the greatest compendiums, ever.
  11. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    I'm advised Sunday morning's services were concise and heartwarming.

    No Namath sighting, though.
  12. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    One more for the road, from the lastest Thoroughbred Times:

    Quoting Hirsch:

    "One night I arrivaed home after attending the theatre.
    And Namath was throwing a party. Everyone was in the nude."

    Gee, Joe, whaddya do?

    "I sat down and had a drink."
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