This isn’t really a book about sports. Stan Hochman’s true subjects were people and life—they just happened to be distilled through athletic endeavor. Hochman’s superlative columns are revisited in Stan Hochman Unfiltered: 50 Years of Wit and Wisdom from the Groundbreaking Sportswriter, edited by his wife, author and journalist Gloria Hochman.
Stan Hochman began writing for the Philadelphia Daily News when fans thumbed newsprint instead of phones and relied on sports journalists for not only game details but clarification, interpretation, and this being Philadelphia, consolation. All of which Hochman provided with equal parts candor, compassion, and humor.
His technique was simple: talk, listen, observe, write. He let interviewees reveal themselves, patiently waiting for the most illuminating words to tumble out, and quoting them extensively.
“Gaining trust is critical for any writer, and Stan had the almost unparalleled ability to make interviews into conversations,” Dick Jerardi says in his introduction to columns on horseracing, a favorite Hochman topic. “He was so prepared and knew so much about so many subjects that one thought led to another and, soon enough, a framework for a story had evolved in which the writing would flow from what he had learned to what he shared with his readers.”
Don’t skip around
The word “unfiltered” in the title is something of a misnomer. While Hochman’s writing was notoriously unfiltered, Gloria Hochman had to sift through more than 7,000 columns to choose 80 or so, which are organized by sport.
The structure makes it easy to zero in on favorites, which would be a mistake. Like the best writers, Hochman could make any topic interesting, frequently touching, and often hysterical. Take this description of the 1965 Phillies: “Jim Bunning has a mind like a bank vault, cold and efficient. Johnny Callison sulks around like someone in constant mourning. Richie Allen enjoys fun, but words like ‘boy’ set his teeth on edge. Then there’s the manager, who is usually as grim as three-day-old raisin pudding.” You need not know any of those described, or a thing about baseball, to get the point.
Repeatedly, peers mention the ease and speed with which Hochman produced copy that resonated, and brought to light details, situations, and individuals that casual fans would otherwise miss.
Whether or not they shared his views, readers trusted Hochman to report exactly what he thought. “Stan feared no one,” sports radio host Angelo Cataldi writes in the book’s foreword. “He did his job with only his readers in mind, and this commitment came through in every brilliant column he wrote. What I never considered was where these potent opinions came from, a mind that was every bit as sharp in Stan’s eighties as it had been for all the decades that had come before.”
Could he play?
Hochman’s frank writing, occasionally accented with gallows humor, was a perfect fit in Philadelphia. He’d grown up in Brooklyn, as he said, “poor and unworldly” in a Jewish neighborhood. In one column, he recalled Jackie Robinson’s entry as major league baseball’s first African American player.
“I can’t recall any earnest crusade in the Times or the Journal-American or the Herald-Tribune or the World-Telegram for integrating baseball. Television was in its infancy. Talk radio hadn’t been invented yet,” he wrote in 1997. “And then it happened, Opening Day against the Braves, Robinson playing first base. No protest marches, no celebratory parades. Plenty of empty seats in the ballyard, plenty of African American faces in the stands. And a bunch of us, on the corner that night, arguing only about whether Jackie Robinson could play, whether he could make it in the big leagues…What did we know about bigotry, growing up poor and unworldly in Brooklyn 50 years ago?”
Hochman would branch out to broadcast media, appearing on cable as part of Daily News Live, and he was, for a few years before his death in 2015, a weekly guest with Cataldi on SportsRadio 94WIP. On radio, Hochman was the Grand Imperial Poobah of Sports, settling pressing debates so hilariously that listeners didn’t mind being late to work. That included Pennsylvania’s most prominent sports fan, former governor and Philadelphia mayor Edward G. Rendell, who commented, “If I heard he was going to be on in fifteen minutes, I’d push back whatever I had scheduled and tune in.”
While Hochman is well remembered for skewering famous athletes such as Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, whom he described “as deep and as loveable as a saucer filled with vinegar,” he also wrote with great sensitivity about people unknown to the public, such as Carol Ann Murray and Peter Crean. Murray, a trainer at local racetracks who was unmarried, adopted an infant when she learned the newborn needed a home. Crean, a Florida retiree just making ends meet, was about to be automated out of a job working an old, manual scoreboard in spring training. Hochman covered them both, beautifully.
Beyond the score
“He was more interested in how athletes felt, what their values were…what made them tick than he was about how many runs they scored or punches they landed,” Gloria Hochman writes in the introduction. “He wrote to hit a nerve, to challenge the way people thought and felt and dreamed and lived their lives.”
Which is why it isn’t necessary to remember the Broad Street Bullies, or to care about golf, or know who Wilt Chamberlain was, or to have seen Joe Frazier in his prime. Just trust that Stan Hochman makes them worth reading about.
What, When, Where
Stan Hochman Unfiltered: 50 Years of Wit and Wisdom from the Groundbreaking Sportswriter. Edited by Gloria Hochman. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2020. 360 pages, hardcover; $29. Get it here.