We all have those indelible moments etched into our memories, funny or sad, which stay with us forever.
One of mine is from 25, maybe 30 years ago, and took place at Riverby Hills golf course. I was part of a foursome that included sports department colleagues Jim Taylor and Hal Shanahan and this paper’s dandy photographer Tom O’Reilly.
Jim had been dropped off on one side of the fairway and was waiting to hit an approach shot when Hal parked the cart maybe 30 yards away, grabbed a club, and walked to his ball. Suddenly, the brakes on the cart failed and, parked on the tip of a slope, it began rolling down toward a pond.
This plays back in slow motion. As Hal, who we called Prince, as in the Prince of Par, was walking with his back to the action, the rest of us watched with a mixture of astonishment and amusement as the cart splashed into the edge of the water and began sinking into the muck.
Nobody laughed harder than Jim, but for just a moment. His reaction turned to horror when he realized that the other bag of clubs strapped to the cart, a fairly new set of Titleist or TaylorMades, whatever he was playing at the time, belonged to him.
Jim Taylor, who died Thursday afternoon, could golf his ball, as the saying goes. Sometimes he could even outscore the lovely Jan. He could also write rings around anybody in sight; a wordsmith, part urbane, part rascal.
The Old Swami was a big slice of what I like to call the Golden Era of sports writing at The Blade. He and Tom Loomis gave us a 1-2 columnist punch that clobbered any other newspaper of our size and stacked right up there with the big boys in the big cities.
Joe Falls, the great Detroit sports columnist for so many years, was Loomis’ very dear friend. He and I were sitting in a press box at a pro football game when he asked how his two Toledo cohorts were doing. After I replied, Falls said, “That Jim Taylor, best damn writer in the business.”
It was no throw-away line. Considering the relationships, I knew Joe meant it.
For a few years now I have sat here four days a week trying to fill the space once graced by guys like Eddie Jones, Loomis, Taylor, and John Gugger. On the occasions I think about it, I feel inadequate. Nobody makes me feel that way more than Jim Taylor.
As the UT beat writer in the late 1960s into the ’70s, he chronicled the Rockets during their 35-0 football streak, christening them “The Unbeatables.”
I once spent an afternoon sorting through a stack of scrapbooks with Frank Lauterbur, the old UT coach. There were page after page of Jim Taylor bylines and column heads, and Lauterbur said, ‘What a writer! What a guy!’”
Jim hadn’t been the same guy for a few years as he fought that no-win battle with Alzheimer’s. It’s not my place to say what may or may not be a blessing, but I’m glad that fertile mind is free again.
When he ambled through the gates, I’m sure Jim started razzing poor Hal about the golf cart. He and Loomis are swapping Sparky Anderson stories. Heck, Sparky’s up there too. I hope there’s enough pipe tobacco. I hope there’s a golf course. I hope there’s an open bar. Mostly, I hope there’s a typewriter.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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