Welcome to Wally Like It Is!
From the time I was 11 years old (the same year Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record), I knew I wanted to be a newspaper
I used to go to the old Boys Club at 8th and Scott and drink water from the fountain instead of buying milk to wash down my sandwich. I’d use the milk money to buy the St. Louis newspapers.
My mom and dad were so impressed that I knew what I wanted to do they helped me get a job delivering newspapers when I was 12. After the first week I knew my future was not in circulation.
Several things happened in my life, though, that always brought me back to journalism.
When I was in the ninth grade I got a blood clot in my left foot after a bad slide into second base (I had long ago determined I would not make my living as an athlete, but could be part of the sports world as a writer) and missed the last six weeks of classes. I had to take English in summer school, and the teacher (Julia McGee) told me she would give me an A if I promised to take journalism in high school.
I was the sports editor/columnist for The Tiger at Central High. I attended UCA for a year, enrolled at UALR the second year and went to work for Orville Henry at the Arkansas Gazette, but then I won the lottery — the military lottery of 1969. I spent the next 3 years, 7 months, 17 days, 2 hours and 20 minutes in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. After an honorable discharge I started school at UALR. I was also a real estate agent, but the second indication that I was destined for journalism was on its way.
My broker convinced me to sell a broken down piece of junk mobile home (with no toilet) to a guy for $5,000 and the broker would carry the note. The day before closing I helped the guy move his family out, and the next morning walked into the broker’s office and quit about three seconds before he could fire me.
I had already started working Friday and Saturday nights at the old Arkansas Democrat. I asked for more hours and set out to work myself from an editing job to reporter.
As an afternoon paper we reported to work at 4 a.m., but in the evenings I’d go out and cover games on my own time to learn. My first boss was John Brummett, a taskmaster who taught me a lot. I covered a lot of preps and then was assigned sidebar duty for the Razorbacks, and in the winter of 1974 I got a job offer from United Press International in New York. I took it, but the city just wouldn’t change to fit me and I quit at 1:30 in the morning after a third mugging attempt.
I came back to the Democrat, left again, then came back again in 1979 as an investigative reporter. Three months later, the sports columnist job came open and four of us applied.
Managing Editor John Robert Starr said he wanted me to move to the Capitol bureau and that if I would he’d give me a raise. If I took the sports columnist job, I would not get a raise.
He meant it, and I didn’t get a raise for a year.
Now, here I am 31 years later, and what you are normally going to find in this space is what happened behind the scenes and between the lines.