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Ex-Detroit Tigers help throw columnist Pete Waldmeir a birthday bash

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Detroit – The first call on Friday came around noon and completely surprised him. It was Mickey Lolich.

Suddenly it was 1968 again and the Tigers were celebrating winning the American League pennant. Pete Waldmeir, then a bustling sports columnist for The Detroit News, was kind of tossed into the tiny hot tub, suit, and all during the clubhouse parties. Mickey Stanley may or may not have been the culprit.

“My pants were all wet and I had to go back to the office and write,” said Waldmeir. “I was soaked. I passed Lolich and said, “Jesus Christ, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” I’m trying to wring out my pants.

“So he gave me baseball pants. I left Tiger Stadium the night they grabbed the pennant with Lolich baseball pants. “

The irony was that Waldmeir had often made fun of Lolich’s length in his columns, the stocky left-handed man and all that.

“He said:” You always talk about my stomach, but shoot, you fit in my pants, “Waldmeir said with a laugh.” Of course I had to fold it down to get in. “

Many years later, Waldmeir sold these pants at a charity auction for $ 500.

The still venerable Waldmeir will be 90 years old on Saturday. Lolich was the first of many callers on Friday to wish him a happy birthday. Willie Horton called. Denny McLain sent a short video.

If you don’t know who Pete Waldmeir is and where he stands in the Detroit journalism pantheon, google him. Chicago had Mike Royko. New York had Jimmy Breslin. Boston had Mike Barnicle. Washington DC had Art Buchwald. Detroit had Pete Waldmeir.

Waldmeir was born on Mark Twain Street on the west side of Detroit in 1931. His career in the news lasted 54 years. He was a sports columnist and general columnist on the city side from 1962 to 1972, where he relentlessly, famously, nudged and nudged former Mayor Coleman Young from 1972 until his retirement in 2004.

He was named Michigan Sportswriter of the Year three times (1967, 1969, and 1971) and was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2000. He was also a correspondent for Sports Illustrated for 11 years.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I covered the first Super Bowl. Myself and (Detroit News alumnus) Jerry Green might be the only ones alive to cover the first. I wrote about auto races, World Series. I wrote about the 1968 Olympic Games. I got food poisoning on a plane from San Juan to Caracas. I had a tooth pulled in Argentina. “

His laugh is loud and contagious. His storytelling, intact.

It also covered many bowl games. He was a significant presence at the 1970 Rose Bowl. This was Bo Schembechler’s first bowl game that he had seen from a hospital after having a heart attack the night before the game.

Reporters were certainly aware that Schembechler wasn’t on the sidelines, but there was no announcement before or during the game. After that, a doctor spoke to the media but said nothing. Just line up and hit. Waldmeir had finally had enough.

“Doc,” he interrupted abruptly, “did Bo Schembechler have a heart attack?”

Cut straight to the chase and got the answer.

Waldmeir told the story of sitting next to Lolich on the flight home from St. Louis after the Tigers won Game 7 of the 1968 World Series – Lolich defeated Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. First, imagine a columnist or reporter who is on the team plane and has such access.

Second, imagine the look on Waldmeir’s face when Lolich asked him to be his manager.

He said, ‘I know I’m going to get a lot of calls now. Would you like to do this for me? Asked Waldmeir. I said, ‘Hell, I’m a newspaper man. I can’t do that and work for the news at the same time. ‘”

In the end, he made it available to entertainment attorney Henry Baskin.

Waldmeir’s relationship with Horton dates back deeply to 1965, when Willie’s parents died in a car accident. Waldmeir was the first to tell the story of how the late Judge Damon Keith, then a young lawyer, and his wife welcomed Horton.

Of course, the story he remembers is not the famous one. He’s still a little annoyed that he was covering a boat race in Canada the day Horton officially signed with the Tigers. You always remember the stories that you missed.

“When he called (Friday), I didn’t recognize the voice at first,” said Waldmeir. “It was very nice. I talked to him for about 10 minutes.”

His struggles with Young made national news, of course. One of his most frequent targets was Young’s press secretary Bob Berg. As noted on a blog by Detroit News reporter Robert Snell, here is vintage Waldmeir prose from 1994:

“During the Young regime, Berg happily practiced the ‘mushroom’ method of media work. The press, which had been scum to the last point of its miserable existence, served its imperial master best when locked in the dark and only allowed to get a glimpse of what was going on when Berg opened the door for fresh dung to throw at them. ”

City and state politicians were wise to stay on Pete Waldmeir’s right.

But he did so much more than write columns. He was a driving force behind the Goodfellows organization for 40 years, both as president, board member, and year after year in the cold distributing newspapers and making donations for children in need for Christmas.

Once and only once he wrote the place where he would distribute papers in his column. On that day, he was served legal documents pertaining to a lawsuit that never materialized. He didn’t make this mistake twice.

Waldmeir also helped L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township put up a $ 22 million bond – which is why the school’s soccer stadium bears his name.

“I think things are a little different these days (in newspapers),” he said. “I remember having a column in the Sunday paper that sold 1 million times. Imagine. This was the only time we’ve sold a million copies. “

The surprise virtual birthday party was organized by Waldmeir’s daughter Patti, also a journalist and a national correspondent for the Financial Times, and his wife Marilyn with the help of the Tigers’ Player and Alumni department.

The Detroit News also posted a framed copy of the front cover on Jan. 16, 1931.

“My mother was 99 years old,” said Waldmeir. “She always told me that she would live so long that we would have to hire pallbearers (laughs). I don’t think I want to LIVE that long, but it’s a good goal. “

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Twitter: @cmccosky

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