They say you can learn a lot from everybody you meet. Count me among those who learned a lot from Bill Jauss. I was saddened to read today about the death of Bill, known to many as “Jaussie,” at age 81. Bill had a 50-year career as a sports writer, working for the old afternoon papers, the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Today, before the Today was absorbed into the Tribune in 1974.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Bill in the Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park press boxes during the 1990s, when I covered home weekends for both teams. Every Friday, I’d gather with Bill and Toni Ginnetti of the Sun-Times as we tried to hold the fort for the beat writers, who got some well-deserved time off.
Among the many things I learned from Bill was the importance of pitch counts in baseball, long before they became so heavily scrutinized. Before each game, we’d do our clubhouse duties and talk with the Cubs or Sox manager, whether it be Jim Riggleman or Gene Lamont, and then repair to either the Bards Room at Comiskey or the dining room at Wrigley for a quick pregame meal and discussion of everything from baseball to politics to college basketball (one of Bill’s specialties and certainly not one of mine, so I dutifully listened).
Then it was back to the press box for the game. After we filled out our scorebooks, Bill would get out his pad of yellow paper and begin to draw more lines on it. He was getting ready to chart pitches. I never thought much of it at first; maybe it was Bill’s way of staying focused on the game. But invariably, by the fifth inning of some games, Bill would bark out, “He’s not going to last much longer, the pitch count already is nearing 100. All those foul balls in the third inning ran it up.”
I’ll admit to being mildly curious and somewhat bemused at first, and it wasn’t until the Cubs called up a kid named Kerry Wood in 1998, my first year on the beat, that I tried to take a page from Jaussie’s notebook so to speak. I found out you could tell a lot about how a game was going by the pitch count and the pitch selections. You also could ask about that “2-1 pitch that looked like it should have been called a strike” after the game if you were keeping track.
At one point during a game in 1998, a colleague turned to me and said, “Hey, Jaussie, how many pitches does Kerry Wood have?” I took that as a compliment.
I found out from other writers that when Bill covered any college basketball game, he always made sure to track when each team went into the bonus situation.
Bill covered it all and could converse on it all: baseball, pro football and college sports. And he always was concerned about the reader, asking whether “Joe Sixpack” could relate to a situation. Jaussie knew a little something about six-packs, too, and if you saw him at Bernie’s after a Cubs game, he’d make sure to buy you a cold one.
Before the term “multimedia star” came about, Bill was just that, working not only in newspapers, but in radio and TV on “The Sportswriters.” I would loved to have read his blog if he had such a thing. Bill didn't back down on "The Sportswriters" panel, just as he didn't back down while questioning a manager or player after a tough loss.
Before the Internet and things like blogging and tweeting became part of an increasingly busy day on the baseball beat, Bill would head upstairs on Sundays and grab one of the day’s difficult crossword puzzles to get things primed after brunch and before game time. But then, all of a sudden, the notepad would come out, and it was all business.
There were pitches to count.