October 27, 2010
By Charles Cuttone
Remembering a NY legend and a friend
There are legends in sports, and there are legendary people. Bill Shannon was one of those legendary people.
Most sports fans probably don’t know much about Shannon, who died tragically in a house fire on Tuesday. Those that did know him, probably do because of his role as a baseball writer and long time official scorer at Mets and Yankees games, chores he handled since 1979.
But Shannon, a Runyonesque character, was so much more than that. As a public relations executive with Madison Square Garden, he oversaw the move from the old building on 49th street to its current location above Penn Station. He had a Broadway PR agency for a while, handling clients in sports and entertainment, and was an author of a number of books, including The Ballparks, a seminal tome on the history of Major League Stadiums that was published in 1975. Though there have been many books written since about ballparks, Shannon’s is still considered the most complete and authoritative. That’s how Bill did things. He did them right.
Bill’s path and soccer crossed on a number of occasions. In the early 1960s he worked for the International Soccer League, the creation of sports promoter Bill Cox, who brought over international teams and had them play in a league format, mostly in New York, but also in Chicago and some other U.S. cities. The success of that venture led to the formation a few years later of the North American Soccer League, or at least one of its predecessors, the United Soccer Association, which brought in international teams to play under the banner of U.S. franchises. Madison Square Garden owned the New York Skyliners, and Shannon oversaw the team’s PR operations. Assisting him was Jim Trecker, who went on to spend decades in the sport, first with the Cosmos and North American Soccer League, and later as Chief Press Officer for World Cup 1994.
"What a shock and a tragedy,” Trecker said in an e-mail when informed of Shannon’s passing. “He was one of the people who got me started on my career path. He got drafted into the Army …and I ended up typing the play-by-play at the Garden and Jets, getting my foot into the door for both of those career opportunities .”
Trecker wasn’t the only one in New York sports whose career was helped by Shannon. There might be hundreds of them. Yours truly included.
It was Bill Shannon, more than anyone, who taught me how to be a sportswriter. Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing before I met him, but getting a chance to attend Shannon University was the best possible education.
It began in 1977, when we were both writing for the short-lived News World. I had sporadically been writing some soccer for the paper, while also working in the Cosmos PR office. Of course, at the ripe old age of 16, I thought I knew everything there was to know.
For one night game, I was informed that the paper was sending someone else out to do the game, but that I should sit, watch and learn. Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy about it. When I informed Trecker, his advice was something akin to “shut-up and listen, you might learn something.” After all, he had learned sitting beside Shannon some years earlier.
Bill helped me become a better writer, that night and many times in the future. About four or five years later, at a New York Mets game, Bill, who wrote for AP and UPI at various times in his career, asked me if I would write the PMer for the Mets game, wire service parlance for the game story with quotes that afternoon newspapers would use.
As I sat at that old typewriter pecking away at my story, Bill was not too far away, in some ways hovering like a mother hen ready to let one of her chicks loose into the world. At one point, he leaned his six-foot-six-inch frame over me and peered at my lead. “Not bad,” he said, “but why don’t we try this instead?” He proceeded to x-out what I had written, dash off something infinitely better, while still leaning over me, then let me finish the story.
Now, more than 25 years later, I still feel his presence leaning over me every time I write something. Bill, I hope I got the lead right this time.