For a time, when Staff Writer Ron Reid, whose report on Pole Vaulter Steve Smith and the Toronto track meet appears on page 16, was attending the University of Michigan, he wanted to be a doctor. He supported himself by working as an orderly in a nearby hospital, where his chores were mundane—until one day he got a chance to assist in a hip operation on a woman suffering from arthritis (he still remembers the operation's name: vitallium cup arthroplasty). It was Reid's job to stand at the end of the operating table and turn the patient's foot when the doctors told him to. He got the signal and twisted. The doctors told him to apply more muscle. He did. Still dissatisfied with the results, one of them walked down to see what was wrong.
"Buddy, you're twisting the wrong foot," he said.
"That convinced me that I wasn't going to be the next Dr. Schweitzer," Reid says. "Or even the next Dr. Scholl." He changed his major from premed to journalism, to the considerable relief of the AMA.
Reid went on to spend 11 years working for the San Mateo, Calif. Times and News Leader, concentrating on track and field, Stanford football and the Oakland Raiders, and he made a name for himself locally when he beat the Oakland Tribune on the hiring of John Madden as the Raiders' coach. In 1969 that local rep almost went national. President Nixon entertained a group of sportswriters and athletes in the White House and confided that he might have been among the former had he not gone into politics. Reid was inspired to write a satire, a football game report as it might have been written by Nixon. The paper killed it.
Reid did get to have a little fun with pro wrestling. The Times' custom was to run a paragraph or two about the main event, then print the rest of the results in agate type. At the end Reid would add a few fictitious characters with names even more fetching than those the wrestlers pinned on themselves: The Festered Rutabaga, The Incredible Creeping Meatball, Harley Bilebreath, The Magnesium Musk Ox, The Electric Aardvark. An underground cult appreciated his efforts and no wrestler, musk ox or aardvark ever complained, but management caught on and made him stop.
Happily, the style the Times kept cramping caught the eye of San Mateo resident John Cunningham, who also happens to be an SI ad salesman. He suggested that Reid submit some of his work to our editors. This led to a free-lance assignment on the Oakland Athletics' star pitcher, Vida Blue, which ran as a cover story (SI, March 27, 1972)—probably the only time a freelancer has made the cover on his first try in the history of the magazine.
By what crafty means did we then lure Reid to New York from California? The same crafty means we had used a year earlier on San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ron Fimrite. Assistant Managing Editor Jerry Tax simply asked, "Are you stupid enough to leave that beautiful country and come East?" and Reid answered, "Well, I'm at least as stupid as Fimrite."