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Our newest staff writer is columnist Bill Taaffe, 38, who grew up in Pluckemin, N.J., one town that George Washington really did sleep in. "He marched through with the Continental Army," Taaffe says, "on his way from Princeton to Morristown." But Taaffe spent much of his childhood in Ebbets Field. His favorite Dodger was Gil Hodges, and his 13-year-old heart was all but broken when the Bums went West. On the other hand, when the New York Mets were created, he recalls, "I just about went crazy."
Taaffe, who will cover TV and radio for us, rarely missed a televised game, but baseball was an avocation in those days; he wanted to be a priest, and he spent three years in the Father Judge Mission Seminary in Monroe, Virginia. His goals changed, however, and he entered Seton Hall University, toyed with premed and prelaw before deciding to major in American history, and graduated in 1966.
He then spent two years in Washington, D.C., clerking for Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, and two more years reporting for Transport Topics, the weekly newspaper of the American Trucking Associations. He joined the staff of The Washington Star, and in 1972 covered his biggest story ever: He happened to be standing just four feet from Alabama Governor George Wallace when a hand holding a pistol emerged from the crowd.
After he'd covered Capitol Hill for a year, Taaffe moved to the sports department, where he had the favorite interview of his career, and the most difficult assignment. The interview was with Muhammad Ali. As Taaffe recalls, " Ali was so different from what the public knew of him. There were kids in his suite, and his gentleness came out."
The assignment was the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, where the press buses usually got him back to his room in good time for his 6 a.m. wakeup call. After the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in hockey, Taaffe wrote a 1,000-word story that, he says, was one of his alltime best. Trouble was, no one ever read it. To transmit it to the Star, Taaffe pushed the button on his portable computer terminal and—horrors!—the story vanished. "I was infuriated and sick," he said, "and I had 30 minutes to deadline. I started typing and got a story in, but it wasn't like the first one."
Taaffe's most consistently rewarding assignment in those years was a TV-sports column, which ultimately appeared in the Star twice a week. Last year, when the paper went out of business, he began writing once a week for The Washington Post. Taaffe accepted a full-time offer from the Post, but on the first day of his new job, as he was leaving home, the phone rang. It was SI calling. Three months later Taaffe left the Post, if not Washington, where he lives with his wife. Donna.
Taaffe's column this week (page 54), on the networks' dearth of journalistic enterprise, is his second for us. He says of his work, "It's almost like not even having an honest job. Watching sports on TV, and writing about it? You call that work?"