Davis Conversations is a feature series at Davis Life Magazine presenting profiles of local folks who impact our community. Today, we meet Bruce Gallaudet.
(Photo courtesy: The Davis Enterprise)
It’s not every day you sit down with a real live Hall of Famer. Bruce joined the club in 2011 when he was knighted by Davis High School…a feat all the more notable given he never walked the campus as a student or staffer. The Blue & White Foundation honored this journalist for his tireless devotion to capturing the Blue Devils in all of their athletic glories. And on those less glorious days too. Beyond DHS, Bruce has covered the whole spectrum of athletics in our community – from Little League through UCD – for The Davis Enterprise. When I read Bruce’s work, I hear notes of other voices from our past…the ones that inform small town journalism at its best. Thornton Wilder’s humanist optimism in the power of all people to improve the quality of life in families, communities, and on a wider stage. Norman Rockwell’s celebration of everyday moments, big and small, through the eyes of youth. And in the particular arena of sports, Grantland Rice’s flair for storytelling and mythmaking, balanced with a wary eye on those who threaten to spoil the simple joys of kids at play. On a drizzly Sunday morning, we braved the outdoors over coffee, tea, and a soon to be waterlogged muffin to talk sports, the news media, and covering our kids.
– A fan from the start –
Davis Life Magazine: You were born in New Jersey but grew up in southern CA. Did you grow up a Dodgers fan?
Bruce Gallaudet: No, we had moved to California as a family in the early ‘50s, so the Major Leagues hadn’t come west yet.
DLM: The Giants and Dodgers moved in ‘58?
BG: Right. So I was playing Little League – the 8th team in all of CA I think because Little League had just gone nationwide in ‘47 – and I was on a team call the Braves. We were unbeaten so I was all puffed out about that. This was ‘57. And in the Majors, the (then Milwaukee) Braves won it all. So it was a natural progression for me, and I started rooting for the Braves and stayed with them. I was obstinate when the Dodgers arrived the next year. I wasn’t about to switch over to them, but it was a great opportunity to finally see the Braves when they would travel to Los Angeles for a series. It was a dream come true if you’re eleven years old and finally your team is going to come visit.
DLM: Was that the Braves era with Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Warren Spahn?
BG: Oh yeah. In fact, I asked specifically for #14 when they gave out these (Little League) uniforms so then my mom could take the numbers off the back of these big bulky flannel uniforms and sew them back on as #41 so I could be Eddie Mathews. It was very cool.
DLM: Have you stuck with the Braves up through today, or have you adopted either of the Bay Area teams after living here so long?
BG: Forever. Lifelong Braves fan.
DLM: Understood. I grew up near Houston and have remained a die-hard Astros fan even though I haven’t lived there full-time since 1985.
BG: An Astros fan. My apologies.
DLM: Thanks. Do you have a memory of the first live game you ever attended or that impacted you? Was it the Braves in LA?
BG: I don’t know if it was the first game I attended, but I do have a specific early memory. I went to a game at the LA Coliseum between the Braves and Dodgers, and Warren Spahn – another one of my all-time heroes – was pitching against the Dodgers. He let up 6 or 7 runs in the first inning and stayed around for a complete game 18-7 victory. It was interesting to see a guy like Spahn compete: he would do everything he could to beat you. I remember reading a story about Mathews and Spahn, from a time when Mathews was a rookie in ‘53. There was a pop fly down the (left field) line in the 5th or 6th inning, and Mathews goes back from third base and makes a nice catch. It’s the end of the inning and as he’s coming off the field. He flips the ball in the stands for the fans, and Spahn lights him up in the dugout: “What the hell are you doing? You threw the ball in the stands! I’ve been working on that $!@%# thing for five innings now!” Spahn was the ultimate competitor and a really interesting story…a war hero who played ball for a couple seasons and then served in World War II, like a lot of other players at the time. He took shrapnel in the leg (Spahn saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart) and came back and had this incredible career. Then, he hung in there to win 363 games…most by a left-hander. Ever. He was always told he was too small and too slow.
DLM: My high school basketball coach told me “You may be short, but you’re slow.”
BG: Sounds like my high school coach: “You may be tall, but you’re stupid.”
DLM: Nice. Why were you so attracted to sports growing up – is it the great stories, the unpredictability, the escapism? What is sports at its best for you?
BG: It’s a microcosm of real life. I can’t typically go toe to toe with someone in the real world and let it all out; there’s decorum to be followed. The real world is: you get up, you work hard all day, you come home, and if you’ve got any energy left then the family is #1. With sports, the human drama, especially the kids in college and high school sports, is really interesting. It’s great to watch kids learn life through sports. If a kid has a good coach, everything you do is a life lesson. Practice to get better at something translates to real life…competition to get ahead of the person next to you is not a bad thing to understand…play by a set of rules…sportsmanship goes a long way in office or any arena. You always need to be a good teammate. It’s an extension.
DLM: As a fan, any favorite experiences that stick with you?
BG: When I broke in as the sports editor of a small newspaper in Corona in ‘70, I got a chance to be a beat writer for the Angels for three years. And it was during their worst days…they were a horrible team despite some good pitchers like (Nolan) Ryan, (Frank) Tanana, and (Bill) Singer, but offensively they were bankrupt. So I got a chance to do that and also covered the Lakers and (UCLA) Bruins and did a handful of what I thought were memorable features. So favorite things? I’ve been to either or ten World Series games and loved all the pageantry of those, and also ten or more SC-UCLA football games. It’s hard to beat those rivalries.
DLM: Great rivalry. I’ve been to one of those myself at the Coliseum.
BG: My wife’s an SC graduate, and I’m a UCLA fan. So once a year we don’t like each other and then after that we’re okay (laughs). She knows SC doesn’t normally have a chance in basketball so that’s not even a consideration. And usually it was the other way around with football with SC clubbing us, but after the only one we attended together, she said never again. SC was up 10-7 when she took a quick break to the snack bar. She came back 15 minutes later, and it was 28-10 UCLA! Kenny Easley had run back two interceptions for TDs and returned a punt to the SC 7 yard line. She still hates Easley, who is easily one of my favorite Bruins. We’ll never see another SC-UCLA game in person.
– The budding journalist –
DLM: Your first job out of school was sports writing. Was that driven by your love for sports, wanting to write, or just a perfect marriage of the two?
BG: I always wanted to be a journalist. When I was maybe ten, they had these little toy things you could buy with movable type, and you could make up words and print papers. I got that set and did a neighborhood newspaper. So it started early. And then the marriage of writing and sports was an easy fit. I wasn’t the greatest athlete in the world so living vicariously through the real athletes was fun. I knew what I wanted to do. I fell into a job as a copy boy at the LA Times, and it felt like a good start. It’s a funny story how I got there: I was playing baseball in an industrial league, and every Sunday morning I was down at Pierce College running laps. For about three or four weeks, I ran with the same guy. We got to know each other a little, and we sat down one morning and talked about what I was doing with my life and what I wanted to do. He knew I wanted to get into journalism. He pulled out a business card and wrote something on the back, handed it to me, and said “Swing by and Meyer will fix you right up.” I looked at the card, and it reads “Otis Chandler – Publisher/Owner of the LA Times.” I turned the card over, and his note says “Meyer, give Bruce every courtesy. Otis.” So I went down there (to the LA Times building), through this incredible, opulent entry – art deco to the tenth power – and walked up to the front desk. I approached the receptionist and said “Hi, I’m here to see about a job.” She said “Oh, well, Personnel is three doors down and to the right,” and I said “Okay, thanks.” I started to walk away – because I’m a 19 year-old idiot – and then I stopped, went back, laid the card on her, and said “Does this make any difference?” She looked at it, made a phone call, and said “Meyer will see you now.”
DLM: It plays like a great movie moment. So that’s how you broke into the business.
BG: Yeah, I just happened to stumble onto the publisher of the LA Times, and he hooked me up. After that I was still working in a steel plant as well, and then had started junior college when I heard a job opened up in Corona for sports writing. I got it and jumped right into a trial by fire. Two weeks after becoming a sports writer, I became the paper’s sports editor…it was that small. I ended up staying there for almost ten years. It was great fun.
DLM: Are there any sportswriters that you especially admired coming up?
BG: There was a feature writer at the LA Times named Chuck Hillinger that I not only admired, but once I got to the Times I got some solid mentoring for him. I really liked his writing style – his feature style. Bud Furillo, who just died last year, was the sports editor at the Herald-Examiner, and he wrote a column called “The Steam Room” forever…it was syndicated as well. I had gotten to meet him through a mutual friend, and he took me under his wing. The thing I learned from guys like Hillinger and Furillo was the fewer adjectives you use, the more descriptive you could be in your stories. Get right to the point and describe what happened. For example, “he hit a mammoth home run”…that doesn’t mean anything to anybody, but if you tell them that he hit it over the fence, over the snack bar, over the river, and down to the gulley, then people get the picture that it was a long way. For other favorite sportswriters, I go back to the Damon Runyon days. You couldn’t beat the sports writing of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. The style was just terrific.
DLM: Was it The Enterprise that brought you to Davis?
BG: It was. I had left Corona and went to work at the Oxnard paper as the city editor. I was there about a month and was named managing editor and ended up staying there for a year. Met my wife Debbie, editor of the The Enterprise now, and we came up to Davis in a package deal in ‘79. Then in ‘83, the McNaughtons (publishers of The Enterprise and a broader family of community newspapers) said we’d like you to go to Fairfield and bring the same kind of community journalism to that newspaper (as you accomplished in Davis). So I was in Fairfield for three years and the feel just wasn’t right: I couldn’t live in this community and give it 200% in that community, so I left newspapers for a little while…freelanced for a bit and actually worked for ten years in sales over at University Honda.
DLM: Looking back now, was it a good break away from the newspaper industry to recharge and maybe make you appreciate it more?
BG: I knew I was going to miss it, and I kept dabbling in stuff. I’d write a feature here or there for The Enterprise. The break was good but I always knew I’d end up back in newspapers.
– Nothing stays the same –
DLM: Since your debut as a copy boy with the LA Times, the sports media landscape has changed dramatically. The death of print journalism has been forecast many times.
BG: How has it changed for print newspapers? My belief is that big metro newspapers are going to be the first dinosaurs that don’t survive. And community newspapers like The Enterprise are going to be the last standing. The difference is that most of what you can get in the big city papers – stories from Washington and New York and Baghdad – are things you can get more readily anywhere.
DLM: Easy to get online. And for free.
BG: Right. It’s easy to get. But if your kid goes 2-3 in a Little League game and drives in the winning run in the sixth inning, you can only find that in The Enterprise. If you’re having a crab feed on Tuesday to try to raise $12,000 for football equipment, you’re only going to read that in The Enterprise. And what happens at the City Council meeting or DHS baseball game or UCD gymnastics. You might get the score from The Bee or The Chronicle, but you won’t get a 25-inch story with photographs. The Enterprise is one of the most blessed newspapers in the country. You could probably count on your hands and toes the number of communities that have a daily newspaper and also have a world class university, one high school, and the kind of activism Davis has. As journalists and as a newspaper, we’re blessed. But it’s a two-way street. The Enterprise tries to do its part on behalf of the community by trying to cover virtually everything it can and being a contributor. And having a real relationship with the city because our staff has deep ties. We have members who’ve been here 30+ years, so the understanding of the community is pretty complete at The Enterprise. My wife is a Davis encyclopedia.
DLM: Do you feel pressure – from The Enterprise, peers, readers, subjects – to be more engaged in social media as a journalism platform?
BG: I see social media for journalists as opening Christmas presents early. If I’m tweeting so and so has won by 12 points, I’ve still got a story to write for the media. It’s great that everybody knows the score, but if they don’t find it out from me, they can go online wherever and find something to tide them over till my print stuff hits. Is there pressure? Yeah, there probably is. And I’ve now gone on Facebook, and I will start tweeting. I may not be very good at it or consistent, but I’ve made a pledge to start doing it this year. Being the old guy at the paper, I’m just fine hitting my deadlines and having the stories run when the papers come out. They have to retrain me to be a technological contributor (smiles). The whole world of technology has gone from Andy in Mayberry to Star Trek in the time that I’ve been in the business.
DLM: As technology makes it so much easier for people to have a voice and put their opinions out there, has it opened the door to more cynicism or shock value across media? Everyone trying to drive more views to their Twitter feed or websites?
BG: Everyone is looking for their niches. There are definitely more people out there and with that you have more unconfirmed reporting and not as many making sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. Is there more shock value? I don’t know. Probably not. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, daily newspapers were pretty shocking. There’s what they called the 100 point wood headlines: “MARILYN FOUND DEAD” and all kinds of sensational stuff. I grew up when Mickey Cohen was floating around Los Angeles, and the LA Mirror was the sister of the LA Times. Anything below the LA Times wound up in the Mirror. So it’s been around forever. I don’t think its more sensational, just more of it in terms of volume. And everything is under the microscope. There are books about heroes of mine that can be really disappointing in how much they revealed. Jane Leavy is a great writer and wrote the book on Mantle (“The Last Boy”). I was glad my dad never read it. Having grown up in NY, if he read all that stuff about his idol Mantle…if he wasn’t already dead, it would’ve killed him. There’s more mythbusting now in sports. 40 or 50 years ago, you wouldn’t have steroid coverage or an Adrian Peterson scandal. It’s good that it’s out there because it’s truth, but the innocence gets killed. Where do you hang your hat if you’re nine or ten years old?
DLM: With those changes, has there been a shift in the dynamic of the relationship between athletes and journalists? It seem like where it used to be more protective, there’s now a large part of the journalism practice always looking for that gotcha moment and even relishing it?
BG: It can be adversarial. Even with what I cover. Even in my little world here in Davis, I try to be straightforward with the guys and as a result can get into it a little with coaches now and again and once in a while with an athlete. What used to happen long ago, in the golden era of Runyon and his peers, was they lived with these guys and were on the train from St. Louis to Detroit or New York to Baltimore. The writers spent time playing cards with the ballplayers and were friends with them. And what happened off field never got to print. It was about self-preservation because if you did say Babe Ruth was a womanizing drunk, then you’re not on train anymore and not getting the stories. It’s a way different time now. These days, people are looking. Watergate changed journalism.
DLM: Not just political journalism.
BG: No, the whole thing. Everyone that wants to make an impact is looking for those stories. The dynamic has just changed.
– Covering the locals –
DLM: I think I notice some subtle differences in your writing depending on the subject. Do you consciously change your approach when writing about Little League or DHS or UCD? Do you move from creating scrapbook content for the small kids to more objective journalism as they get older?
BG: That’s exactly right. In Little League coverage, you want to show the budding passion, and grandma gets a copy. In high school it’s a learning experience. There are some great stories to be told, but there’s not a worldliness to the athletes when they’re 14 or 17. In covering those games, there’s no sense in rubbing their nose into shortcomings. So there’s a sense of forgiveness, though not total protection. Especially when the adults act up. And then with UCD, the expectations for the players and coaches are higher and you have to cover it in a more straightforward way.
DLM: With both UCD hoops teams doing so well this season, it’s got to be more fun for you as writer to cover…compared to having to find the silver linings and moral victories when a team is struggling.
BG: (Winning is) better for coaches and players than for me because there’s always a story there. As a journalist, your job is just to find it. But it’s no secret that with wins come enthusiasm, and that energy is fun for everyone.
DLM: I grew up in east Texas, in the heart of Friday Night Lights, and then went to school at The University of Texas in Austin, where the Longhorns are practically treated as a pro team in terms of expectations and coverage. So it’s been interesting for me since moving to Davis to observe how starkly different the coverage of the local teams is here…seems considerably more glass half-full and forgiving. If Gould (UCD football coach) was in Austin and started 7-16 in his first couple seasons, the media would be calling for his head.
BG: Last year I was fairly critical in areas and put the questions to Gould…you can’t be afraid to ask the tough ones as long as you’re being fair.
DLM: How much does being part of small town community change how you cover UCD?
BG: Not at all.
DLM: So there’s no difference in how you cover the Aggies and how you would cover a high profile, big city program like UCLA on the beat for the LA Times?
BG: None. They should know better. So if they’ve got warts, here’s the warts. If they’re doing well, here’s them doing well. My charge at this point is to not sound like a sophomore and go “Wow, aren’t these guys good.” There are some people who think I’m a homer, and sure I want UCD to kick the crap out of Sac State, but am I going to make excuses for the home team? No, not unless there are valid ones. Like the injuries that decimated the men’s basketball team last year and was a huge factor in going 9-22.
DLM: Do you care about being perceived a homer?
BG: Hell no. I’m not a homer in that I’m hoping I’m giving the straight story and pulling together the facts on whatever needs to be said, including being critical where I perceive it to be necessary. But it is community journalism. We are Davis, and we circle the wagons in a lot of ways in this community.
– Life in Davis –
DLM: What do you appreciate most about living here?
BG: The schools were great for my kids…terrific atmosphere. People that live here feel safe and cared for. What’s not to like?
DLM: If you’re mayor for the day, would you change anything?
BG: The Bicycling Hall of Fame…I’d go in a little different direction now that Lance and his buddies have wrecked the sport for road racing. I actually wrote about that recently. I’d also bring the community together to see how we can better use city and school facilities for all of the groups around town, from Davis Diamonds to Davis Little League.
DLM: What’s your ideal date night in Davis? Favorite restaurants or activities or other spots?
BG: My wife works the hours I don’t…we’re ships in the night. My perfect date night is actually a Sunday morning, sleeping till 11. Really, there is no such thing as perfect date night in Davis because there are so many things you can do.
DLM: That’s a good Davis Chamber of Commerce answer.
BG: (Smiles) Well, I was the Chamber’s director for almost four years.