His was the name in the newspaper.
That meant something. It had gravitas. He was this almost mythical storyteller of my favorite thing — he wrote about baseball for the local paper. Rick Hummel was the chronicler of my childhood — of many of our childhoods.
In St. Louis, baseball is a community. A culture, really. And Rick Hummel, the legendary Post-Dispatch scribe who passed away over the weekend at 77, was a mainstay, a major player. He was the guy who covered the Cardinals. He mattered in this ecosystem, where he cohabitated with the players and managers and general managers, sure, but also the team’s broadcasters and the longtime local sportscasters and, even, the familiar faces (and voices) at Busch Stadium, be it the organist or ushers or “That One Guy” or the vendor who said: “Anybody wanna sodee ... and a free straw?”
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And from the outside, we soaked up all of this, because it was this that made us us. Rick Hummel, who covered the Cardinals for a half century, epitomized the familiarity and personality of those who connected St. Louis to the Cardinals. He was the descriptor. He took us to the games we didn’t see and took us inside the box score. His was the name in the newspaper.
In the Sports section, for instance, on May 5, 1980, Hummel wrote: “In their first 18 seasons in the National League, the Astros have finished over .500 just three times. Now, after a 4-2 victory Sunday over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, they are 16-6, owning baseball’s best record.”
That was the day I was born.
“The evolution of the Astros into an upstanding item began, according to many sources, in late 1975 when the organization summoned Tal Smith from the New York Yankees and hired him as general manager,” Hummel continued in his distinctive voice, while later pointing out that “the Cardinals’ starting pitcher picture did not clear much Sunday when Bob Sykes came up with an unimpressive four innings.”
Perhaps some fortuitous foretelling — it was Sykes who was traded for Willie McGee, a future MVP, World Series hero and Cardinals fixture who became close with the man who chronicled his career. Ozzie Smith respected the heck out of Hummel, too. So did Adam Wainwright and a litany of legends. Greatness recognized greatness.
And we in St. Louis did, too. We were everlastingly riveted by Rick’s writing. I would read him in the newspaper and find myself inspired. This was a baseball bard. Soon, I started writing for newspapers — the one at my high school, the one at my college and then, after some time reporting in New Orleans and Denver, the one in my hometown.
I got to be in the same newspaper with Rick Hummel.
How cool is that?
Better yet, I got to know Rick Hummel.
Now, early on, I remember hesitating to call him by his famous nickname, “Commish,” since I didn’t think I’d earned the right to use that. This was Rick Hummel, after all! But soon, he indeed was “Commish,” just as I was “Hochsie” to him. He became a friend. A mentor, too. He was a wise sage but also had a wonderful sense of humor. And making him laugh felt rewarding, be it with an inside joke or a reference to a random Cardinal he covered.
He took his writing seriously but also had a fun time doing it. That’s pretty much how it should be, right?
And he was just so nice.
He was a sweet soul who cared about my wife and daughter. He didn’t have an ego, yet he wasn’t just a renowned sportswriter, but was also an actual Hall of Famer in Cooperstown. And he gladly and humbly assumed his role of local legend.
It was heartwarming to watch him sign autographs. And when I’d occasionally give family or friends a tour of the Busch Stadium press box, the highlight was always introducing them to one of the two men the Cardinals named the press box after. It’s been the Bob Broeg-Rick Hummel Press Box since 2007. How amazing is this — Hummel retired from the paper in 2022, meaning that he continued to work for 15 years after being immortalized.
Sure enough, while writing this very column, I received a text from my eighth grade teacher, Ed Wright. We’ve kept in touch. He’s a baseball believer. Mr. Wright was one of those guys who basked in all things Cardinals. In 1991, he even got his picture in the Post-Dispatch — he waited overnight in the rain outside Busch to secure opening-day tickets. A proud St. Louisan, he taught me an appreciation of baseball as much as he did U.S. history (though, really, they’re sort of intertwined, right?).
The text included a photo from the Cardinals’ press box, but not at Busch. It was from spring training this year, Hummel’s last in Florida. (Even after retiring, Commish couldn’t stay away — he took on freelance assignments to write about the Cardinals). At the time, I’d already returned to St. Louis. So, Mr. Wright actually snuck into the press box at Roger Dean Stadium.
And he snapped a selfie with Rick Hummel.
“What a great guy. RIP!” Mr. Wright texted Monday.
That sums up Rick Hummel.
What a great guy.
And what a great.
@hochman on Twitter