The difference between the “almost right word” and the “right word” is really a large matter.
It’s especially true when writing is your profession and passion.
I can’t, however, take credit for piecing together those 16 words. That advice came from 19th century American writer and humorist Mark Twain, creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Nonetheless, I’ve attempted to keep his guidance in mind. In this business a little slip of the fingers on the keyboard can leave egg all over your byline.
It’s a tough lesson to learn when you’ve erred in print. Once something’s published, you can’t hit the delete button or, as journalists used to do, reach for the little grey eraser on the desk.
What I’ve called my “greatest blooper” happened in 1992 when I was writing daily sports columns for The Chronicle Herald. On that particular day, I was paying tribute to boxer Rocky MacDougall who had passed away.
The problem? There were two Rocky MacDougall boxers in Cape Breton. I wrote about the wrong one.
First thing next morning, my phone rang at the office. The caller told me he was Rocky MacDougall and was “very much alive.”
Needless to say, I composed another tribute for the following day — on the Rocky who, indeed, had died.
So here I am, explaining how mistakes can reoccur no matter how much time has passed.
This time it was in my Advocate column last week.
I was writing about Montreal’s Red Fisher, the Montreal hockey columnist who was my inspiration in my early years.
In that effort, I spoke of Red’s memoirs in his book, “Red Fisher: Hockey, Heroes and Me.” I referenced a quotation from the publication’s cover, attributing it to “the late Dick Irvin.”
Oops, the words “the late” shouldn’t have been there.
I’ve known for a long time that hockey has benefited greatly from two Dick Irvins, Senior and Junior.
The mistake, though, didn’t get past the Irvin family.
The morning after the Advocate column appeared online, an email arrived in my inbox. It was from Nancy (Irvin) Koehler, daughter of Dick Irvin Jr., granddaughter of Dick Irvin Sr.
In Nancy’s words: “I want to send a correction to Hugh Townsend in regards to his story. A reference to Red Fisher by ‘the late Dick Irvin’ who is in fact very much alive. Please make sure he knows that Dick Irvin (Junior) is 88 years old, my father and alive and well. His father, Dick Irvin (Senior) is the one deceased, hence would be ‘late’ as he died in 1957.”
As I read it, I immediately thought of the two Rocky MacDougalls.
Just as quickly, the word “apology” came to mind. I sent one to Nancy before my coffee was finished. No question, I had wrongly inserted “late” in front of the wrong Dick Irvin.
Anyone who has followed hockey as long as I have would be aware that there have been two Dick Irvins.
Both father and son shone in their respective roles. Both were honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame for their achievements.
Let me explain.
In the 1970s, when I was the Herald’s sports editor, while attending the Stanley Cup playoffs in Montreal, I met Dick Jr. It was a pleasure to speak with the man who appeared so many, many times on Hockey Night in Canada.
If you aren’t aware of either or both Dick Irvins, I consulted Wikipedia to confirm I was referencing the correct backgrounds.
Wait till you see what I saw.
The facts on Dick Junior are just as I remember him. The now-88-year-old retired sportscaster and author was honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 when he was presented the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for his “contributions to hockey broadcasting.”
And Dick Senior? What a career he had as a player and coach.
When he played in the NHL (1916 to 1928), he was considered one of the greatest players of his era. He was even more successful in coaching, having coached the Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, winning one Stanley Cup with Toronto and three with Montreal. Deservingly, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.
What surprised me in Wikipedia? Senior’s playing and coaching successes were given correctly. The problem? The name above those facts reads “James Dickinson ‘Dick’ Irvin Jr.”
In last week’s column, I mentioned that Red Fisher’s book has had a prominent place on one of the book shelves in my home since I got it in 1994, the year it was published. I often take it out to re-read portions of it.
When Nancy Koehler’s email came, I noticed the Fisher book has been a bookshelf neighbour to Junior’s 1988 publication, “Dick Irvin: Now Back to You, Dick.”
I glanced at other books on the same shelf.
There’s “The Best of Milt Dunnell: Over 40 Years of Great Sportswriting.” Among highlights, his book says he attended 42 consecutive Kentucky Derbys, and more than 35 Stanley Cups, World Series and Grey Cups. No wonder he, too, has been among my sportswriting idols.
There’s “Hello Canada! The Life and Times of Foster Hewitt,” written by another sportswriting master, Scott Young. I loved listening to Hewitt’s outstanding play-by-play voice, my memories including the night I was seated just two chairs away in Foster’s “gondola” high above the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Speaking of former players who became hockey commentators, another of the fascinating books I have is “Golly Gee, It’s Me!” That, of course, is Howie Meeker’s colourful story.
To straighten out Senior and Junior in the Irvin family, I’ve enjoyed the chance to take still another stroll down memory lane.
Now “Back to You Dick.”
May you add many more good days to your 88 years. I can still hear your familiar voice on Saturday nights.