The accountant in our business office was shocked. The day before, she had sent Associate Editor Pat Putnam a routine notice that his expense account report was due, and now to her desk came an unsigned message reading: "Sorry to inform you that Pat Putnam died last night." She ran out into the hall to ask someone, anyone, about this distressing news, and the first person she ran into was Pat Putnam.
Putnam not only got his expense report in, he sent a box of candy to her as penance. Our accountant should have known better, anyway. It is just such extravagant didoes that have contributed to Putnam's reputation around this office as something of a flake.
Patrick Francis Anthony Nolan Putnam is also a talented, prolific and dependable writer. In 1972 he was a member of our Olympic staff at Munich, working under Senior Editor Gil Rogin. Munich was hectic, you will recall, and Rogin was worrying about all the loose ends that had to be pulled together to make a smooth, cohesive story. He went around to Putnam's hotel room to observe the flake's progress. There he found Pat, wearing only his underwear, seated at his typewriter with notes and source material neatly ranged around the room in about 50 carefully assorted piles. Putnam was able to put his hand on anything he needed at any time it was required.
"I've never seen anyone better organized," Rogin said. "It was stunning."
Putnam, who has been with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for six years, is still patrolling the track-and-field beat. He was in Austin, Texas for the NCAA championships (page 18) and two weeks earlier he was in Modesto for the California Relays. At Modesto everyone was waiting for Tony Waldrop to break, or at least threaten, the world record in the mile, but Waldrop finished fourth, and Putnam, with the help of some fast legwork from Writer-Reporter Anita Verschoth, went back to the old typewriter and came up with a fine story contrasting Waldrop's failure with Sprinter Ivory Crockett's stirring victory (SI, June 3).
"I love deadlines," Putnam says of the pressure he felt at Munich and Modesto. "And I write better when I feel sick. I just make sure I have a waste-basket handy, in case I throw up when I'm writing."
Putnam was raised in Schenectady, N.Y., and recently moved back to that area, to the little town of Guilderland, where his daughter Colleen plays volleyball and his son Shawn O'Brien Putnam is in his first year of Little League. Pat has hobnobbed with the famous names in sports for years, but he says he gets unprofessionally intense and involved when he watches Shawn play.
"This is the minor league of Little League—and I go berserk," he says, an unbelieving note in his voice. "I walk around with the palms of my hands sweating. I yell at the umpires, who are nice kids from the neighborhood. I never thought it could happen to me."
It is nice to know that in press boxes at track meets and at pro basketball games (which he will be covering for us next season) Putnam can be relied upon to stay calm and efficient in crises. The reports of death and flakiness are both greatly exaggerated.
PUTNAM: THE FLAKE'S PROGRESS