Since joining SI in 1971, senior writer Ron Fimrite has written more than 450 stories for the magazine, most of them about baseball and many of them about the California Angels, the team he profiles on page 64 of this issue. All the pieces have been done on time, all have been free of grammatical errors, and all have been written with exquisite style and wit.
What's even more impressive about Fimrite's oeuvre is that he has typed most of his pieces on either a 1949 standard Royal or a 1962 Olivetti portable. (The Royal is for home, the Olivetti for the road.) "The Royal was a gift from the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist John Wasserman," says Fimrite, an alumnus of the Chronicle and a Bay Area resident for most of his life. "Actually, he stole it from the newspaper about 20 years ago. I hope nobody wants it back, because I've become very attached to it."
While most of SI's veteran writers have gone through several generations of portable computers, Fimrite has pecked away, swiftly and flawlessly, at his old manual friends. Indeed, they do have a certain simplicity to them: No batteries or electricity is needed, and they produce an instant printout. Fimrite has made one concession to modern technology—the fax machine. "It is a distinct improvement on the old days, when I used to send stories into the magazine over Western Union," he says. "Once, when I was covering a college baseball game in San Antonio, the telegraph operator took exception to my description of a controversial play, so he supplied his own paragraph. It wasn't half bad, either."
One of Fimrite's first stories for SI, in 1971, was on an Angel, the enigmatic outfielder Alex Johnson. "Even on a team with such flamboyant personalities as Mickey Rivers, Tony Conigliaro and Andy Messersmith, Johnson stood out," Fimrite recalls. "Alex used to position himself in the outfield not according to the hitter, but according to where the shade was."
Fimrite has also had a long association with the Old Cowboy. Angel owner Gene Autry. Says Fimrite, "The first time I interviewed him, at his radio station in Los Angeles, I mentioned that I was a big fan of his movies growing up. He said, 'Oh, would you like to see one?' The next thing I knew, I was sitting in his private screening room, watching Back in the Saddle."
His latest Angel story gave Fimrite a chance to go to the Cactus League and catch up with his old friend Bill Rigney, an executive with the Oakland A's and a former Angel manager. "My relationship with Rig goes back to 1941, when I was 10 and he was the 23-year-old shortstop for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League," says Fimrite. "Because he wore glasses and I wore glasses, he became my hero." Fimrite's reminiscences of those days will be included in Birth of a Fan, a book of essays he is editing for Macmillan that will be published later this year.
Says Rigney, "I can tell you there isn't a lot that Ron doesn't know about the game. I always enjoy reading his stories in SI, and I'm looking forward to reading this one on the Angels. You might even say Ron writes like an angel."
Fimrite: ageless prose on an ancient Royal.