New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Sports editor

Abe Yager

Abe Yager (Sports editor.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, July 13, 1870; died, Brooklyn, NY, Aug. 22, 1930.)  As first sports editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, Abe Yager created the paper’s sports section.  Yager, who was to spend his entire 45-year working career with the Eagle, was hired in 1885.  Shortly thereafter, he began handling the small sports items that were a staple of afternoon newspapers, many of them simply used as fillers to complete columns of other news that weren’t quite full.  Yager urged the management to stop that practice and create a page for the sports news.  By the 1890s, he got his wish and was the de facto sports editor, although the title wasn’t officially created until 1896.  Yager was a baseball enthusiast who joined the B.B.W.A.A. in 1908 (he had card No. 8) and served as the first Brooklyn chapter chairman (1908-21).  He was the primary official scorer for major league games in Brooklyn for nearly 30 years, though he did not score either World Series the Dodgers reached while he was chapter chairman (1916, ’20).

Ross Wynkoop

Ross Wynkoop (Sports editor.  Born, Midland Park, NJ, Feb. 27, 1898; died, New York, NY, Apr. 25, 1958.)  Rossman H. Wynkoop was the first sports editor of the Bergen Evening Record of Hackensack, N.J., the paper now known as The Record.  After a year as a sportswriter and photographer at the Asbury Park (N.J.) Evening Press, Wynkoop served with the U.S. Shipping Board in World War I and joined the Record in 1919.  He began the paper’s first sports column in 1920.  Two years later, Wynkoop exposed Joe Jackson, banned star of the infamous “Black Sox” who played semi-pro baseball under an alias, when Jackson appeared in Hackensack.  In 1925, he and his scholastic sports editor, Bill Madden, produced a full newspaper page of copy after Hackensack H.S. stopped Passaic (N.J.) High School’s 159-game winning streak.  On June 9, 1930, Wynkoop became managing editor of the paper, a position he held until his death.

Len Wooster

Len Wooster (Sports editor.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Sept. 9, 1874; died, East Meadow, NY, May 25, 1958.)  For almost half a century, Leonard F. Wooster was on the staff of the Brooklyn Daily Times.  Wooster joined the paper (which was founded in 1848) as a copy boy in 1888.  By the turn of the 20th century, he was the sports editor.  In early 1912, Wooster was one of four sports editors of Brooklyn dailies (all of them afternoon papers) who received plans for the new “palatial” ballpark to be built there.  With Wooster in the vanguard, all four poured effusive praise on the new edifice.  It wasn’t until Ebbets Field actually opened in April 1913 that the sports editors realized that the plans did not include a press box.  The Daily Times bought the Standard Union Mar. 9, 1932, with Wooster remaining as sports editor of the combined Times Union.  When the combined paper was sold to the Eagle Dec. 9, 1936, Wooster retired, even though the Eagle continued to print the Times Union until June 7, 1937.  He was twice chairman of the Brooklyn B.B.W.A.A. chapter (1925-26, 1931-32).

Stanley Woodward

Stanley Woodward (Sports editor.  Born, Worcester, MA, June 5, 1895; died, White Plains, NY, Nov. 29, 1965.)  One of the most colorful and respected sports editors in the annals of New York journalism, Rufus Stanley Woodward, Jr., served two terms as head of the sports department at the fabled Herald Tribune.  Woodward played football at Amherst, joined the staff of the Worcester Gazette Jan. 7, 1919, and moved to the Boston Herald in 1922.  In 1930, he came to the Herald Tribune and was named sports editor after the death of George Daley in 1938.  He was recognized as an authority on college football, a dedication that earned him the sobriquet “the Coach.”  But he was not as dedicated to some of the socially prominent sports of the day and in 1948 this resulted in his dismissal by publisher Helen Rogers Reid.  Until 1959, he served as sports editor of the Miami News and Newark Star-Ledger.  In between those assignments, he was sports editor for nearly a year of the short-lived Daily Compass in New York (1952).  After the sale of the Herald Tribune to John Hay Whitney, Woodward was recalled to West 41st Street in Feb. 1959.  He retired (Apr. 1, 1962) four years before the paper closed in April 1966.  Woodward began his first column upon his return, “As I was saying before I was interrupted . . .”, and was credited by his staff members, including Red Smith, Jesse Abramson, Harold Rosenthal, Ed Sinclair, Tommy Holmes, Pete Axthelm, Sid Gray, Irving Marsh, Sam Goldaper, Al Laney, and Harry Carlin, with reviving the style and spirit of what was the city’s best-written sports section.

Wilbur Wood

Wilbur Wood (Sports editor.  Born, Kansas City, KS, Jan. 1, 1892; died, Hollywood, FL, Mar. 18, 1968.)  Among the most important boxing writers of his era, Wilbur Wood became the last sports editor of the original Sun.  Wood became a reporter in 1913 when he joined the old St. Louis Republic.  He later became a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after tours with newspapers in Akron (O.), Cleveland (O.), and Milwaukee (Wisc.).  In 1920, Wood came to New York with the Herald, but few of its staffers were retained when the Herald was merged into the Tribune in March 1924, and Wood went to The Sun.  He focused on boxing with the afternoon paper and was one of the leaders in organizing the Boxing Writers Association.  He served as its first president (1926).  In 1934, The Sun’s sports editor, Joe Vila, died.  Wood was promoted to sports editor, giving up his boxing column, although he continued to write events, including boxing.  A traditional combination was broken when managing editor Keats Speed decided to give the daily column (previously written by the sports editor) to Frank Graham instead.  Wood continued at The Sun until the paper was sold to the World-Telegram Jan. 4, 1950.

Joe Vila

Joe Vila (Sports editor.  Born, Boston, MA, Sept. 16, 1866; died, New York, NY, Apr. 27, 1934.)  Among the more significant and influential sportswriters and sports editors of the first third of the 20th century was Joseph Spencer Vila.  Starting in his native Boston, Vila went through a series of newspapers both there and in New York, where he moved in 1889.  His first New York job was with Hearst’s Journal where, with football writing in its infancy, he introduced a more contemporary play-by-play of the 1889 Harvard-Princeton game.  Vila moved to the most sports-oriented daily paper in town, the Herald.  In 1893, he was hired by the city’s most important daily, The Sun.  Vila got his first important beat in horse racing, where he spent almost 10 years (1900-10) before anti-wagering laws nearly destroyed the industry and he was moved to baseball.  He became sports editor of The Sun in March 1914.  Being sports editor also made him a columnist and his daily colum, entitled “Setting the Pace,” was to appear six days a week for over 20 years.  Vila’s column was, unlike those of many of his contemporaries, very factual and straightforward, often historic and less opinionated.  As sports editor, Vila sought to build a staff of solid, facile writers and aggressively recruited them.  Will Wedge was a top ship news reporter from The Globe whom Vila converted to baseball.  Other recruits included Frank Graham, Grantland Rice, and Dan Daniel.  Many stayed with The Sun for decades.  Vila remained a working writer as well as sports editor.  He covered mostly racing and boxing once it was legalized in 1920.  Vila was the first sportswriter to use a typewriter at ringside for boxing.  He dictated to typist Billy Nash between rounds and had the resulting copy carried to a Western Union operator.  Other reporters customarily wrote in longhand but rapidly began to switch to typewriters.  Vila worked the opening of the spring meeting at Jamaica racetrack on Apr. 21, 1934, was taken ill the next day, reported to The Sun office on Monday, Apr. 23, but left feeling sick and never returned.  Even in death, Vila had a fundamental influence.  Managing editor Keats Speed decided to split the daily column and the sports editor’s responsibilities, a practice then followed only at The Times.  Wilbur Wood, a boxing writer, became sports editor, but Speed gave Graham the daily column.  Graham brought an entirely modern approach to the column and began another fundamental change in sports coverage.

Bernard Thomson

Bernard Thomson (Sports editor.)  Born, Point Fortune, PQ, Nov. 27, 1873; died, New York, NY, Feb. 26, 1937.)  Among the most colorful lives ever by a New York sports editor was lived by a man universally described as “self-effacing.”  Bernard William St. Denis Thomson, the son of a prominent Canadian newspaperman, was an athlete, a rancher, a gold prospector, and a military officer, as well as sports editor of The New York Times for 21 years.  Thomson was also a lawyer who graduated Harvard Law in 1895.  He spent much of his youth in the Canadian wilds before attending Harvard and some time after his graduation practicing law in the State of Washington.  Thomson turned to newspaper work with the Chicago Record-Herald, then moved to the original New York Sun morning edition as Sunday editor before joining The Times as assistant Sunday editor in 1913,  During breaks in his newspaper career, he was advertising manager for Continental Insurance in New York and twice broke the casino bank at Monte Carlo before going broke himself.  He succeeded Harry Phillip Burchell (q.v.) as sports editor Dec. 14, 1915.  Thomson inherited a staff of six writers and over time expanded it to 46 full-time writers and editors, plus a clerical staff handled by Philip E. Burke (q.v.).  As a sports editor, he wrote little by the standard of the day, hiring John Kieran as a columnist instead.  Thomson concentrated on organizing and building both a staff and a style.  At his death, only James P. Dawson (q.v.) and Clarence E. Lovejoy remained from his original group of writers.  His favorite sports were rowing (in which he had competed), boxing, and horse racing (which he frequently attended).  During World War I, Thomson was an officer in the Quartermater Corps, serving in France in 1918.  Following a tour with the occupation force in Germany, he turned to The Times on Apr. 9, 1919.  Thomson mustered out of the Army as a captain.

Lester Rodney

Lester Rodney (Sports Editor.  Born, New York, NY, Apr. 17, 1911; died, Walnut Creek, CA, Dec. 20, 2009.)  For two terms interrupted by service in the U.S. Army, Lester Rodney was sports editor of the Daily Worker, the Communist Party daily newspaper in New York.  A graduate of New Utrecht H.S., Rodney attended N.Y.U. for two years before turning to writing.  He became sports editor of the Worker in 1936, left in 1942, and returned after the war for almost eleven years (1946-57) before leaving what was reduced by then to a weekly.  Rodney worked for newspapers in California and as an advertising agency copywriter before retiring.  In later years, he became a nationally-ranked U.S.T.A. senior tennis player.

Jim Roach

Jim Roach (Sports editor.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Dec. 20, 1907; died, New York, NY, Mar. 16, 1978.)  James Pilkington Roach was one of the few sports editors universally respected throughout the newspaper industry by both his staff and his competitors. His wit, charm and relentless manners marked him as an unusual man in a field not notorious for courtesy.  Roach began his career with the legendary New York World but when the World was sold to the New York Telegram in 1931 and most of its staff released, Roach wound up at The New York Times. After several years of varying assignments from sports editor Bernard St. J. Thompson (q.v.), he moved to the racing beat to his great delight.  He became so comfortable covering the thoroughbreds that he strenuously resisted taking the sports editor position when it was offered to him by managing editor Turner Catledge. With the impending retirement of Raymond Kelly (q.v.), Catledge was eager to fill the job and Roach was his choice. But the racing writer resisted and finally extorted a promise of one more circuit of Triple Crown races before setting down to the editor’s desk.  After a year as an assistant sports editor under Kelly, Roach became sports editor of The Times in 1958.  Under his direction, the writing staff blossomed with such brilliant talents as Gay Talese, Howard Tuckner and Robert Lipsyte (q.v.) flourishing. In addition, such star performers as Red Smith (q.v.) and Dave Anderson (q.v.) (both later Pulitzer Prize winners) were added to the staff.  Sports writing at The Times reached a level unknown in the 107-year history of the paper before his tenure.  Upon his retirement in 1973, he returned to his favorite love when he began doing writing work for the Jockey Club which enabled him to spend many an afternoon at the New York race tracks of which he had grown so fond during his years on the racing beat.

Bill Rafter

Bill Rafter (Sports editor.  Born, Rhinecliff, NY, Sept. 1, 1875; died, Brooklyn, NY, Feb. 13, 1926.)  William A. Rafter was unique among the sports editors of the four principal Brooklyn dailies in the first quarter of the 20th century.  Rafter, unlike his confreres, was not born in Brooklyn and, even more unusual, was not a follower of the N.L. baseball club, now familiarly known as the Dodgers.  Instead, boxing and amateur baseball were his primary interests.  (George N. Palmer, who was to succeed him as sports editor, was the main reporter on the N.L. club.)  Rafter joined the Standard-Union as a telegraph operator in 1892 and soon began covering local boxing in his off-hours.  A series of heavyweight championship fights featuring James J. Jeffries (q.v.) in 1899 and 1900 at Coney Island gave Rafter a chance to show not only his skills but the selling power of sports to his paper.  In 1901, he was named sports editor of the Standard-Union, a position he would hold until his death.  Rafter began a campaign before World War I to legalize sports events on Sundays, leading to major clashes with religious leaders.  He found an ally in Manhattan assemblyman James J. Walker (q.v.), and sports events became legal on Sundays in 1919.  Rafter entered into an agreement to contribute articles to the Police Gazette, then a national sporting weekly.  When the Gazette refused to honor the agreement, Rafter sued.  In May 1923, he was awarded $202,180.50 for breach of contract.  With part of the proceeds, Rafter bought a home in Babylon, N.Y.  But he soon tired of commuting and country living, moving back two years later to his apartment at 25 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, where he suddenly died.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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