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by Editor--Rick Cabral

 SAGE SCRIBE OCCUPIES SEAT IN GREAT HALL

Not many Northern California sports writers of the past fifty years could lay claim to covering the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 and 2002 World Series, the first Super Bowl, the Warriors NBA championship, the Raiders two Super Bowl victories, and then cap off such a career with the penultimate achievement: induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

But Nick Peters can.  

Peters_Nick_HOF
Nick Peters in Cooperstown where he received the
J.G. Taylor Spink Award. Credit: Rick Lewis

Peters, who worked most of his sports career for Bay Area newspapers, also covered the Giants for the Sacramento Bee from 1988 to 2007 during which time he and wife Lise made Elk Grove their home.

Peters had the good fortune to grow up in San Francisco during the time when the Bay Area blossomed into a sports metropolis.

His father Andrew Papidas emigrated from Greece’s Andros Island in the mid-20s (at which time he Americanized the family name to Peters). One of his first jobs was selling programs in Boston’s Fenway Park. Eventually, he moved to San Francisco, met Nick’s mother, a Greek-American and they settled in Greek Town south of Market Street, a home run away from the future AT&T Park. Andrew’s love for baseball carried over to his son.

As a youth, Nick loved all sports and frequently attended 49er games at Kezar Stadium, watching his beloved hometown team which featured the famous “million dollar” backfield of Tittle, McElhenny, Johnson and Perry (he even ushered there for a time). As a teenager on Sunday afternoons Peters occupied Seals Stadium religiously following the hometown nine.

The Seals last manager in 1957 was Joe Gordon. Coincidentally, he was inducted posthumously in the 2009 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Peters.

Starting in 1958, Peters saw the Giants play their first home game on the West Coast at Seals Stadium and never missed a home opener for five decades.

First at Lincoln High and then City College of San Francisco he learned journalism by serving as sports editor of the school newspapers. After graduating in 1961 from San Jose State with a degree in journalism he caught on at the San Francisco Chronicle as a copy boy on the sports desk. Knowing of his desire to cover the Giants, editor Art Rosenbaum reminded him that beat writer Bob Stevens wasn’t leaving any time soon and suggested he take the opening at the Berkeley Gazette. He got the job and began covering the Giants.

At the Gazette, his first story was on Willie McCovey. They struck up a friendship right away, a relationship that has continued with visits by Peters to McCovey’s special box at AT&T Park.

The team’s captain and perennial all-star was a different story. “(Willie) Mays was more difficult,” Peters admits. “He was a New Yorker,” referring to the city where the fleet centerfielder had established his star.

Shortly after joining the Gazette sports staff, Peters was drafted in the Army and stationed in Anchorage as an infantryman during the height of the Cold War. His first weekend on base, fate interceded when he met a public information officer who said they needed writers on staff. He took the position writing for the base paper. During that time, he also caught on as a stringer for the Anchorage Times. Not long after, Nick was voted Anchorage Sports Writer of the Year in 1961, beating out two Eskimos and a dog-sled team,” he quipped in his acceptance speech in Cooperstown in 2009. For good measure he won it again in 1962.

The Army allowed Peters to return home in time to cover the Giants historic conclusion to the 1962 season. On Sunday, September 30 he started the day by covering the 49ers game at Kezar Stadium (for the Gazette), then raced to Candlestick Park. There he celebrated with the Giants when the team learned the Dodgers had dropped their final game ending the season in a tie with San Francisco for the National League pennant and forcing a three-game playoff. Although he covered the first game at Candlestick, budget limitations prevented Peters from traveling to Los Angeles, where the Giants claimed the third and decisive playoff game, earning the right to face the New York Yankees. 

Giants_Celebrate_1962
Nick Peters (center/back behind Juan Marichal) celebrates in the Giants clubhouse
after learning the Dodgers lost the last game of the 1962 season to force a 3-game playoff.
Photo courtesy of the Nick Peters Collection

 

Peters covered the 1962 World Series for both the Anchorage Times and Berkeley Gazette , and it provided a highpoint in his 46-year career. In Game One at Candlestick “The Greek” relished the opportunity to write about Billy Pierce’s 8-0 shutout over Sandy Koufax and the  Dodgers. However, when he filed his story with the Times “they didn’t accept it, saying it was too expensive,” he chortles.

He also recalls the dramatic ending to Game Seven when Yankees’ second baseman Bobby Richardson snagged McCovey’s line drive.

Asked to rate his disappointment Peters now admits, “There wasn’t much heartache because we thought the Giants would win (the pennant) every year.” He would have to wait another 27 years.

Of all the players he covered in his career Willie Mays was the greatest he maintains. “He could do everything (as a five-tool player).” Peters felt Roberto Clemente of Pittsburgh was a close second behind the amazing Mays. “He could do everything, too,” and had the best arm of the top National League outfielders in the scribe’s opinion.

But Peters’ favorite baseball figure of all time was Ted Williams, whom he saw at the end of Williams’ career. “He was my hero,” Peters says, smiling. Why? “The Yankees won too much. And he was a better hitter, while DiMaggio was a better all-around player.” Also, his father's partiality toward the Red Sox may have pointed him in that direction.

In 1969, the first year Williams managed the Washington Senators, “Teddy Ballgame” granted the San Francisco sportswriter an interview that lasted nearly a half hour. “I was in my glory,” Peters said. “That was the best interview I ever had.” He says it tops those with some of the great legendary coaches, including Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach.

Nick Peters covered 5,000+ San Francisco Giants games, more than any other sportswriter. He was one of the few with the unique vantage of watching Mays and his godson Barry Bonds on a daily basis. Asked to rate the all-time home run career leader, Peters puts Bonds in the second tier “below the best of those sixties’ guys (Mays, Clemente, Robinson). But he was damn good,” he says of the 7-time Most Valuable Player award winner.

“I didn’t like covering Bonds. He was an arrogant SOB,” Peters says. He concedes that with all the media attention, Bonds didn’t have much privacy. As a consequence, “(Bonds) had tremendous powers of concentrations. Most people don’t like the scrutiny, but he could put it aside (and still perform).”

“I liked him (as a player) and I will vote for him (in 2013, Bonds' first year of eligibility) for the Hall of Fame,” Peters declares. He says he can’t keep Bonds out of baseball’s Mount Olympus because “who knows which of the pitchers were using” during the steroid-era. Likewise he will also vote for 7-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, even though Peters believes the “The Rocket” used steroids, too, in his career. 

1962_Giants_Press_Pass
Nick Peters' 1962 Giants World Series Press Pass,
courtesy of the Nick Peters Collection


Asked when he became aware that professional baseball players were “juicing,” Peters points to the pivotal year 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both crushed the then-single season home run record in ballooned physiques that reminded one of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Anticipating the question, he says he wouldn’t have voted for McGwire for the Hall of Fame even if he hadn’t used steroids for the same reason Peters didn’t vote for Twins’ slugger Harmon Killebrew: both were too one-dimensional, he felt.

On the topic of the all-time greats to come out of Sacramento, Peters agreed with the committee formed by BaseballSacramento.com last year: Stan Hack was the greatest. He also couldn’t argue with the next two choices, Dusty Baker and Larry Bowa.

“Larry Bowa was a great shortstop,” Peters confirms, “but I didn’t think much of him as a hitter. The shortstops in those days didn’t have to hit.” He notes that Alex Rodriquez and Nomar Garciaparra—both excellent hitters—changed the benchmark for great shortstops.

Baker, he says, was probably the fourth-best all-around player on the Dodgers' World Series winning teams, citing Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Reggie Smith as better all-around players. Peters thinks highly of Baker as a skipper, calling him “a player’s manager. He was a modern guy. He wasn’t old school, though he thought he was. He was a good guy.”

Although baseball was his first love, Peters covered most of the major sports. In 1966, he wrote about the first NFL-AFL Championship Game (before it was called the “Super Bowl”) in Los Angeles between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. He covered the Oakland A’s three World Series championships in the early 1970s. And he wrote about the Golden State Warriors 1975 NBA championship.

In addition, over his career he covered Cal sports, three Olympics and was a correspondent for AP, UPI, The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.

He even penned jazz concert reviews in the early days with the Gazette. Peters remains a huge jazz fan to this day.

In time he was promoted to sports editor at the Gazette, where he penned a weekly column "Nick's Notes." Eventually, he moved on the Oakland Tribune in 1979, but when that paper threatend to stop coverage of the Giants, Nick left to write for the Bee.

Peters was deservedly rewarded for his nearly five decades of excellent baseball coverage when he received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing." He was the sixth West Coast recipient and just the second from northern California to win the award (the Chronicle’s Bob Stevens being the first) .

Now retired, Peters confides that he doesn’t miss the daily grind of reporting, but admits he misses covering the World Series.

Recently he was diagnosed with a rare disease, cortical-basal ganglionic degeneration (CBGD), a member of the Parkinson’s family of neurological disorders. Lise, his wife of nearly 40 years, says in hindsight the early signs were present when Nick made his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown.

Today, the former sportswriter is "a couch potato," watching the games from the comfort of his Elk Grove living room.

Nick Peters looks back with great fondness and appreciation for having grown up and worked in the Bay Area during what he calls the “Glory Years” of sports. Given the opportunity to report on some of the greatest athletes of all time, including Mays, Koufax, Clemente, McCovey, Juan Marichal and Bonds among the elite stars gives him great pride and satisfaction.

Not bad for a kid from Greek Town in San Francisco. 

 

Editor's postscript: Nick Peters was elected to the LaSalle Club Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.

 Updated 01/21/12
All contents © Rick Cabral 2012

 





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