Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter Gammons

See also: All 2006 Award Winners

There are people you meet in your life who do more than just shake your hand and keep on moving. Instead, they leave their gigantic imprint on the universe you live in. All they do is change everything.

Peter Gammons is one of those people. But not just for me. For all of us who cover baseball for a living, he’s a friend, he’s an inspiration and he’s the man who changed everything. For every one of us.

I’ve used this line before. But please forgive me if I use it again. What Alexander Graham Bell was to the telephone business, Peter Gammons was–and still is–to our business.

Peter is to modern baseball coverage what Edison was to electricity. He isn’t just the model for how to do this job. He invented how to do this job.

He pioneered it all: those long Sunday notes columns in every newspaper in America, those daily notebooks that every baseball beat writer takes as standard duty now, those game stories that veer way beyond How They Scored to tell you why they scored, those Rumor Central columns that feed us our daily trade dirt.

People may have done elements of that kind of coverage before, but none of it was a fixture of the sports media landscape until Peter pioneered it. And now it’s here forever.

His astonishing work has been appearing on the pages of Baseball America nearly from the beginning of BA, a whole quarter-century ago. But his tale began a decade before that in New England, when Peter Gammons turned mere Red Sox stories in the Boston Globe into an essential part of every morning, right there with coffee and Cheerios.

And then came Sunday mornings, when hundreds of thousands of normal people found themselves sprinting for the Sunday Globe, because there was a fresh Peter Gammons notes column calling out to them from inside the newsprint.

There was never anything like those Gammons notes columns, and there’s still nothing like them. All those numbers. All those laughs. All those insights and quotes and rumors you’d never find anywhere else, spanning an entire broadsheet page every week.

He could take you on a journey, from Cecil Cooper to Ry Cooder, from Kiko Garcia to Jerry Garcia, from Robert Frost to Dave Frost. He could lift you out of your world and dump you right there in the middle of his world, a world in which the coolest and smartest baseball men alive helped you make sense of it all.

But that was only the beginning of Peter Gammons’ amazing voyage. He just kept on rising, first to Sports Illustrated and then on to ESPN. Where he redefined his profession yet again.

I can’t say for sure that I do what I do now because Peter did it first. But I’ll believe that for the rest of my life. He made this world possible–for me, for Tim Kurkjian, for Buster Olney, for Ken Rosenthal, for all of us who have discovered so many new ways to look into a camera or blog away on our laptops and tell our stories.

But the most incredible thing about Peter Gammons is that, all these years later, he still does it better than any of us. Which is why everyone who covers baseball, everyone who works in baseball, everyone who even just cares about baseball felt the void this summer when that aneurysm stole Peter away from us for half a season.

It didn’t matter where I was over those three months–which clubhouse, which press box, which taxi to the ballpark. Everyone I ran into wanted to know about Peter. Wanted to do something. Wanted to send something. Or just wanted to know how they could reach him to tell him how much they were pulling for him.

So after he finally made it out of the hospital and the rehab center, I told him: “I don’t know how many thousands of people you think there are out there who care about you. But whatever that number is, you should probably multiply it by 50.”

That’s no exaggeration, either. Baseball couldn’t have missed Babe Ruth any more than it missed Peter Gammons.

So thank heaven he’s back. It’s hard to imagine baseball without him. He made me want to do what I do. He has altered the course of my career. He has changed my life, and all of our lives.

And thank heaven the 2005 Spink Award finally elevated him into the Hall of Fame. Because Peter Gammons is a Hall of Famer in the same way that Ruth and Gehrig and Williams are Hall of Famers.

He’s why they need Halls of Fame in the first place.