Writer Ocker honored to go into Hall with Thome

J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner covered slugger during time with Indians

July 28th, 2018

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Sheldon Ocker's 33 seasons covering the Cleveland Indians for the Akron Beacon Journal earned him the 2018 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. And so the Baseball Writers' Association of America held a reception for Ocker as part of the annual Hall of Fame festivities.
That's not uncommon.
What was uncommon was that one of the attendees of that reception was a Hall of Famer himself -- Jim Thome, one of the hundreds of players Ocker covered in his time tracking the Tribe.
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"To show my respect," Thome said of his rationale for stopping by. "Working in the media to a degree [with MLB Network], you really respect all the hard work that these people put in and that relationship with Cleveland and his family. He always treated me with respect."
It was mere coincidence that brought Thome and Ocker together here this weekend. But it was definitely a happy coincidence, because taking the Cleveland connection to Cooperstown had deep meaning for both men, who were voted in by writers who appreciated their lengthy and productive careers.
"I guess I've known [Thome] since he was about 20," Ocker said. "He's a genuine person. There's never any reason to believe anything he says is just flattery or part of an agenda. He's just a nice guy. It's an honor for me to go into the Hall of Fame in my way the same year he is inducted. I know it doesn't happen every so often that a writer that has this honor is inducted the same year as a player he covered extensively. I'm very happy it turned out this way."
Ocker, who was honored alongside Ford C. Frick Award winner Bob Costas, never imagined it would turn out this way when he somewhat reluctantly took on the baseball beat in 1981. In his acceptance speech at Doubleday Field on Saturday, he said his knowledge of baseball at that time was about on par with his knowledge of "quantum electromagnetics."
"Maybe there's a message in there," Ocker said. "If you don't know squat about something, it doesn't mean you can't learn, if you have a good reason. Mine was to keep up with reporters and columnists on the A-list."

Ocker cited the likes of Peter Gammons, Tracy Ringolsby, Claire Smith, Bill Madden and Dan Shaughnessy -- media members with whom he now shares a spot in the Hall's Scribes and Mikemen exhibit -- for being guideposts in his career. But Ocker carved out his own place in that wing by basically never taking a day off. For 33 years. And those who worked with or alongside Ocker can attest to the way his wit was a welcomed companion on long nights in the press box.
That wit was, of course, on display Saturday.
"I've voted for people for this award for 33 years now," he told his fellow reporters. "I actually voted for myself 41 times just to make sure."
Ocker, who retired following the 2013 season, was named the Ohio Sports Writer of the Year in 1997 and 2000 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and he served as the president of the BBWAA in 1985 and as chair of the Cleveland chapter 11 times. He said the most memorable game he covered was the one that prominently involved another member of the 2018 Hall class -- Jack Morris' 10-inning triumph in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
"Fortitude and guts and toughness," he said. "All the things that you want to see in a sporting event."
Ocker certainly saw his share of sporting events over the years, and he chronicled the Indians' rise to two American League pennants in the 1990s. So he was there for Thome's coming of age as an elite power producer. He was also there for the rise of another power hitter with a slightly different disposition -- Albert Belle.
"You always had these nightmares you were going to get woken up in the middle of the night because Albert hit somebody or threw something at somebody or his car hit some kids on Halloween," Ocker said. "It was always like walking on eggshells."
When asked about Belle's Hall of Fame candidacy, Ocker said he ultimately did not have the longevity to truly qualify. And if anybody knows about longevity, it's Ocker, whose indefatigable tenure led him to this day on the dais and this coincidental, special alignment with Thome.
"Covering baseball, I felt like a kid in a candy store," Ocker said. "I never dreamed a tiny corner of that candy store would be reserved for me."