t’s easy to sit here and say that I wanted to be Denny Matthews or Joe Posnanski or Chris Berman when I grew up. I mean, those are gold standards. It’s easy to look at someone at the top of any industry and want to emulate their qualities and mannerisms.
I’ve always tried to find someone a little more achievable, a stepping stone, or a mile marker, on the way to becoming one of the greats. It’s why I have absolutely no shame in saying that Greg Hall was someone I wanted to be on my road to becoming the next great sports journalist.
In the late 90’s and early 00’s, there was no better source of sports journalism than the Kansas City Star sports section, and no greater source of sports chatter in the country than Sports Radio 810 and 980 KMBZ. Joe Posnanski. Jason Whitlock. Don Fortune. Kevin Kietzman. Steven St. John. Icons in the industry and at the top of their game. These were journalists that became as big as the games themselves. In the pre-internet world, these voices were kept in line by one man and one column. Greg Hall. The author of the Star (later, The Landmark) column, Off the Couch was a kind of check and balance against the things that these masters said. As the personalities became bigger and more outlandish (see Whitlock, Jason) Hall was there to call their bluffs using one of the greatest weapons known – their own words. Hall would spend countless hours reading columns and listening to sports talk only for him to call a spade a spade and announce when he smelled B.S.
The tone of his columns were Twitter before Twitter. Honest. Brash. Bold. When you opened up the sports section, you did four things by routine. You’d see if your team won. You’d read Posnanski. You’d read Whitlock, and you’d read Off the Couch. If you didn’t do all four, you didn’t read the paper that day.
Hall kept the voices in line. He was funny and irreverent and right. And if I someday wanted to be the next Chris Berman when I grew up, it is only because I’d already been the next Greg Hall.
I saw a lot of myself in Greg. In addition to his column, he was a poet and storyteller. When the newspaper industry began to shift in the early 21st Century, Greg turned to a “day job” but never stopped telling stories. His Off the Couch column continued in The Landmark, and as Twitter came into being, he told stories about high school sports — namely cross country — all the while running marathons. Greg was a renaissance man – good at a multitude of things with talent in a wide swath of areas.
Ever the journalist, he would witness history while finishing the Boston Marathon in 2013. Tired and dehydrated with a phone at 5 percent, Greg put his journalist hat back on and went and covered the terrible story.
My path crossed with Greg after following his column for years as he wrote a poem that should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball Is… is a masterpiece – made only more poignant when his friend, Fred White, gathered some of the great baseball radio announcers to record a version of it. It is that audio that I first wrote to Greg about, then followed his career when it shifted to the Landmark – eventually becoming a colleague, and, I’d hope, a friend.
Greg died suddenly this week. Too suddenly. He had more stories to tell. He had more pictures to take. I have not yet become the next Greg Hall, and we are all less because he is no longer here.
Goodbye, Greg. You will be missed terribly.
(Chris Kamler can be found on Twitter as @TheFakeNed and on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube)