Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick ‘The Commish’ Hummel dies at 77

Rick Hummel, Busch and The Arch

Three St. Louis institutions: Rick Hummel, Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch on Friday, April 5, 2019. 

Beloved baseball writer Rick Hummel, who captured timeless highlights and countless historic feats with precise, vivid words that will echo alongside those moments forever, died in his sleep early Saturday morning after a short, aggressive illness. He was 77.

Known as “The Commish” at ballparks throughout the country, Hummel covered baseball at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for five decades. In his Hall of Fame career, he dined with Bob Gibson, talked hitting with Stan Musial and helped Muhammad Ali workshop a commencement speech in a Las Vegas hotel room. Hummel was so well-sourced and well-respected that two actual commissioners of Major League Baseball called him by his nickname.

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When Cardinals fans are referred to as the “Best Fans in Baseball” that is partially because The Commish made sure they are also the most informed fans in baseball.

Hummel’s career included 42 consecutive All-Star Games, and as the Post-Dispatch’s lead baseball writer or national baseball columnist, he chronicled the Cardinals’ three most recent World Series championships, six MVP seasons, 11 managers and seven National League pennants. No one knew more about the Cardinals because no one else wrote as much about the Cardinals, and no one was more generous and willing to share all he knew.

“What really comes through is his love of the game,” Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa said in 2006. “If you’re only doing it to make a living, it’s not as deep as if you do it and you love it. Commish loves the game.”

“He genuinely loves the game,” Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog once said.

'A journalism icon.' Remembering Rick Hummel

Hummel kept his illness mostly private, even as he covered games at spring training this past March and appeared in the past few weeks as a guest on podcasts and radio shows.

He was at his St. Louis-area home with his wife, Melissa, when he died, family said.

“It was peaceful,” Melissa Hummel said.

On a table near the television was his scorebook, where Commish had jotted the score and plays of Friday night’s Cardinals game.

“This is a devastating loss for our P-D family and especially to all of us in the sports department,” said Roger Hensley, the Post-Dispatch sports editor. “Commish was our glue and our compass in so many ways. And, most of all, he was a beloved friend to all of us. I will greatly miss all of the time and conversations we shared. There was only one Commish, and he gave all of us all he had for so many years. It’s just a terrible loss for all of his family, friends, and Cardinals Nation.”

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Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel delivers his acceptance speech after receiving the J. G. Taylor Spink Award during at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on July, 29, 2007, in Cooperstown, NY.

Hummel received the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Career Excellence Award in 2006 from his peers, placing his name and achievements in the writers’ wing at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Joe Strauss, the Post-Dispatch’s lead baseball writer at the time, described the vote total for Hummel as “overwhelming.”

And still, 16 years after receiving the pinnacle honor in baseball writing, he continued covering baseball. He retired after this past season, his 51st year with the Post-Dispatch.

“Rick was one of the most renowned and respected writers in the history of the Post-Dispatch,” said the newspaper’s executive editor, Alan Achkar. “But more importantly, he always carried himself with grace and kindness. And he was an incredible teammate to a very long list of colleagues. It’s impossible to measure the impact he’s had on the Post-Dispatch.” 

An encyclopedic knowledge of baseball

Tugging two bags stuffed with notes, media guides, and reference books, Hummel arrived for home games at Busch Stadium III with his encyclopedic knowledge and those bags into the Bob Broeg-Rick Hummel Press Box. He passed by his portrait every time. The box for writers, scouts, and official scorers was named for the late Post-Dispatch sports editor —and Hummel, the dean of Post-Dispatch baseball writers — in 2007, a year after the downtown ballpark opened.

When writing the game story for the next day’s Post-Dispatch as recently as 2022, Hummel stuck to his rule of wearing a necktie if the temperature was less than 80 degrees.

If the first pitch temp was announced at 81 degrees, he would ceremonially loosen the tie, slip it out from his collar and tuck it carefully into one of the bags he lugged in.

He often began greetings with, “Hey, Buster.”

Hummel excelled as a baseball writer even as the job shifted from meeting nightly deadlines for the next day’s paper to juggling constant deadlines for STLToday.com. He traded in clunky word processors for sleek laptops and was a maestro of either keyboard, writing with the same verve, the same spirited insight, the same mischievous jabs and the same verbal winks (he loved “swatsmith” for batter). And, of course, the same X-ray insight that made him a confidante of managers from Herzog to La Russa, from Joe Torre to Mike Matheny.

“Rick’s advantage over time is that he is universally regarded as trustworthy,” Bob Costas told Post-Dispatch media columnist Dan Caesar in 2021. “He adheres to a way that is old-school, and that has served his readers well. … One day at a time he built his Hall of Fame statistics. There was nothing that flashy, just solid, well-written and reported stories.”

“He’d print the truth,” Herzog said.

Current Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol and Hummel had multiple running jokes in recent seasons, such as Hummel’s preference the manager not hide his jersey under a hoodie when making a pitching change. (“They gave you a number for a reason,” he explained.) And then there were the debates on when to bunt.

Hummel would sometimes text Marmol if a bunt led to a run.

This past week, Hummel and a colleague exchanged text messages about Alec Burleson bunting for a base hit, and Hummel wrote: “It was quite a moment.”

The signature wryness was implied.

As “baseball-savvy as any major-league manager I’ve been around,” former Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz said in 2014. “In the press box during games, the sportswriters will often debate strategy decisions. What should the manager do? Or, did the manager make a mistake? After patiently listening to us for a while, Rick will wait for an opening and calmly interject his opinion. And that’s the end of the discussion. His answer is invariably the most intelligent answer.”

Illinois roots and advice to write

Born on Feb. 25, 1946, in Quincy, Ill., Richard Lowell Hummel was the only child of Hobart Hummel and Geraldine Hummel (nee Dieser). His fondness for sports and journalism came early, as he first auditioned for a job at radio station WGEM. He did not get it.

Rick Hummel graduated in 1964 from Quincy High School, and he attended Quincy College for two years. While in high school, a driving instructor who was the brother of Cubs’ manager El Tappe told Hummel that a broadcast career in baseball was unlikely because all the jobs were going to former players.

Hummel diagnosed his playing career later, with a wink: “Death by curveball. Could not hit it. Could not throw it. Could not even catch it.”

Taking the implied hint that he was not going to be a former player, Hummel seized on advice to try writing.

“I signed on to work (for the college) newspaper,” Hummel said during his induction speech for the Quincy High School Hall of Fame. “Except for one problem: I didn’t know how to type. My mother did some professional typing on the side, and she agreed to type my articles, which I had written out longhand. The next year, seeing how impractical it might be for my mother to accompany me to all the games, I took a typing class.”

The next year he enrolled at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Hummel worked for the Quincy Herald-Whig while at Mizzou and, upon graduation with a journalism degree in 1968, worked for the Colorado Springs Free Press/Sun while also serving in the Army for three years. In 1971, Hummel returned home to the St. Louis area, hired by Broeg at the Post-Dispatch. On his first day of a two-day tryout, he walked the opposite direction of the newspaper building and was briefly lost before arriving right before his shift started. He got the job and never really left it.

He had a knack for making even the most ruthless deadline ever since.

Hummel joined the baseball beat in 1973, and five years later he pinch-hit for longtime baseball writer Neal Russo on a road trip to Cincinnati. Hummel covered Hall of Famer Tom Seaver’s no-hitter on June 16, 1978. From there, he was the lead Cardinals beat writer at the Post-Dispatch through 2002, seeing the Cardinals from Keith Hernandez at first base to Albert Pujols, and from Bob Forsch on the mound to Adam Wainwright.

For almost 25 years, Hummel rarely missed a game — meaning a Cardinals fan could graduate high school, marry and attend a child’s high school graduation while rarely going a day without reading Rick Hummel.

In 1982, Hummel wrote the World Series clincher on deadline that would be quoted widely for decades and remains the fountainhead of material for books on Whiteyball and that era of Cardinals baseball.

Readers have a last chance this Monday for a live chat with Hall of Famer Rick Hummel before he retires.

“At 10:17 p.m. Wednesday, Joaquin Andujar, Bruce Sutter, Keith Hernandez, Darrell Porter, Tom Herr, a couple of guys named Smith and a varied cast of achievers, overachievers and good company men assume their own spots in Cardinals World Series lore,” Hummel wrote on deadline after the Cardinals’ 6-3 victory against Milwaukee in Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. “It was then that Sutter, the art’s leading practitioner of split-finger pitching, blew a non-split-fingered fastball past the swing of a startled Gorman Thomas.”

Hummel’s series of stories about Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton and his controversial final days with the organization before a trade was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

He also co-authored a bestseller with La Russa and last year penned Mike Shannon’s book, “Get Up, Baby!” 

In addition to being honored in Cooperstown, Hummel was also inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was honored as the Media Person of the Year by the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis.

In 2008, the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America founded the Rick Hummel Internship — an award for a Mizzou student that included a summer internship with the Post-Dispatch. Past winners include a hockey writer for The Athletic, a baseball writer at MLB.com and St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson.

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Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson, left, interviews Cardinals beat writer Rick Hummel, right, about his 50th anniversary at the Post-Dispatch newsroom in St. Louis on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Photo by Daniel Shular, dshular@post-dispatch.com

“For a Rick Hummel intern with enough sense to pay attention, Commish taught high-level journalism on a daily basis,” Frederickson said. “They were the show-don’t-tell kinds of lessons, and those are always the most informative ones. Show up. Watch and listen closely. Tell the story, don’t be it. Dress better. Tweet less often. Never stop adapting. Never stop having fun. Never underestimate the magic that can happen when you walk into a ballpark. And one day, if you are talented and hard-working and fortunate enough to become a giant in your profession, be a giant who never made anyone feel small.”

Hummel was named Missouri Sportswriter of the Year four times by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association. He also served as the BBWAA’s president in 1994 and has been a longtime member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s overview committee, which allowed him to champion the Cooperstown candidates of players like Ted Simmons.

During his speech at the 2007 Hall of Fame inductions, Hummel spoke to an estimated crowd of 70,000 there to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn enshrined, and he concluded by saying the career excellence honor was “more than just a dream come true because I never could have dreamt this.”

‘The Commish’

“The Commish” got his nickname for running a APBA boardgame football league with colleagues; he was the one organized enough and fluent in the rules to be, effectively, the commissioner. His command of baseball gave the nickname widespread use throughout the game, as did his standing with peers, who referred to him as a future Hall of Famer years before he was elected.

Hummel joined a line of Hall of Fame writers covering baseball in St. Louis that stretches back from him, without interruption, more than a century. But he did more in his five decades than continue that trend — he enhanced it.

Hummel brought a depth of knowledge and feel for the game that made his stories far more than a retelling of the game. He dove beneath the box score to reveal the clockwork of a game, its strategy, and in doing so gained the trust of players and managers so that he could introduce their personalities to readers.

“I was always trying to tell the reader something he didn’t know about the game or a player,” Hummel told Strauss in 2006. “TV and radio are so immediate. They’ve got the essentials right there. By going into a play or a series of plays, you could give the reader something nobody else had. It’s not easy to do but it’s always a goal.”

Said Hensley: “Commish cast a long shadow in so many ways – from being the consummate professional when it came to reporting, writing, earning the respect of his peers, and never thinking he stood above others. Quite the opposite. He would prefer to hoist folks upon his shoulders and help them reach their full potential.”

Hummel officially retired from the Post-Dispatch late in 2022, and in his first spring training in decades not on the baseball beat he spent his spring back on the baseball beat.

In Jupiter, Fla., this past spring, Hummel worked several weeks as a freelance writer, joking that he had traded in long hours for longer hours, especially as The Associated Press had him driving to Mets camp. Among the final stories he wrote for the Post-Dispatch was an interview with Yadier Molina as the catcher readied to manage Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. On Hummel’s final day at the newspaper he did something he rarely had: He tweeted. He tried Twitter early in the site’s history, did not care much for it, and would return to it infrequently, only when egged on by his colleagues in the press box to comment on former San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain. Six of his 11 non-reply tweets involved Cain.

One of the other five is three words long.

“I’m with you,” it still reads.

His words always will be.

Hummel is survived by his wife, Melissa, and three children from previous marriages and their families: Scott Hummel and his wife Ellen, Christy (Hummel) and her husband Corey Noland, and Lauren (Hummel) and her husband Tyler Nevitt. Hummel is also survived by mother-in-law Camilla Shapleigh and step daughter Camilla Grone and her husband Brennen. Hummel has five grand children: Alex Hummel, Natalie Hummel, Alden Grone, Thomas Grone, and Mary Ellen Grone.

Memorial services are pending.

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