Last week, the South Bend Cubs named the pressbox at Four Winds Field after the late Forrest “Woody” Miller, my old comrade at the Tribune.
It was a nice tribute to a man who spent more time covering sports from different pressboxes than anyone else I know. He was a legend.
His wife Judy, four or his six children and lots of grandkids were there for the proclamation that came in between innings at last Sunday’s Cubs game.
Woody died on February 28, 2009 and I wrote the following column a few days later. I hope you enjoy it — and understand why Woody was so special to our community.
When I was a young sports editor at The Tribune, I sometimes had a problem with this guy named Woody.
He always wanted to work. If there was a ball game two miles or two thousand miles away with one of our teams in it, Forrest “Woody” Miller wanted to be there covering it.
Nobody loved a good sporting event more than Woody. And I’m not sure anybody reported on more games in the history of journalism than our Woody. For almost 54 years, he covered everything from Notre Dame basketball games to Little League baseball games for the Tribune.
Game after game after game while chugging down hamburgers and making his car odometer do laps.
If you were ever a South Bend area athlete, you probably had your name in one of Woody’s accounts. He wrote thousands of stories and mentioned tens of thousands of competitors. He wrote both quickly and clearly and never beat around the bush with his prose.
Nobody — absolutely nobody — served the sports and their participants in our community better than Woody. Sports writing was his love and lifeblood.
He told me on numerous occasions that he never wanted to retire, that he worried that his heart couldn’t take it if he didn’t have a scorebook in front of him.
Woody was right. It was only weeks after his career came to an end that he suffered a devastating heart attack while in Nashville, Tenn., to watch the Irish women’s basketball team play. That was in late December. He never recovered, although he did rally enough to make the medical transport plane trip home last week.
He died on Saturday with his wonderful wife Judy and their six children by his side.
Life’s final buzzer had sounded for Woody Ball Game.
He won’t soon be forgotten. He could be maddening at times, sometimes mumbling and grumbling about this or that, but then his dry wit could have you in stitches, too.
Yeah, Woody could be a bit of a curmudgeon. And some days he didn’t say more than a word or two in the office, but he was as loyal as a Labrador retriever and he never missed work. Never.
He once made deadline with kidney stones and didn’t bother to go to the hospital with what turned out to be a broken leg until after he had filed his story on an Irish basketball game.
And when his son, David, was getting married during basketball sectional time, Woody told him, “If I don’t have to go to your wedding, you don’t have to go to my funeral.” (He went, but with a radio close to his side.)
Some of my greatest road adventures were riding shotgun with Woody to sporting events. It would have helped if one of us had some mechanical expertise, since Woody’s old clunkers broke down on us more than a few times. But he always had us to a game on time.
I still remember when Woody invited me to his home during my first month at The Tribune. We had gone to a high school baseball game and while we ate some of Judy’s barbecued ribs, Woody typed out his story on the coffee table in the middle of chaos. Six kids were all over the house with the little one needing a diaper change … a litter of puppies were whimpering somewhere … music blasted from a bedroom … a White Sox game was on the TV …
… And yet Woody had that story done for the next day’s paper in about a half-hour, oblivious to all around him. He was a master at work and always a good soldier.
A real soldier at Pork Chop Hill during the Korean conflict, Woody never pretended to be a hero. He said when the artillery started coming in, he jumped under his Jeep.
But he was one of my heroes — with his work ethic, with his passion for the people who played the games he covered and with his friendships that went far beyond all those unspoken words.