Dig this excerpt from Stanley Woodward's classic memoir, "Paper Tiger." It concerns Red Smith and the great horse racing columnist, Joe Palmer:
Palmer was a big man physically and as thoroughly educated as John Kieran. Joe had earned his master's degree in English in Kentucky and had taught there and at the University of Michigan where he studied for his Ph.D. He could speak Anglo-Saxon. His knowledge of music was stupendous and he would have made a good drama critic for any newspaper.
He had started his thesis at Michigan when he discontinued his education and went to work for the Blood Horse.
He first attracted my attention with a St. Patrick's Day story in which he revealed that the patron saint's greatest gift to the Irish was the invention of the wheelbarrow, which taught them to walk on their hind lefts.
Joe, himself, was of Irish decent and was brought up a Catholic. When he moved into a house in Malverne near the Smiths, he didn't like the public education and sent his children to the parochial school. He decided on this course after a long talk with the mother superior. She asked him if he wanted his children instructed in religion and he said he did.
One day Steve and young Joe were learning the catechism. One of the questions was, "How Many Gods Are There?"
"That's an important question and I want you to be sure to give the sister the right answer," said Joe. "Now say this after me: 'There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet.'"
The story ends there. Nobody ever found out whether the boys told the sister what Joe told them. It's a safe bet, though, that their mother, Mary Cole Palmer, touted them off Mohammed.
A few days before Palmer came to work for us, we carried a special story by him explaining his credo of racing and a four-column race-track drawing by the distinguished artist, Lee Townsend. The main point of Joe's story was, "Horse-racing is an athletic contest between horses."
He was not interested in betting or the coarser skullduggery that goes on around a race track. For a long time he wouldn't put the payoff in his racing story.
"Why should I do that?" he asked Smith.
"Because if you don't, the desk will write it in and probably get it in the wrong place."
A few days before Joe went to work for us, Tom O'Reilly, another great horse writer, heard about it. He said, or so it was reported to me, "Holy smokes! Those guys will be hiring Thomas A. Edison to turn off the lights."