RIP: Killer Kane, a baseball writer’s best friend

The Yankees lost one of the most colorful characters in their extended family last week with the passing of Bill “Killer” Kane at the age of 75. Kane served two separate terms as the Yankees’ travel director in the 1970s and ‘80s and in that role especially was a baseball writer’s best friend.

Killer told me that he probably was fired by principal owner George Steinbrenner more than any other Yankees employee – and rehired more often, too. Although they butted heads on a regular basis, Steinbrenner valued Kane’s devotion to the Yankees in a variety of positions. Kane, who was born in Brooklyn and was a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, got his start with the Yankees as a statistician for longtime broadcaster Mel Allen.

In those days, writers traveled on teams’ charter flights on a regular basis, a practice that ended in the early 1990s. I was the last newspaper reporter to travel regularly on the Yankees’ plane in 1991, four years after Kane’s last season as travel director.

I dealt with a lot of those guys over the years but none was better than Killer. On getaway games, the bus to the airport was always scheduled to leave 90 minutes after the last out. Writers with tight deadlines really had to scramble to make that bus. After hitting the clubhouse for postgame quotes, there would be a mad dash to get back to the pressbox to compose writethru stories and then pack up your gear to make the bus.

If a game had a wild finish that forced writers to do extra work, Killer always understood and would hold the bus. He would make up some excuse to the players about something being wrong with the carburetor or some other fib. The players did not take kindly to this and would they ever let us have it when we finally climbed onto the bus. But Killer had our backs, and we appreciated everything he did for us.

My favorite Killer story goes back to the Winter Meetings of 1984 at Houston. I was with the Bergen Record then, and my boss’ decision to cover the meetings was after the deadline to apply for credentials and hotel accommodations. I was able to get a credential but could not get into the main hotel and was booked in one several blocks away.

Killer and I turned out to be on the same commercial flight to Houston. He told me had a car and would drive me to my hotel. As we got into the downtown area, he said to me, “Never mind the other hotel; I’ll get you in the Grand Hyatt with us.”

After talking things over with the front desk, Killer gave me a key and told me I had a room for Saturday and Sunday but that I would have to move to another room Monday. I said okay and did not ask any questions. The only other thing he said to me was, “Whatever you do, don’t eat anything they may have spread out for that room.”

I was not quite sure what that meant until I got into the room. It was a luxury suite with two bedrooms, two baths and an enormous living room. On the coffee table in the main room was a spread of various fruits, vegetables and cheeses, plus several bottles of whiskey and a magnum of champagne. I called Killer’s room and told him they must have made a mistake at the front desk.

“It’s no mistake,” he said. “That’s George’s suite. But he’s not coming until Monday. By that time, I’ll have you in another room. Don’t sweat it.”

Steinbrenner was not a big fan of the Winter Meetings. He considered it an unnecessary junket and wanted nothing to do with the golf outings and other extracurricular activities that baseball executives took part in during the week-long meetings. The Yankees always had the smallest contingent at the meetings with George showing up for one or maybe two days to do business and then leave.

Saturday went well, but I was awakened Sunday morning with a phone call.

“Jack, it’s Killer,” Kane said. “You’ve got to get out of there. You got about an hour. George just landed at the airport.”

Fortunately, it was about an hour’s ride from Houston International to downtown, so I had time. I never took anything out of suitcase in the first place, so I just threw my laundry in the bag, packed up my writing gear and went down to the lobby. I could not find Killer anywhere, so I had a bellman put my stuff in layaway until I got another room. While I was tipping the bellman, Steinbrenner walked through the front door.

A close call, I thought, but everything was cool now. Then I realized that I had not erased the messages from my phone in the suite. I finally tracked Killer down and, sure enough, he had another room for me. I left the suite spotless, I told Killer.

“Yeah,” he said, “except George wants to know how come he keeps getting phone calls for O’Connell?”

Some years later when the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America roasted Steinbrenner at our annual Pre-Dinner Dinner, I told that story and was glad to see that George enjoyed it. Killer wasn’t so sure. “Be careful, Jack,” he called out from the crowd, “I might get fired again.”

I paid my respects at the wake for him Sunday in the Tremont section of the Bronx where I gave him many lifts home after BBWAA events. He was one of a kind and it was my good fortune to have known him.

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