Ringolsby honored by Hall of Fame nod
Rockies writer to be noted in Cooperstown on Sunday
DENVER -- Tracy Ringolsby's white, straw Resistol George Strait model cowboy hat is already in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He sent the hat he wore for much of the 2005 season to the Hall, where it sits on display with legendary Yankees announcer Mel Allen's microphone and a typewriter that belonged to Red Smith, regarded as one of America's all-time great sportswriters.
The Rocky Mountain News' Rockies and national baseball writer will join his hat -- part of his trademark cowboy look -- in the Hall on Sunday when he receives the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, given annually to a baseball writer "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing."
The honor is awarded by the Baseball Writers' Association of America after a vote of qualifying members, those with at least 10 continuous seasons in the organization. Being honored by his peers makes the award even more special, Ringolsby said. It shows he has earned their respect.
"To have your peers give you an award like this makes you think, 'Maybe I have done something right at some point in time,'" Ringolsby said.
"When I grew up, the biggest thing you could have is the respect of a person more than anything else. Friendship comes for whatever reason, but respect is different."
Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyo., a rural city in a state then home to about a quarter of a million people, provided Ringolsby with a strong value system.
"Whatever foundation I have, whatever value system I have, it's from there," he said of the area his family settled in the 1860s. "Whatever I am, and however I became that, is a reflection of the values you get in a place like Wyoming. ... You learn to treat people with respect, no matter who they are."
Ringolsby's value system came from the small-town atmosphere. His inspiration came from his parents.
His father lost his left leg at age 6 in 1919 after being run over by a train, but he never complained. Ringolsby's father still was able to play catcher in Little League.
"He thought to make the best of your situation," said Ringolsby, who plans to speak about his father and home state in his speech during ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. "There's not that much time to feel sorry for yourself. You accomplish what you allow yourself to accomplish."
Ringolsby's strong work ethic over the years is one of the many things that led to his success, said his longtime co-worker and friend Jack Etkin.
"He's always enthusiastic around the ballpark," said Etkin, another Rocky Mountain News baseball writer. "He likes being at the ballpark. He likes talking to people around the game."
A raise of 10 cents per hour, an extra hour of sleep and male cheerleading coming to Wyoming got Ringolsby into the writing business.
While in high school in Cheyenne, Ringolsby worked at Frontier Taxidermy making $1.15 an hour sewing cut eye lids and bullet holes.
When the student who was the one-man sports department for the Cheyenne afternoon paper quit the job to become a male cheerleader the first year it was offered at Cheyenne East High School, Ringolsby, then a senior, took the job with the paper.
He was able to go to work an hour later and got a raise -- to $1.25 an hour.
From there, Ringolsby's career was off. He started with United Press International in Denver and Kansas City, where his first assignment wasn't covering the Royals' season opener. It was covering the federal court case that brought about free agency.
"I kind of ushered in the era of free agency," Ringolsby said of his time as a young reporter.
He covered the Angels for the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Royals for the Kansas City Star and the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News. In 1981, Ringolsby helped Allan Simpson found Baseball America magazine after noticing little attention was being paid to player development and the Minor Leagues.
One of the best parts for the 55-year-old in his 31st year covering baseball is all the relationships he has formed through the years. One of the former players he remained close with was with former Mariners and Royals outfielder Joe Simpson, now a broadcaster with the Braves.
In 1982 in Seattle, Ringolsby helped Simpson and a few other Mariners pull off one of the great pranks in baseball history, the "Mr. Jell-O Capers." Ringolsby distracted Seattle manager Rene Lachemann in the hotel lobby while the players put Jell-O in the manager's toilet. It is a prank still remembered around baseball.
"He has a great sense of humor, and we always had lots of laughs," Simpson said.
Ringolsby moved home to the Rocky Mountain region to cover the Rockies in 1992, a year before Colorado's first season.
The stops across the West, all very different from his native Cheyenne, made life fun and different. But now he is enjoying life at home. He lives on an 80-acre ranch with several horses northwest of Cheyenne, and he tries to ride every day he is free.
The real-life cowboy also is known for his cowboy look. He shows up at the park daily in a hat, jeans, boots and a belt buckle.
"I've always worn hats away from the game," Ringolsby said. "One time, my wife asked me, 'Do you ever wear your hat to the ballpark?'"
One Spring Training in the mid-1990s, he showed up wearing the now-famous hat.
And he now has a new buckle, thanks to the Baseball Writers Association New York chapter. After being named the recipient of the Spink Award, the chapter sent him a buckle reading, "Write 'em Cowboy."
"It really caught me off-guard," Ringolsby said. "All this caught me off-guard."
When he first learned he was receiving the award, Ringolsby said he felt "numb."
"I know it means a lot [to him]," Etkin said. "It's voted on by his peers. To get that respect, it's very touching.
"For the rest of his life, he's a Hall of Fame writer."
A Hall of Fame writer with a Hall-worthy hat.
Matthew Borenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.