In today’s Daily News you can find pages of tributes to Bill Gallo, who died Tuesday at the age of 88. My personal favorite is from Yogi Berra, who said, “It’s hard to imagine News without him.” Because the N in that quote is capped, I assume Yogi meant the Daily News, but I’m sure he also meant it in a larger way.
Myself, I can’t imagine sports news without Bill Gallo. An event — a World Series, a Kentucky Derby, a championship fight — didn’t seem complete until Gallo had done a cartoon. I think my favorite was from 1979 when Willie Mays was inducted into the Hall of Fame. “Yuchie,” Gallo’s cartoon kid caricature, tells his pals, “Sorry, kids, Willie can’t play stickball today. He’s headed to Cooperstown.”
I first talked to Gallo over 20 years ago when I called him for a story I was doing for this paper. He was always gracious and always had time to talk to our “little rag below Union Square.” I never met him until 2008 at Elaine’s for a tribute to the late great sportswriter W.C. Heinz. I spotted him — that is, my wife spotted him — and she told me, “That’s Bill Gallo. Go talk to him.” “I never forget a voice,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”
I had a request. I wanted permission to use his cartoon of Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, both pictured from the back at the final game in the old Yankee Stadium. I told him he could name his price. His price turned out to be a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. (One of his grandchildren, I later learned, suffered from the disease.) He not only granted permission, he sent me the original cartoon signed to me, which hangs in my office as I write this.
Many years ago in the Voice, we did a running parody of Daily News sports columnist Dick Young. For those of you not old enough to remember him, Young was, well, a piece of work. He was an important writer in his day, one of the first to go down into the locker room and ask ballplayers and managers tough questions. Like many people, I had mixed feelings about him: I enjoyed reading the answers he got from the athletes, but I knew if I had been one of them, I’d have punched him out if he had asked me those questions.
Anyway, part of Young’s obnoxiousness was that he always claimed to speak for the average fan. We called our parody, “Dick Jung, The Gatekeeper to the Collective Subconscious of the American Sports Fan.” As it turned out, Young was amused. After our third shot at him, we got a note that read, “I have to admit this is very funny. But your little Commie rag has it all wrong. The man who represents the collective subconscious of the average fan is Bill Gallo.”
Young was right. For 50 years, Bill Gallo was able to put a picture to the thoughts and feelings of the average fan — at least the fans I heard talking and talked to on the subway, at the ballpark and at the Garden. Every one of his cartoons was worth a thousand words from Young, Lupica — or me. So I’ll shut up now and direct you to the Daily News’ own tribute, “Bill Gallo’s Greatest Moments,” where you can see 26 of his best.