[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ludtke: We had gotten through Mills [College] and all of that.
Ritchie: And your graduation at Wellesley.
Ludtke: My graduation at Wellesley, right.
Ritchie: What did you do the summer after you graduated?
Ludtke: That's when I went to Smith College and took courses in teaching, focusing on elementary education, and lived in my parents' house in Amherst, and sort of went to the Cape on weekends, lived with a pal.
Ritchie: Did you have any idea at that point what you might be doing in the fall?
Ludtke: Well, no. I vaguely remember—I don't vaguely remember, I do remember going and talking to people, coming down to Washington, talking to people about, for instance, maybe teaching on a Navajo Indian reservation. I was just, I think, really exploring ideas, but I wasn't really focused. I could say that I wasn't focused at all, and I think that would be a fair sense.
Ritchie: How did you get your first job?
Ludtke: Well, the lack of focus continues, because through that summer, I was doing the teaching [courses], but again I wasn't making any active attempt at finding a teaching job or even moving in that direction, so there must have been something inside of me that wasn't totally committed to that way of life or that choice. So when fall came around, I just simply made the choice to stay on living at Cape Cod. My parents went home to Amherst, and I just continued to live in the house, sort of rent-free. It was just there. I'm not quite sure what I did for spending money. I probably had a bit of savings from somewhere, but it wasn't a lavish life. I can remember baking a lot of bread and kind of walking on the beach, reading, hanging out.
Ritchie: What were most of your friends doing at this time?
Ludtke: A good portion had gotten married. I remember going to a bunch of weddings.
Ritchie: Was that a consideration?
Ludtke: No! Again, I didn't, of course, have a proposal that I was turning down, and I didn't at that time have anyone who seemed like a likely prospect, even. So I went to a lot of weddings, but didn't see myself in terms of moving in that direction. It's hard, when I look back, to think that I was so laid back about the whole thing, but I really was. I guess I just figured that when the time was right, I would make a move to do it. In fact, that's what happened, because late in that summer, I actually had the opportunity—and I think this is what life is about—I had an
opportunity to meet and have dinner with Frank Gifford, who was a sportscaster for ABC, and over the course of that dinner, I'm someone who, I think, given my background, I'm very unshy about speaking up. So during the course of the dinner, I asked a lot of questions and I engaged a lot of conversation, kind of about sports in general. I think this was right after the Munich Olympics. He'd been over there covering that the summer before. We just talked about a whole range of things.
Ritchie: What were the circumstances that brought you to have dinner with him?
Ludtke: Some mutual friends had him there for the weekend, so I happened to be invited over for dinner. It was just one of those circumstances, again. I think I was seated either across from him or next to him.
So anyway, we had a very lively and interesting discussion which went on long into the evening, through coffee and dessert and the whole thing. I remember him either saying it directly or it certainly being implied that he thought that I really knew a lot about sports, for a girl, and I took that as a great compliment at the time. It didn't matter whether it had kind of the "[comma], for a girl" on it or not. But what I did is I leapt on that as an idea, and I pursued it with him in conversations about, "Maybe it would be interesting to come down and go to work for ABC Sports," this kind of thing. He certainly was very helpful with the idea, and arranged some interviews for me down there.
Ritchie: In New York City?
Ludtke: In New York City. So I went down there in the fall, from the Cape, to New York. I don't know that I'd really been to New York on too many other occasions, so it was a little overwhelming. But I remember going to the interviews and being very excited because it appeared that they were going to offer me a job at ABC Sports as a secretary. That seemed great to me. It seemed like that was the way you get a foot in the door. Well, that all seemed to be progressing, and then suddenly I got word from them that, no, they weren't going to hire me as a secretary. In fact, I had come back and gotten a stenography book, and I remember sitting around the living room, trying to learn how to do stenography. I mean, this is how certain I was that this was what was going to happen. Lo and behold, they called to say, no, I was overqualified to be a secretary, and that was not something that they were going to do.
Ritchie: But they had no other offer?
Ludtke: No. It gets a big hazy in here, but for some reason, December comes around and it's holiday season, and I've been at the Cape, and it's beginning to wear itself thin. I'd been in conversation with someone in New York who had known of my interest at ABC Sports, who happened to run into a woman named Donna DeVerona, who was an Olympic swimmer at one time, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and had gone over to ABC to do sports commentary, and talked to her about me and the rest. So I called Donna and checked in with her.
Ritchie: So at this point you're pursuing leads.
Ludtke: I'm sort of pursuing leads, because I'm thinking that I really like this idea, and it seems the best one that's out there, and what can I do? So I think I went away skiing over Christmas. I did go away skiing over Christmas, and when I came back, or the plan when I came back was that I just said to my parents, "I'm going to go to New York." I had friends who would put me up for a little while.
Ritchie: Friends from college?
Ludtke: Family friends that I knew. On one of these trips to New York, I ended up meeting, through Donna, through this phone introduction to Donna, two other women at ABC Sports, which were a very few number that were there. One was a producer, a woman named Ellie Riger, and another was a production assistant, a woman named Barbara Roche. It turned out that I came to know them, and they were just then producing a special for ABC called "Women in Sports," because this was the era in which Billie Jean King had just played her match that fall against Bobby Riggs. Title IX had been passed, guaranteeing equal access for women athletes at colleges. So it was a very exciting time in terms of women in sports, and this documentary they were doing for ABC was sort of a reflection of that. So here I suddenly found myself in the company of these terrific women who I just hadn't even known existed.
Ritchie: Doing what you would like to do.
Ludtke: Doing what I would like to be doing, but certainly had no qualifications to do at that point. So I just sort of hung out with them for a couple of days and went to the screening rooms, watched the film, got to know both of them, and we were just very much attracted to each other in the sense that they could see I had great enthusiasm and I loved what they were doing.
Ritchie: And you knew the topic very well.
Ludtke: And I knew the topic. But anyway, Barbara invited me to come and move in with her in New York. So I think it must have been that I met them the December before I went out on this ski trip and realized then that I could make this move, and then when I came back in January, made the move, knowing that I had a place to move to. I think that must have been the way it went.
So I did, I just went down. I had no job, but I knew I had a place to live. I had a little money that my parents had given me or I must have had left over from my college. At that time, college wasn't as expensive, and I had some money left over. I just kind of appeared on the scene, moved in with Barbara. We eventually found another apartment together. And all I did was start becoming what they call a "gofer." I would just go out and do events. I would be the handyman.
Ritchie: You were actually employed to do that?
Ludtke: No, I was freelancing. I was just kind of available. They were always looking for extra people that they can pay very cheaply to go out and do stuff, whatever it is. Also I became someone who just really hung out sort of in the underground caverns where they pieced together ABC Sports and a number of the events, watching how they did the layovers, just sitting in and spending time getting to know the directors, the producers, because that's the way you got a job as a gofer on something; you got to know them. And Frank [Gifford] was very helpful. He would look for opportunities for me to get jobs. I can remember flying out to Utah and doing a ski show out there. It barely paid my expenses, but they put me up, I got to do the show, gave me a little bit of exposure to what was happening. It was all those kind of tradeoffs.
But it clearly wasn't quite enough to live on, so I realized reality set in, and I had to find a job, so I ended up taking a job as a secretary at Harper's Bazaar magazine, which was one of the most weird—I mean, fashion magazine secretary. It was incredibly depressing.
Ritchie: That must have been quite a combination.
Ludtke: It was just awful. I made very little money, enough to kind of squeeze through, and went into a bit of a depression about these circumstances, because what I was wanting to do wasn't happening, and I certainly wasn't getting hired at ABC.
So I began to think about, "What's next?" I went and convinced someone who was a producer at ABC, who knew someone at Sports Illustrated, to kind of give them my name, and I went over there for an interview, and got rejected.
Ritchie: What position was this for?
Ludtke: For a researcher, entry level. And got rejected. But again, I was very intrigued by that idea. I thought, "This is very interesting. I'd love to do this job." The interview only made me more eager to do it. So I stayed in touch.
Ritchie: Do you have any idea why you got rejected?
Ludtke: I think someone with more experience was hired, I guess. I'm trying to remember even who it was. But it was probably someone who had been a sports editor at one of the major schools or something.
Ritchie: That's right. You had no college experience in this area.
Ludtke: I had no college experience. I had no credentials, really. But what I did is I just was determined to stay in touch and keep pursuing it as much as I could, so I would just write notes to the man who interviewed me, and say, "Well, I just went out and did the golf tournament, the U.S. Open at Memarinack," or, "I just got back from doing this event," or, "I'm off doing this."
Ritchie: So you were still doing that type of thing?
Ludtke: While I was working, I would do this on weekends and nights and stuff, I would try to do it. And of course, because Barbara was there, she would know about opportunities and stuff. So I had arrived in January, it was now about mid-August, and the job at Harper's Bazaar was just really depressing me. It was really awful.
Ritchie: There was nothing in it that interested you?
Ludtke: No. I was really getting to the point where I was thinking, "Maybe this just isn't going to work out. Maybe I have to beat a retreat." But I went out and did an event, a tennis tournament with ABC.
Ritchie: What did you do when you'd do these events?
Ludtke: You just kind of do whatever the producer needs you to do. On this particular event, which was a celebrity tennis tournament, I basically was there overnight, because they had to do a very quick edit. It was a tournament that was done on a Saturday, it was going to be shown on a Sunday, so they had to come back to the studio, edit, do a voice layover, audio layover. So basically you were in the studio probably around 5:30 in the evening, and you weren't going to emerge until about eight or 8:30 the next morning. You're just kind of there through the night, and you're there to run errands, do things. I can remember one request was that I was supposed to go and get a double martini from a bar around the corner for Howard Cosell, so that he could kind of get through the layover.
Ritchie: So anything they needed, you took care of.
Ludtke: Anything they needed. And it's not easy to convince a bartender to let you take a double martini outside of the bar, to go. So, you know, you do need someone who's got a little spunk and is willing to figure out ways to make this work.
So that's what I did, and I can remember that Sunday afternoon, the Sunday afternoon I came back from doing that layover, the phone rang, and it was someone from Sports Illustrated saying, "We have another opening. We'd like you to come back in and do an interview." So I went in that next week, and I got hired that time. I made it.
Ritchie: For what position?
Ludtke: For researcher, full time. I sort of went on board probably right after Labor Day, that September. So that would have been September of '74, so about fourteen months after I'd graduated from college, I sort of had my first full-time job. I don't count the secretary at Harper's. But I mean my first full-time job, and there I was. So I stayed.
Ritchie: What did the first job involve? What were some of your responsibilities?
Ludtke: Essentially researchers are there to assist writers, similar to production assistants helping producers, which can run the gamut from doing actual interviews for writers to get included in their stories. You always ended up fact-checking stories. You were responsible for the accuracy of the story when it went into the magazine. As I found out in a very blunt way at one point, you also were responsible for all the drawings that went with a story, as letters poured in one week on a football story I had done, where a drawing of a play actually had one man too many on the field and, in fact, there hadn't been that man. So that was what you were responsible for. So it was a real mixture.
I got assigned, actually, to the gentleman who was writing the TV/radio column, because they assumed that part of the expertise I was bringing was I had worked in television sports, so I had some familiarity with the media and sports. So I was assigned immediately to work on that column, and that was terrific. The downside was that I didn't get a sport per se, a beat per se, right away, but I did get a page that ran pretty frequently, and a writer who was very interested in having me do a lot of reporting. So I couldn't have been happier. I loved it. I mean, I had a lot to learn. Having never worked in any newspaper or anything, I had so much to learn.
Ritchie: How did you learn things?
Ludtke: Doing, watching, asking, just absorbing everything that went on around, beginning to learn the lingo that people used in terms of stories. One of the ways I think that I got through as a female in sportswriting is that I'm able to in some ways—there has to be a more polite way of saying it than "bullshit," but I mean to really just be certain of enough things that I can kind of fill in the blanks and talk my way into finding out more, but at the same time not making people think that I'm really stupid about it. So I had enough confidence that I could go into situations that I really knew nothing about and sort of find my way through them, but at the same time I had enough knowledge to know that I had to ask some questions to learn what was going on.
So as I say, I was really happy doing all of that. It was just amazing. It was great.
Ritchie: Was that typical that you would be assigned to one writer?
Ludtke: I think usually when reporters came in, oftentimes they were assigned to things—like they used to have "Faces in the Crowd" or sort of a page that just had the statistics of the week and stuff, you know, fairly routine kinds of things. So I think the fact that I was immediately assigned to kind of a commentary page with a writer turned out to be a really good thing.
But anyway, two things then began to happen to me as I got to know more about it. I obviously wanted to see if I could do more, and one of the things that meant "do more" was to see if I could start writing. I don't know why I ever thought that I could actually think about writing, because I'd never written before, but I had this idea that I was there and I might as well try it. The other thing was the desire to take on a sport. So those two things were kind of my goals.
Ritchie: What was the name of the man that you worked for?
Ludtke: Bill Leggett. William Leggett.
Ritchie: What type of boss was he? What was he like to work for?
Ludtke: Terrific. Friendly. Just a man of great humor. He was sort of a pal. He was an older gentleman, but he was still a real pal to a lot of us younger reporters. He was probably about as good a person as I could have worked for in the sense that he really utilized younger people.
Ritchie: He gave you an opportunity.
Ludtke: He gave me an opportunity. He liked my reporting. He would take me along on trips. I can remember going out to the Super Bowl and doing a story with him on stuff like that. He would take me to interviews sometimes that he did just in New York City. If he was going to lunch with somebody, he'd say, "Come on. Come on along." So it was a wonderful experience.
Ritchie: Were there other young reporters that were working with you, for him?
Ludtke: No, not directly for him, no. But we all sat in this area called the bullpen. Of course you have to have a name like the bullpen at Sports Illustrated. It wasn't quite like a newsroom where everyone would be in their cubicles, in little cubicles but all in an open space. There actually were offices with doors which slid shut, which is the way magazines are as opposed to newspapers. We each had our typewriter and our desk and our bookshelves and walls and the rest. It was quite a terrific group of young people who liked each other, socialized with each other, because our work week was Thursday through Monday, so our days off were Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So we were kind of like this band of kids, you know, who just kind of had each other.
Ritchie: Because you didn't have the weekends to do things with other friends.
Ludtke: Right. Actually, it was pretty good, because we did things on Friday and Saturday nights, assuming that Fridays and Saturdays were nights you did something, and then we also had our Mondays and Tuesdays. So if you were young and you had the energy for it, it was a wonderful kind of workweek. But we all became very close, because we tended to do things with each other during that time. So that's an exception to my rule that I talked about in terms of not getting close in terms of friendships with the people I work with. That was really an exception to that. That was my network of friends in New York.
Ritchie: You did socialize quite a bit with them.
Ludtke: Yes, and dated a man who worked at the magazine. It became very much my life, and I loved it.
Ritchie: Were there any differences in the way the women reporters were treated and the young men?
Ludtke: Yes, there were. For instance, on the baseball beat, it was assumed that a woman couldn't fully report or be fully the legs and eyes and ears for a writer, so customarily there would be the senior baseball reporter, who would be a man, and then there would possibly be a second-string baseball reporter, who would be the woman. And more often than not, the man would, for instance, be able to stay and do the kind of game reporting, and the woman would often be back in the office "closing the story," doing the fact-checking in the office and the rest. It was just kind of assumed that that is the way it was. And there were a large number of women who were researchers, but very few of them, when I arrived, were really actively acting as day-to-day reporters.
Ritchie: Did any of them know the sports as well as you did?
Ludtke: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, some didn't, but, no, I think it was a very top-level crew of people, many of whom went on to newspaper work in covering sports. They continued to be part of the wave of women sportswriters in the seventies. Jane Gross, who is now a reporter out in the San Francisco bureau for the New York Times, was there at Sports Illustrated when I first arrived, and she went on to Newsday to cover professional basketball and actually became the first woman to have locker-room access through the basketball league when she was covering the old ABA, and went on to do some extraordinary work. She's now covering social policy issues and children and families. So it's interesting that a lot of us have moved out of sports into areas of these kinds of issues. Stephanie Salter left maybe a year, year and a half, after I got there, and went out to San Francisco Examiner, I think, and started covering sports as a daily beat reporter, covered a lot, I think basketball, as well. So, no, there were people who really knew their—
Ritchie: Do you think the pay scale was different for the young men and young women?
Ludtke: You know, I don't know. I don't know whether it was. One difference may have been the sense that for a young man who was starting as a researcher, I think there was a belief that even if their pay scale was what my pay scale was, that there were opportunities to kind of move up, because it was a magazine where they could look historically and see that some of the terrific writers of the present had been researchers before, and most of that progress was certainly in men. So they could see, if they could see ahead, that their salary was going to be a pretty good salary. I'm not sure that women could see that same thing, because, by and large, they didn't have much hope held out to them that they were going to move up through the ranks in the same way.
Ritchie: Were there any women at the writers' level?
Ludtke: There were, I think, two or three, one really functioning, a woman named Sarah Pileggi at the time, now Sarah Ballard. She had been a researcher and really worked very hard to get herself from being a researcher to a writer, and she was just starting that out when I first arrived. Then there was a woman named Pat Ryan who was an editor, had just been made an editor, and she was covering special features at the magazine. She was the one to whom I turned when I was interested in first writing. I went to her with some ideas and tried out things with her first, and she was the one who really gave me encouragement, as well, to try it.
I don't think that sense of encouragement was at all forthcoming from the male editors—for me. Now, that may not have been true for—I can think of a couple of other women there who probably, in their eyes, were deemed as more likely candidates that they might want to push in terms of writing, but I was never viewed as someone who they thought "could write" or would ever be able to write for them. Despite the fact that I had published probably well over several dozen pieces, including a feature article in the baseball issue, which is kind of the main spring baseball issue, in which the feature for it was mine, among other articles, still, to the day that I walked out the door at Sports Illustrated, there just was never the kind of encouragement that I was going to make that leap from being a researcher to a writer. So that was frustrating.
Ritchie: Was there a large turnover in the research staff? I guess I'm thinking of particularly the young women. Did they come and go?
Ludtke: No, no. They stayed for quite a while. In fact, when I look at the masthead today, which is now almost twenty years later, there are a lot of names on there from when I was there, but the changes have been extraordinary, say, in the past decade at that magazine. There have been a lot of women who have moved up into the editing ranks, into the writing ranks, into the associate editors' ranks. So if I were to look at the researcher pool today, none of the names would be recognizable to my era, but there are a lot of names. I look at that often, and I think that's great. That's the way it should have been. It took a while, obviously, for it to happen, but it happened.
Ritchie: Did you ever feel that you didn't get an assignment or you weren't permitted to do something because you were a woman?
Ludtke: When you couldn't do what needed to be done, i.e., go in and interview players in the locker room after a game, you were not going to be kept out there on a Sunday to help report a story, because—
Ritchie: You were no good.
Ludtke: You were no good. You weren't useful. So I would say I can't remember a time where a woman reporter would have been left behind to do that kind of work. Of course, that was the kind of work that got you noticed, and it was the kind of work that got you out there where you could start thinking about doing stories of your own, writing stories. So that made it more difficult. It wasn't like you were going to be discovered if you weren't out there to be discovered.
Ritchie: Were there any sports that were safer for women to work in? Not safe in terms of personal safety, but I mean in terms that they could do everything that was needed to do.
Ludtke: Olympic sports. A woman named Anita Vershoff for years was the in-house expert in terms of the Olympics, particularly the winter Olympics, did a lot of coverage of skiing and skating, the whole gamut. Probably the amateur sports, track and field. But again, those sports never held the prestige. They were one bright shining moment when the Olympics were center stage, but the rest of the time they weren't viewed as the tough top-level sports. Those were always football, baseball, basketball, hockey. Those were the ones that were looked at as the plum assignments.
Ritchie: How long did you work as a researcher?
Ludtke: The whole time I was there.
Ritchie: Did you ever get a promotion?
Ritchie: A raise?
Ludtke: Raises, I mean, in the sense of annual raises, sure, but I never got a promotion. I was there about five years as a researcher.
Ritchie: Did you ever formally apply for another position there?
Ludtke: As far as I can remember, no. I don't think they really had applications in that sense. They certainly had writers' trials, and there had been reporters who I knew very well, who had been put on writers' trials. Some of them had kind of made it through the other side and become writers.
Ritchie: What do you mean by writers' trials?
Ludtke: Where your responsibilities as a researcher get taken away, and you're given a chance to try writing. I think I did not ever formally apply for that, because I think the signals were so strong that it wasn't something that I ought to think about doing. I have a feeling it was a sort of informal process in the sense that if an editor thought you should do it, they would certainly let you know and kind of give you the opportunity to do it, but it wasn't the kind of thing you were going to get just by asking for it. I think it really worked that way. But it didn't happen for me. But I was writing a lot. I mean, I worked that job basically seven days a week. My days off, I was looking for stories, I was always up at the ball park. When I'd finally gotten the job as a beat reporter for baseball, I just lived at Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium.
Ritchie: How did you get switched to baseball?
Ludtke: At a certain point I think I just both asked for it and sort of just, in a sense, took it over. Stephanie Salter, who is the one who went to the San Francisco Examiner, I think she had been the second-string baseball reporter. I think when she left, I just sort of took over. At that time, the back-up baseball reporter often was responsible for keeping the books, as they say. In other words, you would log in every baseball game—at that point they had something called baseball's week, and that would be a review of each of the leagues in terms of what happened. That would essentially be written out of these books that would be kept. You'd keep a scrapbook of game-by-game accounts, and you'd sort of log pitchers' records and this kind of thing. So I think I realized that a good entry point would be kind of to take those books over, so I think that's how it happened, that it was more informal than anything else. Then it was just eventually assigned to me because I was doing it. But I loved baseball, and that's what I wanted to do, so I think I went after it with that in mind.
Ritchie: So you found an opening and got in there.
Ludtke: Yes. A guy named Jim Kaplan was the lead baseball reporter, and it was very clear that he was the lead baseball reporter, that he was the one who was going to be staying on weekends if there was an assignment to be done, and he was the one who was going to be looked at to do the reporting. I would sort of log the books and take care of the clean-up stuff.
Ritchie: When you say you would log the books, how did you do that? You'd go to the game and actually—
Ludtke: No, it wasn't going to the game; it was just literally recording all of the box scores the following day, out of the paper, and just keeping track of mainly pitching records, team records. I don't know, there was some long list of things that you had to kind of pull out of every box score and put into a book. I doubt they do it anymore, but they used to do it.
Ritchie: It's probably all on computer now.
Ludtke: I'm sure it is. But I used to love doing it. I didn't mind it at all. I liked it, and I knew it was my entry into covering it.
Ritchie: When you would write something, who did you turn it into? What was the process for getting your work done?
Ludtke: Oftentimes it would mean going to an editor and saying, "I'd like to try something." And you'd have to really come up with a subject that was of enough interest that they would want a story on it, but not quite enough interest that they would assign a "real" writer to do it. It had to somewhere be in that narrow band.
Ritchie: So when you're talking about a story, you mean a free-standing story of your own?
Ludtke: Right. In the magazine. For example, I wrote several TV/radio columns. I can remember one of them I wrote that actually won a Front-Page award given by the Newswomen's Club of New York. After Phyllis George, who was Miss America, became a sportscaster at CBS News, I wrote a column asking the question about, "Is this the future for women sportscasters, that they are to be plucked from the ranks of beauty queens and stage models and the rest? Is that the requirement, or should there be other requirements?" It was a rather good column. In fact, as I say, I won an award for it. That was a column that Bill Leggett wasn't going to write, so I went and said, "This is something I'd like to chime in on," and the editor would say, "Well, try it." There wouldn't be any guarantee. They certainly wouldn't schedule it before it was written. Then if it worked, if it was written decently, if they thought the reporting was good—a lot of "ifs" had to be crossed—then it would be put in the magazine.
After I got a little more accomplished on the baseball beat, I started trying to think of stories to do that, again, they always had a baseball column each week. Aside from a lead story that might have to do with a game or a particularly close race in the NL East or something, they would have a one-page column each week on something to do with baseball. So I would kind of look for little ones that weren't, as I say, quite the superstars, but out there.
Ritchie: That would be of interest.
Ludtke: Yes. I can remember doing one on Dave Winfield, who, of course, later turned out to be a major superstar; when he went to the Yankees and the rest. At that time he was playing with San Diego, and people were sort of vaguely aware that he was a terrific player, and they were interested a bit in him, but he wasn't superstar status at that point. So I asked if I could go do a story on Dave Winfield, and they said, "Fine." So I remember going down to Houston and spending a couple of days with him when he was playing down there, and coming back and writing a story, and it ended up running. So I was always looking for those opportunities.
Ritchie: Did you travel much with your work?
Ritchie: Was that hard or did you enjoy it?
Ludtke: No, I enjoyed it. I had nothing that was keeping me down. That was part of the thrill of this whole thing, to travel. Most of my travel was actually on the subway, primarily to either Yankee or Shea Stadium, because after I became a beat reporter in baseball, I got my little card from the league, which gave me access anytime I wanted, to any of the stadiums. So I would go up almost every night. So I would get to work at around nine, 9:30 in the morning, I'd work a full day until 5:30 or six, then I'd get in the subway and go right up to the stadium, go to the batting practice and the rest, have dinner with the sportswriters, go up, sit in the press box, do the game, and then take the subway home. Now when I think about how unsafe that was, it's crazy, because I was taking subways home literally by myself from the Bronx, from 161st Street in the Bronx, and then walking home from Sixty-first Street to Sixty-fifth at midnight, and I was doing this night after night after night.
Ritchie: It sounds, though, as if you enjoyed the lifestyle.
Ludtke: I loved it, yes, and I got to know a lot of people in the business. At first it was very strange, because I arrived and really didn't know anyone. No one knew me. And here you stand out very much as a woman in a press box, at least back then you did. There may have been one or two others, but usually you were by yourself. So it took me a while to get to know people and for them to get to know me, and then it began to get very comfortable.
Ritchie: Did you feel you were accepted by your colleagues, like when you went and had dinner with them or sat in the press box?
Ludtke: I did. I began to feel that way. At first, I was a bit shy about being there. Also, I always knew that my life was very different, because most of the people who were up there were doing daily journalism. I was just kind of there watching it, because I just wanted to take in as much as I could. So I'd go to batting practice and talk to the players, but it wasn't always for a specific story or an assignment; it was just because I wanted to just be a part of it.
Ritchie: You didn't have the deadline aspect.
Ludtke: I didn't have the deadline, and often I didn't have an assignment. It was just because I wanted to kind of go. Then I did get to know some of the players pretty well, because you just get around and you talk to them enough, you start to know them.
One player in particular, I actually got an assignment to work with Roger Kahn, who was a writer, had done the book The Boys of Summer. I was assigned to fact-check a series he was doing of feature articles on baseball for Sports Illustrated. It turned out he wanted to turn those articles into a book, so he hired me as his fact-checker on the book, and off we went on a week-and-a-half-long trip to do reporting and the rest for his book. So I suddenly was out in Chicago, interviewing Bill Veeck, who was the eccentric owner of the Chicago White Sox at that time, and then we went to Cincinnati. He really liked Johnny Bench, was one of his favorite players, so he spent a lot of time interviewing Johnny Bench, and also he loved the Dodgers, who he'd written about in The Boys of Summer. It had just so happened that a man named Tommy Lasorda was just made manager after many, many years of Walter Allston being the manager. So I met all
these people through him in a very intimate way. The reason I tell the story is because it leads me to say that the next year, when the Cincinnati Reds came to town, I invited Johnny Bench to go to lunch, just to kind of catch up with what was happening.
Ritchie: You met him, and you felt that you could do that.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ludtke: At that lunch, which we had at some hotel in New York, I remember him telling me a very funny story about what had happened the night before, where he'd gotten into a very quiet, behind-the-scenes sort of discussion over the course of the nine innings with the home-plate umpire, sort of trying to fight for some advantage for his pitcher. This whole thing intrigued me, the idea that there's this game within a game, between the catcher and the home-plate umpire, that very few people are aware of until it gets to be show time, when one tries to show the other up or whatever. But leading up to that, there are a lot of these kind of intricacies that happen, sort of psychological gamesmanship.
So it occurred me to that that was a story I'd never read anywhere else, that anyone had ever done. So I set off on this odyssey which took me a long time, because I was determined to talk to as many umpires as I could, which meant because I was in New York, I had to wait till the umpires circled through, and as many catchers as I could. So I had to wait for teams to kind of circle through. I mean, Sports Illustrated said, "Yes, it's kind of an interesting idea. See what you can do," but they weren't about to send me off for three weeks, where I could just go and do it. The added difficulty—and this leads up to the whole locker-room thing—is that many of these catchers I didn't know, and yet I had to find them and interview them. I had a very small window of opportunity to find them and interview them.
Ritchie: How and where and when did you find them?
Ludtke: I would try to find them at batting practice before the game, so I had to be very careful and watch the schedule, see which teams were coming to town, which catchers I wanted, but also at the same time I was trying to talk with umpires. So I was trying to pull together this reporting, and what started getting very frustrating was that I would go up, I'd get on the subway, I'd make the walk, I'd get to the stadium, I'd get out to the batting practice, and the catcher would say, "Well, I can't do it now, because I've got batting practice." The next thing you know, he'd disappear into the locker room, and, of course, I couldn't go in there. So I'd try to find a player I knew and say, "Could you go in and see if So-and-so can come out and talk to me?" More often than not, they just wouldn't come out. I'm not a beat reporter, they didn't know me, it's an inconvenience. They liked just sitting around, hanging out in the locker room before, for them to come back out and do it—so there were a number of times that I went up with great hopes that I was going to get interviews and the rest, and I'd come home completely empty-handed. That started really grating on me, the fact that I just really knew this was a good story, I wanted to do it, but it was just wearing me down, just the logistics of doing it.
Ritchie: In the meantime, were you working on other things?
Ludtke: Oh, sure. Absolutely. I was not freed up to do this at all. So literally I put in an entire season to just doing as many interviews as I could on the story, because it took that long.
Ritchie: When you did your interviews, did you have a prepared set of questions and would you tape them?
Ludtke: No, I've never worked off a prepared set of questions.
Ritchie: You'd just talk with people?
Ludtke: I've always been a reporter who's believed in conversation with a theme, usually, with a point to it. But that's how I do my reporting now. I'd much rather engage someone in a conversation than I would in an interview. That's the kind of reporting that I do. I'm not a hard-nosed news reporter, per se; I'm much more a "feature-ish" kind of person. So we'd get in conversations, and great stories would come out of this. The umpires were very funny, and the catchers were very funny, so when an interview would work well, I'd just be delighted, because I just knew I had it. It was just really neat stuff, and no one else had still written this thing.
Ritchie: So all through the summer, you were taking notes.
Ludtke: All through. Yes, all through, just keeping it going, keeping it going. So over the winter, as we'd get ready for the spring issue, I started writing this piece.
Ritchie: What did you do in the winter? It was off-season for baseball.
Ludtke: I covered pro basketball. I got assigned to basketball, so I did that, which meant traveling. Baseball was my love. So I did basketball. My off time, I would sit down and try to really take all of this information I had and write it.
Well, anyway, it ended up being chosen as the feature story for the baseball issue. I think this was in '77. It was a wonderful, wonderful piece, had great illustrations of the umpires and the catchers and all the little things they did behind the plate. It was just a neat story, and it was a long story. It was, frankly, a good effort. It was a good idea, it was well executed. It had to go through several rewrites, but that's not surprising. There were things that I needed to work out in terms of organizing a longer piece.
Ritchie: How would rewrites work? Would you turn your material over to someone and they'd kick it back?
Ludtke: Yes. You'd turn it in to an editor, he'd say, "Listen. You're on the right track here, but this needs some work in the middle here," whatever. So we went through that process, but in the end, it worked. It worked. That was a very pleasing experience. That was a great deal of satisfaction. But as I say, in the process of getting the information, I think it was starting to be a lesson to me that this whole system, where the lack of access was so noticeable—
Ritchie: Did you talk to anyone about this or express your frustration at this time?
Ludtke: No, I don't think so. I may have just talked to friends offhand about it. I think there was still a feeling that I had—maybe others wouldn't have had it—that you sort of weren't allowed to, that it was just the way it was, and there wasn't a whole lot that I, as an individual, could really do to change it. So even though I was frustrated and upset by it, I wasn't consciously thinking about having to find ways to change it, and my feeling was that the editors were very aware of this difference. They were aware just in terms of assigning people, and it didn't seem to be bothering them. So I didn't think that they were going to be people who would pay a whole lot
of attention to whether it was this way or not. I assumed that they knew it was this way, and they continued to see that this was fine, and that's just the way the system was. It's perhaps strange to me that I held out that way of thinking about it.
Ritchie: Now, looking back?
Ludtke: Now, looking back. But I think that's a fair characterization of where my thinking was at that time.
Ritchie: Were you ever ridiculed or belittled or harassed in any way for being a woman covering sports, by the players, kind of ribbed or—taunted is maybe too strong a word, but did you ever experience any situations that were unpleasant?
Ludtke: I can't say that I did personally until the locker room was actually opened. In terms of feeling like I was ridiculed, I think the thing that I was always aware of is that to avoid being ridiculed, one had to, as a woman sportswriter, be very conscious of asking questions that could not be construed as being dumb questions. I would say that that same rule did not apply, in my observation, to male reporters, because, by and large, in listening to their questions, many of the beat reporters, they were asking what I considered to be often dumb, boring questions. But somehow I always felt that women weren't allowed to ask those same kinds of questions, so that was the pressure I felt, and I think because I both felt the pressure and tried to work very hard to deal with that pressure, that I didn't get into situations where I was easily ridiculed, because I did my homework.
I was very aware of who I was talking to, the questions I wanted to ask, so I think that the ball players who I sat and interviewed came away with probably a sense of respect for the fact that I knew what I was talking about. You see, in a sense, you could get away with it because there was a very low expectation, I think, on many of their parts, for your capabilities. So if you could demonstrate just a mediocre acquaintanceship with the lingo, with the way of framing questions, with the way of fitting in, then you'd overcome that low expectation. There was a benefit to having little expected of you.
Ritchie: But you certainly went far beyond that in terms of your own preparation. You had the background knowledge, and you really cared.
Ludtke: I've always done that. That's just the way I am, I think, as a personality. I always feel ill-prepared, so I always tend to overdo it, and always tend to be fearful of talking with someone unless I really feel that I'm really prepared to do it. So that may have held me in good stead. But there were certainly moments where I think that I probably was brushed aside more quickly than I might have been if I were a male reporter.
Also, because I wasn't in the locker room, again, they were only seeing me in one arena, and that arena was one in which not a lot of this kind of work necessarily got done. Batting practice is supposed to be batting practice. Now, there were interviews that took place during that, but they were usually very informal kind of, "How are you doing?" and the sportswriter would slap an athlete on the back and kind of do their ritual "Hello" and maybe pop a few quick questions. But usually these interviews were done in the locker room, so I was not only a stranger to them because I wasn't part of that other environment, but it was strange to them, I think, to be asked to do the interviews in this place, as opposed to having the locker room, which is where they were done.
Ritchie: You didn't have the advantage of the moment of triumph or defeat, either.
Ludtke: I didn't have that, but, you know, interestingly enough, from my perspective, as someone who considers herself more of, again, a feature writer looking for a little bit of "off the news" kinds of stories to do, more pieces, in a sense, looking at the team dynamics or players or things like that, I was more concerned with what I was missing in the sense of an opportunity to talk with players in a much more informal and longer way before the game, which was the locker-room access.
You see, the whole focus of locker-room access, to the public's way of thinking, is after the game. They think every locker room looks like the champagne bottles being poured and the whole celebration. That happens once a year, once a season. The time that's really the time that reporters use to get leads, to get stories, to track down things from the night before, is before the game. There's a period of about an hour where players are going in and out to batting practice for a while, but while the opposing team is taking batting practice, they're, for the most part, in the locker room. That's the time. They're there sitting around picnic tables, signing baseballs. It's just a very relaxed time. In fact, you get more from players in terms of more in-depth longer, more thoughtful, than you do after a game, where again there's that kind of frantic activity that takes place. If they have to catch a bus, then it's even faster. So that's what people don't think about. That's in the catchers and the umpires story. If I had had that access, I would have had a lot more success. I wouldn't have needed the catchers after the game. What I wanted was that time with them before, in a relaxed environment.
Ritchie: You were spending a lot of time with your work. Did you have any time for yourself, any social life?
Ludtke: My social life, I think, for the most part revolved around the games and the sports. Again, I think I mentioned to your earlier, maybe not on the tape, but my work and my personal life are basically kept separate in terms of my realm of friends. I think my Sports Illustrated experience would be a different time in my life.
Ritchie: That's an exception.
Ludtke: Yes, an exception or a difference from the way it is now.
Ritchie: You clearly liked the job at Sports Illustrated.
Ludtke: I loved it.
Ritchie: What didn't you like about it?
Ludtke: I can't think of anything I didn't like about it. I loved it. It was something I looked forward to. I can't think of a day where I didn't look forward to going in. I didn't mind checking the stories; I could do that very easily. It wasn't difficult, but it was challenging, because I was learning new things. Once I discovered being at the ball park, that was a whole other layer to it, and I loved that.
Ritchie: Did you ever want to advance?
Ludtke: Yes, I definitely wanted to be a writer. I got to the point where I wanted to do that.
Ritchie: Did you feel that your training and all your hard work would lead you to that?
Ludtke: Yes and no. I felt that it should lead me to that, but I didn't hold out great hopes, because I wasn't getting very many positive signals from people whose opinions mattered in terms of making those decisions.
Ritchie: Did you ever think of leaving and going to, say, a newspaper or some other type of news writing?
Ludtke: Not at that stage, no. No, I didn't. I don't think I had the confidence. I think at the same time I was confident that I was doing the work and I was getting better at writing, I don't think I had the confidence to think that I could do what Jane [Gross] or Stephanie [Salter] did, in the sense to go off and necessarily be a beat reporter. And I liked my life. I knew that if I went off and was a sports reporter for a newspaper, there would be a lot more traveling, and I think that the love of traveling had worn off by this time a little bit. I did like to be home. I liked to have my time with my family occasionally on my "weekends." So, no, I think there were things that balanced off a great desire to leave and do it.
Ritchie: Can you remember when you began to think about doing something about the lack of access to the players?
Ludtke: I never thought about it in any strategic way, and I never discussed it with any of the editors. I never had an occasion to. The reason that I was involved in the lawsuit was not because it was something that was planned; it was something very unintended. Do you want me to describe how it came about?
Ludtke: I think I mentioned to you earlier that I had come to know Tommy Lasorda through my work with Roger Kahn and that book. That sort of plays a part in this story, because in 1977, the World Series was starting off in New York, Yankee Stadium, between the Dodgers and the Yankees. I went up on Monday afternoon. It would start on Tuesday night. Monday afternoon was just kind of a workout day, so I just went up for no other reason than I loved being up there and I thought, "Why not?"
Ritchie: Just your usual—
Ludtke: Yes, just my usual habits. As I walked in, I came in through the tunnels that go through Yankee Stadium, and you kind of come out through the dugout and onto the field, and as I walked in, I don't know why, but I decided to go through the way that the Dodgers were. As I passed the locker room, the door opened up, and Tommy Lasorda walked out. He was walking with a man named Tommy John, who was a pitcher for the Dodgers at that point. As he walked out, he [Lasorda] recognized me, and he said, "Melissa, how you doing?" I said, "Great! Good to see you, Tommy." And we started walking down through the tunnels and then turned to go through the tunnel out to the dugout. I just said to him—and again, when I went up to the stadium that afternoon, it wasn't in my mind that this was something I was going to seek out—but I said to him, "Tommy, listen. If there's a reason that I need to go in and do an interview with a player in the locker room, what do you think about that? Do you think this is something that we could work out in some way during the Series?"
The reason that I was asking him this in such an informal way is that as the season had gone on and the Yankee players had become comfortable with me, and Billy Martin, who was then their manager, had become comfortable with me, Billy Martin, in fact, had given me complete access to his office, the manager's office, kind of through the back door, which was attached to the locker room. On occasion, he would get, or get someone to get, players for me, so there had been an informal kind of thing worked out. So I was just kind of mentioning to Tommy, "Don't you think there's a way we can do that?"
His response was, "I'm not responsible for that. Why don't you talk to Tommy John, who's right here," and he introduced me to him, because Tommy is the player rep. So here is this coincidence. Not only Tommy Lasorda, but there was Tommy John.
Ritchie: What do you mean, player rep?
Ludtke: He's the representative for that team in terms of being the player. He's the one who would be representing the players if there were a dispute with management or whatever. In fact, Tommy John had listened to the whole conversation, and he and I had a brief conversation afterwards, and he said, "Listen. What I'll do for you, I'll go back and I'll poll the players and I'll find out if they're okay with it."
Ritchie: What was your reaction to that?
Ludtke: Not one way or the other. I thought he was a wonderful person and a gentleman, something that would be confirmed later on as he became a Yankee and I got to know him better. He's just a class act. I was just grateful that he would at least ask the question. I said, "That sounds fine." He said, "Listen. I'll find you before the game tomorrow, and I'll let you know what they decide." I said, "Fine." End of it. Never even mentioned the conversation to anyone else. Didn't call an editor. Again, we were off Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Did not even bother to call an editor. This is my sense of news judgment, right? I mean, it just seemed to me it was a request that I was asking, and we'd see what happens.
So I went up the next day. It was a day off, and then the game was going to be that night, so I just went up to the stadium again by myself, hadn't gone to work that day, obviously, and got up there maybe around 5:30 or so, and Tommy [John] found me. He sought me out and said, "Come on back here," and we went back against the backstop fence. He said, "I will not tell you that-" And I think I wrote this in the L.A. Times piece. "I won't say it was unanimous, but there was a majority that said that it's fine with them if you come into the locker room if you need to, to do interviews." He said, "That's the way we do things on the Dodgers—majority vote. So consider it fine." And I said, "Well, good. That's great."
Ritchie: At this point, did you think that you had made history?
Ludtke: No! I mean, that's what I'm talking about—my lack of news judgment. No! First of all, I knew Jane Gross very well, and Jane had done this, as I say, in basketball. Hockey was already open to women in terms of their locker rooms. So I didn't quite make the connection between baseball being the American pastime and how much of—I mean, in a sense, basketball players are sort of not quite—they're like people who run around in underwear, you know, and they're not quite the same kind of folk heroes that somehow baseball is. Hockey, they all seem to speak French, and no one kind of identifies a lot with them. And those two had really basically happened not because they had to go to court, but because they worked out this thing.
So my feeling was just kind of, "Well, this is happening here and it happened there, and that's fine." So, no, I never even bothered to call. I didn't even call my editor to say, "Here's what may happen." I'm sure that other people would have had a better news judgment about this than I, but I didn't.
So Tommy John had one request, and he said, "The one thing I'd like you to do is to let our public relations people know that you may come into the locker room, just so it's not a big surprise to them." I said, "Fine. No problem."
So I went to find Steve Brenner, who was the PR person for the Dodgers, and told him about my conversation with Tommy John and the vote had been taken, and the rest, and he seemed, I think, surprised that all this had taken place, but he didn't seem overly shocked. He certainly didn't say, "Well, this isn't going to happen." He basically just left me, saying, "Well, thank you for letting me know."
So I went down and took my seat in what's called the auxiliary press box. It's sort of outdoor press seating that's down in the stands, because it's always an overflow situation when there's the World Series. They have speakers that go down to that section where they can make announcements to the press corps that's down there and the rest.
Ritchie: It is a better seating than the regular?
Ludtke: No, it's worse, but it's often where they put magazine people, particularly second-string magazine people, of which I was one. I think our writer and probably our top-string reporter were sitting in the press box.
So at the fifth inning, I get this message over the loudspeaker, saying, "Will Melissa Ludtke please report to the main press box," and at that time I began to figure that this probably was not my mother calling me; it was probably something having to do with what had taken place earlier. So I got to the press box, and I was met there by the representative of the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, a guy named Bob Wirz, and he pulled me aside, kind of in the back of the press box, and said, "This is not going to happen. You will not be getting access to the Dodgers' locker room this evening or any other evening."
I said, "Well, I don't understand why. The players took a vote on this. It's okay with them. It's been passed by the PR people there."
And he gave two reasons at that point, one of which was that the wives had not been consulted in this decision, to which I think I replied, "What decision have the wives ever been consulted in, in baseball?" The second one was the fear that the baseball players' children would be ridiculed by their classmates in classrooms if this happened, and obviously they weren't going to let it happen. So that was it. I obviously argued in favor of my position, but that was the way it came down.
Ritchie: But you did discuss it with him, and got nowhere?
Ludtke: Got nowhere. Got nowhere. I don't think the offer was that they would help me to get players out of the locker room at that point. I think that was just closed off. So I did not try to barge into the locker room, even though I had a field pass that said on it that I had locker-room access. I did not try to take the matter any further. I didn't try to go around them. I didn't try to push it at that point. In fact, my memory is—again showing dreadful news judgment and
dreadful lack of common sense—I did not even call my baseball editor that night or the next morning to say what happened. I think I was still working under the presumption that it wouldn't really matter. They'd been aware of all of this. What was going to change? It's just the way I thought at that point.
I went back up the next night, and I think at that point they began talking about giving me—no, it wasn't at that game; it was then later that they talked about giving me an escort, so that that escort would go in and be able to get players and bring them out to me from the locker room. That was the way they did it.
Anyway, so that Wednesday night game, I didn't, again, go back and try to argue it anymore or barge in; I just sort of accepted that that's the way it was.
Thursday morning, I showed up for work, and immediately upon arrival at work, got a call from the baseball editor saying, "What has been happening at Yankee Stadium?"
Ritchie: So it had gone beyond you and other people were involved?
Ludtke: Yes. In fact, Jane Gross had called, who was a very close friend of the baseball editor's, and said, "I think you ought to be aware of this happening up there." And so began our conversations about now what would happen. Their desire, which I think probably surprised me, was to really pursue this matter, to really take it quite seriously, what had happened. So I think that it was a mixture of both delight and surprise that I came out of that meeting with them asking me, would I be willing to proceed if they decided to file a lawsuit if it came to that. I think their first option was to try to negotiate with the commissioner's office, to see what they could get. But I think the negotiations obviously came to, "No."
Ritchie: I wonder why they thought so quickly of going to a lawsuit.
Ludtke: I think they posed the lawsuit as a final option—would I be willing to participate in that if that's where they got to. In the meantime, I can remember them asking me to do it, and I have a copy of this at home, a letter that I wrote to Commissioner Kuhn, walking through all of the steps that I had made, leading up to where his assistant said to me that I would not have the access. I think that letter was hand-delivered to his office, and I think that's when negotiations began to ensue between the managing editor of Sports Illustrated and the commissioner's office and my baseball editor.
That was why they then made the arrangement when the Series returned to New York, because I did not go out to L.A. as part of the team. I wasn't ever assigned to, so I didn't go. When it came back to New York, that's when they made the arrangement to give me an escort, who turned out to be the PR person for the Philadelphia Phillies, whose job it was going to be to get me players who I wanted to interview from the locker room, which was, of course, an absurd notion, because he was not going to be able to go in and get me the player I wanted, because there would be fifteen other reporters around this player. He'd say, "Excuse me. I'm to take you outside the locker room, and you're to do the interview out here"?
So its ultimate test was, of course, game seven—it may have been six or seven, I can't remember now at this point—but it was an astonishing game. It was the game where Reggie Jackson hit three home runs to win the World Series and become the most valuable player, of course, after a tumultuous season of very big ups and downs with the whole dynamics of that Yankee team. So of course the player I asked for was Reggie. I said, "Would you get me Reggie?"
Ritchie: And then what happened?
Ludtke: Two hours later, you know, Reggie emerged from the locker room and turned to me and said, "Melissa, I'm just too tired. I'm on my way home." So obviously it wasn't life or death for us. We had enough other people covering it, that other people could go in and capture the scenes of him and Thurman Munson hugging, and all of the dynamics. Of course, millions of people on television were watching, because the TV cameras were in there, but I couldn't be in there. I mean, the absurdity of it was becoming more and more apparent.
Ritchie: Did you wait outside?
Ludtke: I waited right outside the locker room.
Ritchie: Did you push the point? Why did you keep waiting?
Ludtke: In a sense, to prove the point that this was not a viable option. It just wasn't going to work.
Ritchie: And your editors remained behind you during this time?
Ludtke: Yes. So then began a period in which the negotiations, I guess, just completely broke down, and they said to baseball that they were intending to file a lawsuit unless there was a resolution to this that met their—
Ritchie: Were you directly involved with the negotiations? How did those take place?
Ludtke: I was not part of the conversations. I don't think they were long, drawn out. I think the lines were pretty well drawn. I think Bowie Kuhn was adamant that this was not going to happen on his watch, and I think the SI [Sports Illustrated] people were equally adamant in saying, "Yes, it is going to happen." So I don't think that there was a lot of attempt or room for compromise, because pretty quickly it moved to the point where I was being introduced to corporate lawyers and began the depositions and trying to figure out who to get as witnesses, who to get deposed. That took place over the period of about two or three months, leading up to December, when the lawsuit was actually filed, the very end of December 1977.
Ritchie: This might be a good place to stop tonight.
Ludtke: Okay. Fine.
© 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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