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Remembering Phil Musick

January 6, 2010 - John Mehno

Phil Musick died yesterday at 71. You may recall his columns (both sports and news) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the late Pittsburgh Press.

He was as gifted a writer as the local papers have ever had, but his immense talent was sometimes undermined by his recklessness. Roy McHugh, the sports editor who hired him to write for the Press had the perfect line about Phil" "He'll have the most incredible description of the game-winning home run....but he might have the wrong guy hitting it." That was Phil.

Some of his columns were classics. He had favorite phrases: Terry Bradshaw's long passes were often described as, "Bradshaw splitting the October sky with coppery streaks" and his favorite set-up to a showdown game was, "Pistols for two, coffee for one."

There can be no discussion of Phil's work without mentioning the plagiarism issues that were an unfortunate part of his career. The Post-Gazette caught him pinching a Red Smith column in 1980, and took away his sports editor title. The Press made him choose between the paper and his radio show when he was nabbed lifting a column from a Hartford paper.

The shame of it was Phil was so good, he didn't need to steal. Maybe time constraints got him. Whatever happened, taking someone else's work is pretty much the No. 1 unforgiveable sin in our business.

When he was on top of his game and motivated, no one was better. Phil was from the school that believed a pack of cigarettes and glass of whiskey were essential tools of the trade, and that was reflected in his work. He was a fan of the novelist Raymond Chandler and that influence was clear, too.

Whatever his flaws, Phil was a good soul who used his influence the right way. He should be remembered for that, and for some outstanding work.

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