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October 8, 2012 - John Mehno
Those who worked in the Mirror sports department with Frank Polito undoubtedly knew him better than I did.
My relationship with Frank was from a distance, since he always seemed to be the one jumping to answer the phone. It always went the same way. I'd identify myself, Frank would slowly repeat my name, then say, "Hey, buddy" and immediately offer some observation about his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
It was always, "Hey, buddy, do you think the Cardinals can get some relief pitchers somewhere? Their bullpen is struggling." Or, "Hey, buddy, tell the Pirates to trade Brian Giles to the Cardinals for some minor leaguer. The Cardinals need a bat." I'm not sure that we ever conducted any Mirror-related business without some discussion of the Cardinals. It got to the point that I would seek out Cardinals beat writer Rick Hummel for information so I'd have something to share with Frank.
His enthusiasm for the Cardinals and his ever-present laugh always came through over the phone line.
My first encounter with Frank was in person, though. He was covering Pitt football games in those days and was a regular in the press box. The press box at Pitt Stadium was a sweatbox about the size of a railroad car. It could comfortably accommodate about 30 people. The problem was Pitt usually handed out about 60 passes. By halftime, there were no strangers. You knew everyone because you were crawling over them or bumping into them to retrieve a desperately-needed cold drink.
After one game, people were working on their stories. This was before strict rules about smoking were in place. Frank apparently thought the process would go better with a cigar. Somewhere between Altoona and Pittsburgh, he managed to pick up the kind of cigars that keep the maker of Glade air fresheners in business. He fired one up and it took less than a minute for some wise guy to pick up the scent and loudly ask, "OK, who lit their shoe?" One person said it, but everyone was thinking it. I don't remember what happened, but I'm guessing that Frank stubbed the cigar out and put it away for the drive home.
I was saddened on Sunday when Mirror sports editor Buck Frank told me of Frank's passing. I was also sad to learn that his health had been declining for some time. I hope he was able to enjoy the Cardinals' improbable run to a World Series championship last fall.
My condolences to the family and friends of a genuinely good guy.
So long, Frank. It was a pleasure. I'll keep an eye on the Cardinals for you, buddy.