A Tribute to Tom Price

Absolutes are rare, but you can say with certainty that there will never be another Tom Price at the University of South Carolina. Someone else might serve USC Athletics for 45 years, but no one will ever also be a walking encyclopedia and witness of Gamecock sports like Tom Price, having seen close to half of the football, basketball and baseball games USC has ever played.

With Tom Price's sudden passing Friday from the effects of a Tuesday stroke, Gamecock fans are reminded of the gift of time. Tom suffered a heart attack around 1981, and after recovering, he slowed down a little, renewed his commitment to his family, and was still able to enjoy his beloved work with USC sports. It is no coincidence that his passing comes on the opening day of practice for the 2008 baseball season. Baseball was always his first love

Price, known to many by his initials "T.P.," became a Gamecock as a student in the 1940's. His love and loyalty to USC sports and the school grew each year. After graduation in 1951, he worked for the old United Press International news service. Price jumped at the chance to become the USC Sports Information Director in 1962, and served in that job until 1985, then as Assistant Athletic Director until "retiring" in 1992. After that he kept on attending games, assisting when asked, and working USC baseball as SID Emeritus and Gamecock Historian. That title meant most of all that T.P. could still be the official scorer at USC home baseball games. And he was always the "go-to guy" for any of the "remember when" questions about USC sports.

Beginning with my sophomore year in college in the fall of 1980, I started working with USC student media. By the time I was a senior, I was a familiar face to Tom and was accepted as one of the media crew he would see around games. He helped and encouraged the campus radio station, WUSC, to broadcast those weekday afternoon baseball games which were not broadcast commercially. For the next ten years, I worked on the USC radio broadcasts for football and basketball games, and occasionally stuck my head in the press box at baseball games, while usually sitting in the stands. As time passed, I grew to appreciate Tom Price like a fine wine. I appreciated his quick mind and extensive memory, his genuine interest in helping me, the broadcast crew, or anyone else covering USC sports. Many times I was surprised by his frankness and directness. The UPI training – "Just the facts, and quick" – never seemed to leave him. Others who worked with Price daily appreciated him even more, especially after his heart attack in 1981.

Randy Herald videotaped basketball and football games at USC from 1975 to 1998, and did not miss a basketball game for 17 straight years. This meant many road trips to football and basketball games with T.P. Herald remembers when Price was just back to work after his heart problems in 1981. Coach Bill Foster had secured a basketball trip overseas for the team before the 1981-82 season, that included games in China. The team got a chance to visit the Great Wall. Coach Foster, Herald, and the late USC basketball trainer, Jim Price (no relation), made a pact to keep an eye on T.P. and always know where he was out of concern for potential problems. When the group reached the Great Wall and its first step, Jim Price (known as J.P.) said to T.P., "You don't need to go up there." T.P. replied "You think I came halfway around the world to the Great Wall of China and not go up on it?" A little while later up on the Great Wall, Coach Foster pulled Herald aside. "Where's Tom?" Herald looked around, spotted T.P. and pointed past the front of the group. "He's right there, outpacing all of us." Herald remembers Price really taking care of himself, walking a lot and staying in great shape after his heart attack, and rattled off the countries on that long, tiring trip. "We went to China, Tawain, the Phillipines, and Korea, and Tom ran us all ragged."

It was those 25 years that are most instructive of the man. Following his serious heart situation, Price kept himself in great shape, mostly by walking. The next basketball season, Price had a chance to support Coach Foster when Foster suffered his own heart attack, one that sidelined him for more than half a season. Price gave up the major football responsibilities in 1980, and after "retirement" in 1992, was no longer responsible for promoting basketball or baseball. He scaled back his work, but not his attendance at games, continuing as away game baseball color commentator, and staying on as official scorer. until his last home baseball game in 2007. Loyal USC baseball fans will remember his depth of knowledge spilling out during away baseball broadcasts – even if it meant missing a pitch or two now and then. All along he still devoted himself to his family and to enjoying USC sports, not just working them.

Brian Binette worked his way up from a student assistant to Assistant Sports Information Director in 1987, prior to his senior year, and worked with Price until moving to private enterprise in 2003. In his 19 years working with and alongside P.T., he shared a love with Price that was stronger than anything except God, country and family – baseball and SID work.

Binette has stayed close to Price, and it took some time to get out the words he wanted. Then they came as freely and easily as USC stats and stories from T.P. "Back in 1990, T.P. came to my office after The Citadel had qualified for the College World Series," recalled Binette. "Coach, I think I'm going to drive to Omaha and help (then Citadel SID) Josh (Baker), and keep the scorebook. I said ‘TP, you would drive all the way there to keep score for The Citadel?' at the same time not believing I'd actually asked that question, because of Tom's love for college baseball. He responded by saying he wanted to help Josh, but he was afraid he only had so many years left and he had to go back to Omaha one more time, and he just didn't know if the Gamecocks would be back. T.P took two weeks vacation and we all pitched in to help in his absence, but he was on top of the world.

"Well, 12 years later and 10 years after he ‘retired,' TP got the first of three-straight trips to Omaha with his beloved Gamecocks. It was so appropriate for him to be there with the Gamecocks, but more important that he just be in Omaha. People like T.P., deceased long-time Clemson SID Bob Bradley and long time Big Eight Baseball SID Bo Carter, all made college baseball what it is today and what you see in Omaha – the national TV, huge crowds, the attention paid by so many – the groundwork for all of that was laid by people like T.P., Mr. B and Bo."

Binette also recalls just how funny T.P. could be and how he shared that with those who cared to get close enough to understand him.

"I recall just how funny Tom could be as well – a side he didn't show too often," said Binette. "In the late 1980s, it was late October – which is basketball media guide production time – and the night before the old Crowson-Stone Printing building burned down. Our women's basketball SID, Mike Nicholson, had his media guide being printed there. It was ok, but T.P. walked into Mike's cubicle with a paper box top of scraps of paper that he had just lit on fire. ‘Mike, here's your media guide,' he said, and proceeded to watch the fire start to get out of control. He threw the box on the floor and stamped it out with his feet and everyone – including T.P. – was howling. I think they finally replaced the carpet a few years back in what now is the doorway to the women's soccer head coach's office.

"I used to laugh at just how much it pained T.P. to go to a soccer match," continued Binette. "He didn't understand the sport, but always showed up for the Clemson match and all the NCAA post-season matches – to support the coaches, the Gamecocks and me. (Binette was the soccer SID as a student and in his early full-time years). These were the days – mid to late 1980s and early 1990s – when we only had about 1,500 bleachers and the press box was a two tier set of folding tables. I swear to this day, T.P. would stand next to me at the matches and watch 88:50 of 90:00 minutes intently, and died never actually seeing the Gamecocks score a goal – not because they didn't, but because he turned his head when the goal was scored. ‘Damn this sport,' he would say and we'd both laugh. But after most of the games, he still knew we had more than they did, and left the field patting Mark Berson on the back and repeating the two words he always said were the greatest two words in the English language: ‘Cocks Win.'"

"T.P. also used to laugh about ‘being six feet under before I'll ever do this or see that,'" said Binette, "like the College World Series trip with The Citadel. I remember standing on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in 1993, right after rumors started that his beloved open-air press box was being converted to suites, and a newer, greater enclosed press box would be built at the top of the West stands. ‘I'll be six feet under before I step a foot in a press box that high up at this stadium,' he said, and I responded by saying, ‘T.P. we need to name the new press box after you.' Clemson had renamed their press box after Mr. Bradley a few years earlier. ‘Coach,' he replied, ‘you better not put my name on that thing.'"

"We didn't pursue it because T.P. always wanted the media taken care of the right way – old school – the way it should be, and a press box that high up wasn't the way to take care of them. But I'll tell you this, he didn't miss a single game, keeping game notes and being the press box ambassador from the day it opened in 1996 until this year's Clemson game."

"You couldn't keep T.P. away from him doing his job, and no one wanted to," said Binette. "I still don't know how I'll be able to walk into the press box at Sarge Frye Field or Williams-Brice Stadium, or look at press row at the Colonial Center and not see him. I almost think a chair needs to be left open at those three facilities in perpetuity. And certainly a major part of the new baseball stadium should bear his name, either the press box, or maybe even retiring the first jersey in the program's history in his honor."

Price had a raspy voice one could mistake for gruff, but he had a soft manner. Until you knew him pretty well, or he got used to you, he was a man of few words. But once you got to know him, some people said you couldn't make him stop talking, especially when about baseball and USC sports. One often repeated "T.P. story" is of Tom driving from Columbia to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series in the 1980's with a member of the broadcast crew. It's a more than 12 hour drive. There was no need for entertainment, or even the radio. "One question was all it took" remembered his companion "he talked the whole way there!" The excitement of watching his Gamecock play his favorite sport at the Mecca of college baseball with a chance for a national championship kept T.P. literally talking for hours. He was enjoying his time.

Price had a raspy voice one could mistake for gruff, but he had a soft manner. Until you knew him pretty well, or he got used to you, he was a man of few words. But once you got to know him, some people said you couldn't make him stop talking, especially when talking about baseball and USC sports. One often repeated "T.P. story" is of Tom driving from Columbia to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series in the 1980's with a member of the broadcast crew. It's a more than 12 hour drive. There was no need for entertainment, or even the radio. "One question was all it took," remembered his companion. "He talked the whole way there!" The excitement of watching his Gamecocks play his favorite sport at the Mecca of college baseball with a chance for a national championship kept T.P. literally talking for hours. He was enjoying his time.

Tom Price also told many stories, but if you asked him for stories without specifying a sport, baseball always came out first. The players, the coaches, the games - from Chuck McLean's inside-the-park homer against Arizona State in the 1977 College World Series, to explaining why a certain pitcher from the 1980's was probably the craziest baseball player ever at Carolina, Tom liked to talk baseball. But he seemed to acquire his funny stories from basketball.

"One time in the early 1960's, we had a 6'11 center on the team and a trainer who was really short," Price said a time or two. " We were riding the bus in Kentucky late one night after a game and couldn't find any place open to eat. We saw a light on at the back of an old drug store and figured someone was in the place. It was closed but the Coach convinced the owner to let us in to buy some crackers and sodas. Some fellas inside were playing cards. One guy looked up, saw the 6'11" center and the little trainer, who were first ones through the door and said ‘The circus must be in town. It's the giant and the dwarf.'"

Tom Price did not like cliché's, but he was fond of sayings, and he knew the difference. One of Price's favorite things to do in a long conversation about the "old times" and great athletic exploits was to throw in the line coined by former USC basketball coach Chuck Noe, circa early 1960's. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile starting to spread across his face Price would say "The older you get, the better ya' was."

Herald remembers that on the road Price was often asked questions by the traveling media, but often it was not about opposing coaches, players, streaks, or statistics - "Where is the best place to eat, Tom?" Tom Price knew all the best places to eat in every town, and shared the information with everyone.

After retirement, Tom often was at meals where sports was the topic. He was a member of the Columbia Tip-Off Club, and went to almost all of the 10-12 meetings per year to listen to the USC Coach and the visiting coach. He was often recognized, and sometimes called on when some long ago fact or game from Gamecock history was discussed. He attended the Dugout Club meetings where the talk was about his beloved baseball. And he came to the football and basketball games, sitting in his seat watching the action and giving information and perspective when asked. At baseball games, he was still the man with all the answers, the walking encyclopedia of USC Sports knowledge, and the man everyone turned to on a close play – "Hit or error?" T.P. took that job as seriously as anyone who has ever held the job, often giving his explanation out loud to the media as he made his decision. Official scorers on the road were prone to being second guessed if Price thought a player had an error incorrectly assigned to him, or what should have been a hit taken away. He knew the players and that they cared about their statistics, and so did he. "But," as Binette recalls, "if the players ever complained about a scoring decision, he'd be the first to tell them that he's the SID, and they're the players."

Once in a while he even looked around to make sure the media got their refreshments in the press box at the half way point of the games. He always admired pitchers who worked fast, and felt that a great baseball game could be played in two and one half hours. He thought anything over three hours without extra innings seemed like a waste of time. He seemed to relish announcing in the press box the official time for particularly quick games. Baseball was great, but his wife Margaret was waiting. There would soon be another game. Despite his spoken attitude, Binette knew T.P. would relish the occasional extra-inning game with his "free baseball" line, and considered it almost sacrilegious to leave a game early. Binette points out that anyone who ever sat in a baseball press box with T.P. would hear him exclaim two of his favorite sayings. "One was when someone hit a sky-high popup: "That's a home run in an elevator shaft," T.P. would say. Then when someone would hit a screaming liner just foul down the first or third-base line, you'd hear "That'd be a single in six-baseball." He made up a game in his head with six bases (first base and fifth base being 180 degrees apart) and when a ball would drop foul down the left field line, for example, he'd exclaim "that'd be a hit between the left left fielder and the right left fielder in six-baseball." If you stayed up there long enough, you figured out the game yourself and could join in." That's a true baseball fanatic.

USC baseball Coach Ray Tanner worked for the last 12 years with T.P. He summed up the feelings of the USC coaches and staff. "It is certainly not easy to talk about. He has been a part of this program longer than any of us, and certainly has been along my side since I got here." Tanner had to fight back tears to continue. "He is going to be missed. I even thought a little while ago of maybe not practicing, but Tom wouldn't have that. We've got the bookends in heaven (Price and Sarge Fry) watching over us, so maybe it will be a great year for us." USC play baseball on the day Tom Price died? T.P. probably would have requested it in his will if he knew the date ahead of time.

It's hard to write more about Tom Price passing. It's very hard to talk about for those like Binette and Herald, who spent countless years with him in professional and personal situations, in private and in public. Tom Price was always Tom Price no matter where you were or who you were. You can probably tell its even hard for the beat writers, broadcasters and newspaper columnists who knew him to discuss his death in their stories. But description is therapy for most typical guys. Tom Price helped people who followed USC sports to know them better, and that helped USC fans to be more loyal, and the media to be more appreciative of the school he loved. For the next few days, people who covered and followed Gamecock Athletics will be drawn together to talk about Tom Price as a way of mourning him. It's a typical way for guys who love sports to express their feelings. Chances are, it will be over a meal. The guys will soon get around to telling stories, laughing and, of course, talking about baseball. Many will ask each other what will amount to tough trivia questions for the casual fan. These will be "T.P. questions." The guys will just have to look up the answers that Tom Price would have known right away.

Tom Price was quite a man during his time. It was evident that he was a learned sports man, but more importantly, he was a wise man. He made the most of his more than 25 years after his heart problems, and enjoyed every moment he could with family, friends and USC sports.

There will never be another T.P., and his lesson about how to enjoy time on this earth will be long lasting to all who watched. One of a kind indeed.

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