Jour­nal­ist got it right as re­porter, men­tor, friend

West Hawaii Today - - Sports - BY FERD LEWIS

In the 1980s the Univer­sity of Hawaii base­ball team was the new kid in the na­tional rank­ings and post­sea­son play­offs that not many peo­ple out­side the state knew much about.

A cable sports out­let whose ini­tials, ESPN, were just be­com­ing a house­hold name, was scur­ry­ing for some back­ground when a by­stander be­gan rat­tling off in­for­ma­tion about the Rain­bows.

“Where did you get that?” he was asked. “From this,” the by­stander said, wav­ing a thin sheet of yel­low pa­per ripped from a tele­type ma­chine.

It was a United Press In­ter­na­tional story by Gor­don Sakamoto that laid out the Rain­bows’ re­mark­able emer­gence and gave it per­spec­tive for a na­tional au­di­ence.

Sakamoto, who died Wed­nes­day at age 82, was a lot of things to a lot of peo­ple — among them a pa­tient and en­cour­ag­ing men­tor to young re­porters, an en­cy­clo­pe­dic re­source on Hawaii sports and cul­ture to new­com­ers, a pi­o­neer as among the first Asian-Amer­i­can bureau chiefs for in­ter­na­tional news ser­vices, a friend to many and a teller of great sto­ries.

But for Hawaii, usu­ally in dis­patches of a few hun­dred to 1,000 words at a time, he was a news life­line, shar­ing our state’s tri­umphs and tragedies as well as ex­plain­ing its idio­syn­cra­sies on an al­most daily ba­sis with 7,500 news­pa­pers, ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and other clients in more than 100 coun­tries be­fore the ad­vent of the in­ter­net.

As the UPI — and later Associated Press — bureau chief in Honolulu he cov­ered what­ever the news of the day was from a win­dow­less cub­by­hole of an of­fice in the News Build­ing amid the con­stant clack­ing of a bank of tele­types un­til the com­puter age dawned.

Whether it was a visit by the pres­i­dent or an LPGA or PGA golf tour­na­ment, Sakamoto turned out sto­ries ex­pe­di­tiously, ac­cu­rately and con­cisely for more than 40 years.

“Get it first but, first, get it right,” be­ing the pre­vail­ing dic­tum.

In a talk at UH, re­tired UPI vice pres­i­dent and ed­i­tor-in-chief Roger Tatar­ian cited Sakamoto, for his ver­sa­til­ity and con­sci­en­tious­ness, as a pro­to­type wire ser­vice re­porter.

But sports was a pas­sion and Sakamoto usu­ally found his way to a press box, court­side ta­ble or golf tour­na­ment, cov­er­ing Pro Bowls, Rain­bow Clas­sics and Hawai­ian Opens among other events. His ac­counts ap­peared in news­pa­pers from the Los An­ge­les Times to the Danville (Ky.) Ad­vo­cate-Mes­sen­ger and con­ti­nents be­yond.

In stints in UPI’s West Coast head­quar­ters, San Fran­cisco, where he cov­ered the 49ers, Gi­ants and War­riors, and Honolulu, Sakamoto amassed a who’s who of con­tacts. Not that you were likely to catch him drop­ping names. More of­ten, the stars would tell their ac­quain­tances to “look up my friend Gor­don when you get to Honolulu.”

When a re­porter called for­mer Gi­ants and Yan­kees pitcher Don Larsen in Idaho and asked to in­ter­view him about the 25th an­niver­sary of his World Se­ries per­fect game, an ir­ri­tated Larsen asked “How’d you get my num­ber?”

Told that it was passed on by Sakamoto, Larsen warmed up in­stantly. “Sure, what­ever you need,” Larsen said oblig­ingly. If Gor­don was OK with you, it was as good as a wel­come mat.

It was telling that when Bo Belin­sky, who had spent three tours with the Hawaii Is­lan­ders, was in the penul­ti­mate day of a bat­tle he would would lose to blad­der can­cer, pan­creas and heart prob­lems at age 64, one of his last calls was to Sakamoto to rem­i­nisce about old times in Honolulu.

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