Tribune sports editor earns Hall of Fame recognition
If he had, this story and the accompanying picture — especially the picture — would have never been published.
For all of his almost 30 years at The Tribune, Bill Bilinski’s philosophy has been that our mission is to report the news, not to be the news.
Sorry, Bill. This one’s about you.
His first decade at The Tribune, the St. Joseph’s High and Hanover College grad covered Big Ten football and basketball, Notre Dame football, and more high school sports than he could remember.
He was versatile. Still is. But, more importantly, he cared. Still does.
That care has been his greatest asset for the last 20 years. Bill moved into the sports editor’s office when Bill Moor came to his senses and realized that it was a lot more fun writing a news column than dealing with the day-to-day operation of the department.
It didn’t take long for everybody under Bill B. (as we called him, to avoid confusion with Bill Moor) to realize he was a special guy. It took a while, but the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association finally came to that conclusion, too.
Saturday night, the ISSA will induct Bill Bilinski into its Hall of Fame.
“Bill is one of the nicest guys I know, and he is such an unassuming guy,” said Moor. “I got to cover him as an outstanding football and baseball player at St. Joe (and later at Hanover), and then had the opportunity to work beside him, too.
“I was his boss early in his career and he was later my boss. I could always count on him being the same guy — dependable, solid and unflappable. Everybody should have the chance to work with someone like Bill Bilinski.
“During Bill’s first week in the Tribune sports department, I threw a handful of mail over his head and against the wall after being chewed out by a superior. Bill thought I was throwing the mail at him and probably wondered what he was doing in such a madhouse. Over the years, his quiet but strong leadership helped turn that madhouse into a wonderful place to work.”
Few at The Tribune work harder than Bill.
“It’s not like we’re digging ditches, or anything like that,” is Bill’s normal response during an all-too-common 60-hour week.
The occasionally misguided reporter doesn’t fluster him. Bill’s confident enough to point the way. A reader with a complaint? He’ll spend as long as it takes on the phone or in person to express our position or rectify the situation. An ever-shrinking pool of resources, personnel and finances? It is what it is.
One sure thing that can really wreck his day, though, is another Cubs loss. While taking most everything in stride, watching debacle after debacle can sour Bill’s mood.
“I certainly felt that Bill had Hall of Fame potential as a sports editor, but there was some trepidation in the beginning,” said Notre Dame football beat writer and assistant sports editor Eric Hansen. “This was not based on Bill being a Cub fan, but a Cub romantic. He seemed to be a little too euphoric when Jim Essian was named manager during the 1991 season and equally smitten that same season when the team called up a reliever named Laddie Renfroe, whose Major League career consisted of four appearances, an 0-1 record and a 13.50 ERA.”
Of course, consider that Eric is a staunch Cardinal fan.
“Then there are his culinary chops,” Hansen continued. “He considers pot pies to be fine dining and somehow the same palate can’t reconcile when cake and chocolate ice cream are presented on the same paper plate.
“But somehow he transcended all of that. I can’t say he is ‘the wind beneath my wings,’ because I would have to punch myself if I did, but he is singularly the best thing that happened to my career and an even better person.
“In short, he’s the kind of man I want my grandsons to grow up to be like.”
Ditto. He has kept a columnist out of trouble more than a couple times.
Every decision Bill makes is made without concern for his own ego. After five years on the most visible beat at The Tribune, Notre Dame football, he has been content to spend the next two decades behind the scenes, chained to the relative anonymity of the desk, with a mission of making every story better.
For 20 years, Bill has been the backbone of the Sports department.
Glad someone finally noticed.
Staff writer Al Lesar: