Tuesday | December 12, 2017
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Journalist got it right as reporter, mentor, friend

November 12, 2017 - 7:16pm

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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