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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Stanke, a giant in journalism, a friend in every way, gone too soon

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You have not read his byline on this site, yet he supplied so much of the oxygen to so many of us writers.

You never saw him out front here, but his indomitable spirit virtually leapt from the computer screen each time you visited.

Craig Stanke -- father, editor, mentor, friend, inspiration and unforgettable character -- died in his sleep overnight Monday.

Craig Stanke started his career in 1977 and worked at CBSSports.com as Deputy Managing Editor for 14 years.  
Craig Stanke started his career in 1977 and worked at CBSSports.com as Deputy Managing Editor for 14 years.    
And we at CBSSports.com are absolutely and completely devastated.

In our world of stories, his was not finished. Our conversation with him had not ended. Nobody knew that one of the best newsmen we ever met was up against a deadline that will break our hearts for a long, long time.

There are days that knock you right off your feet, suck the wind right out of you. Tuesday was one of them. As news of Stanke's death spread, those of us who were fortunate to have lived within his orbit were left numb.

To call this brilliant light a giant in the business is to enhance the standing of giants. He was a middle-of-the-order hitter. He had both a long game and a short game. And a list of admiring colleagues throughout this journalism industry that could fill Camp Randall Stadium back home in his native Wisconsin, with the spillover packing old Milwaukee County Stadium.

I think the only paper in Florida the guy didn't work for was the Yeehaw Junction Boomerang. Had it existed, I'm sure he would have stopped there, too. He worked at newspapers in Wisconsin. California. Hollywood has Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon. Journalism has Two Degrees of Separation from Craig Stanke.

In our business, everyone -- and I mean everyone -- knew him or knew of him. By one name, too, like Ichiro or Pele. Stanke? Wasn't he the guy who. ... Yes. Hmmm, Stanke? Didn't he used to work with. ... Yes. Stanke ... I've heard he's the best!

Yes.

Sniff.

His title was Deputy Sports Editor, which barely scratched the surface. He was that rarest of modern species: A man who brilliantly combined old-school journalism instincts with modern, digital-age ability. Nobody cared about this business more, and by this business, I mean reporters, people, stories, the finished product and individual words.

As a copy editor, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Guaranteed, he knew the Associated Press Sports Editors' stylebook better than 99 percent of those employed by AP.

He was a thinker. He regularly would e-mail updated "style notes", something as small as reminding that the term "Stanley Cup Final" uses all capital letters, or something as philosophical as subject-pronoun agreement when a writer used "they" in referring to a team's city when it should be "it."

"Oh, this is a battle I don't fight so hard anymore," Stanke advised an editor friend recently via e-mail. "I generally try to make them match, but I'm not a fanatic about it, and I'll get drummed out of the copy editors of the world, but if I think it 'sounds' better disagreeing, I leave it.

"So I guess my answer is, agreement is the goal, but we're not going to get there 100 percent, so fight the good fight, but don't obsess over it."

This, too, was Stanke, in a group e-mail to our writing staff this spring when a certain catch-phrase had been beaten into the ground:

"Based on something I just saw on Twitter, going forward, I don't care if they go 174-0 on the way to the World Series title, we will never see:

"Marlinsanity

"Or any other Lin-whatever retread at CBSSports.com.

"Thank you for your kind attention."

Craig Stanke: 1955-2012

Ann, his beloved, late mother, for years was the general director of the Madison (Wis.) Opera and the keyboard specialist and violist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Maybe that's why Craig rarely hit a wrong note in his line of work. His news judgment was deft. His advice was sound.

He was an avid runner who loved his Newton shoes, a golfer, a connoisseur of good food. Once, before a young colleague left on assignment, Stanke advised him to make sure to get some good Texas barbecue on the company's dime while on the road. Next night, when the reporter checked in, he told Stanke that he sure did get some good ribs -- at Tony Roma's. I thought Stanke's head was going to explode.

I can still hear him now: "Sweet Holy Jesus!" That was one of his favorite expressions, always uttered with exaggerated exasperation. His voice became quite high-pitched whenever he got excited, and he was easily imitated. All anybody who's ever known him has to do is raise his voice an octave and begin, "Ya know... " and the laughs will flow. Or: "Hey, Hoss..."

He was curious about a lot of things, and interested in the world around him, which is what made him such a great newsman. He went through a stage where he was obsessed with playing the computerized trivia game in one of those taverns where everybody knew his name (there were a few of those over the years).

He played the banjo. One of the first times we met, he was the new assistant sports editor at the San Diego Edition of the Los Angeles Times and I was a just-out-of-college part-timer there and it was 1988 and there was this staff party at someone's house and it was about 1 a.m. and there was Stanke, his banjo, him playing the Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want and my new boss riffing staff members' names into lyrics he made up as he went.

Those were the beautiful nights of youth and dreams and wide-open, never-ending futures. The nights that race by as you wait for your life to really begin, never once stopping to realize that it already has.

Thing about those times is, tucked somewhere within are the pivotal moments when we all need someone who can help us walk through the doorway and step into our dream. In that regard, Stanke was one of the most important people in my life. And there are dozens and dozens next to me who will say the same about this beautiful, giving, gentle soul of a man.

His legacy will be enduring in the stories, the laughs, the memories, the words. Beloved? A friend once marveled to Stanke over the number of Facebook friends he had. To which our inimitable editor quipped, "I'm not too discriminating, as you can see from your inclusion."

"I always considered him the best editor I've ever had," another friend said Tuesday, and that sentiment echoed over and over throughout this sad, sad day.

I can't tell you how many times someone tells me, "You're so lucky, getting to go to all of those games for a living." But the secret is, once you're in deep enough, it's not the games that keep you in this line of work. It's the people.

Craig Stanke was one of those people. And tonight, there is unabashed sobbing in our office, and tears on our keyboards.

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