On what would be his final day, Robert Barton made former colleagues laugh and cry with his eulogy of a longtime coworker, then later emailed information about the 1894 Yale football team to columnist Jeff Jacobs, promising to make a trip to the state library to retrieve more.
Barton, 83, who spent 29 years in various roles as a copy editor and writing coach, at the New Haven Register and Journal Courier before retiring in 1996, died early Sunday morning at his Farmington home.
Those who saw Barton at the services of former New Haven Register and Journal Courier editor Don Sharpe on Saturday, said his mobility had been slowed, but his wit was sound. Barton made reference to a contest the two men had to find the most typos, with the winner getting glazed doughnuts. He then apologized for taking so long as he used a cane to get down the stairs from the podium, then quipped he was double-parked and needed to hurry to avoid getting a parking ticket.
His wife Judy, who met Bob while working as an AP reporter in the bureau office at the New Haven Register, said he was in good spirits. “It was a mini-reunion, lots of really good people and many wonderful memories shared.”
When not in the newsroom, Barton, a 1957 graduate of Yale, was a fixture in the Yale Bowl press box on autumn Saturday afternoons.
“Bob has had a huge impact on me and our record keeping, and he will be sorely missed,” said Steve Conn, Associate Athletics Directorfor Sports Publicity. “He was our football historian, the person I considered my writing mentor, a great story teller, a kind and caring person and a real character. The press box at Yale Bowl won’t be the same without his voice and presence coming from the front row.”
Conn, who has worked at Yale since 1986 and has been in his present role as Yale’s Sports Publicity Director since 1993, has used scores of features from Barton in the program guides for Yale game programs over the years. And he has always been mesmerized by Barton’s ability to keep score, even against computer programs.
“It was amazing to watch him chart a football game, especially while our stats team was in-putting every play on a computer,” Conn said “If we thought we missed something, we could always go to Bob for confirmation… and detail. Speaking of detail, he blew our minds every time he came to a Yale Football Media Luncheon at Mory’s. Almost regularly, Bob would be asked to shed some light on a game of the past. He would provide the weather. the score and significant details.”
Barton, a member of the New Haven Gridiron Club Hall of Fame, voted in the first New Haven Register Top 10 high school football poll in 1961, and in the final GameTimeCT/New Haven Register Top 10 poll this year.
Ned Griffen, who now works at the Day of New London, recalled Barton calling in from Europe to submit his ballot early for the Register poll after Barton’s flight was diverted due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Bob Barton covered the first FCIAC Football Championship for @nhregister in 1966 (from the state’s perspective, of course) when junior Bob Valentine and No. 3 Rippowam were ‘dismantled' by Rick Robustelli and No. 2 Stamford Catholic, 32-6, before 12,000 at Boyle Stadium #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/vHjx2f67Zb
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) January 14, 2019
Griffen was one of countless young football reporters Barton mentored, teaching many the importance of attention to detail, both with statistics and grammar.
Griffen recalled a play in a state championship game in 1994, when Ansonia used a trick play including a lateral from one receiver to another that led to a touchdown. There was confusion in the press box on how to award yardage.
Then, Griffen said, a calm, deep voice came from the back:
“The receiver gets credited with a catch and the yardage to the spot where he pitched the ball,” Barton said. “The second player gets credit for the yardage where he got the pitch, but not for a catch.”
“The majority of us crammed into the press box looked at one another for a moment, then furiously scribbled down Bob’s sage wisdom,” Griffen said.
Barton would offer a class in football scorekeeping before the start of each high school season. “I often hear his voice in my head when tracking a game,” Griffen said.
A recipient of the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance’s Art McGinley Award for meritorious service, Barton chaired the Bo Kolinsky Memorial Scholarship committee for 12 years, sending applications to each of the secondary schools in the state.
Here’s Bob Barton’s A1 @nhregister story on the the infamous Yale-Harvard 29-29 tie in 1968:
“BOSTON — In 93 years of Yale-Harvard football history, there has never been a game like this. If they go on playing for a thousand years, there will never be another one the same.” pic.twitter.com/GHW06gCXNd
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) January 14, 2019
Barton was the first person editors approached when historical anniversaries approached. He was vital in a special section the Register printed when Yale became the first team to win 800 games. Special sections such as Hometown Heroes, Sports of the 20th Century, and the 200 at 200 series to commemorate the Register’s 200th anniversary, all relied heavily on Barton’s knowledge. He also wrote a popular column, “Catching Up” in the late 1990s and 2000s. He was also approached by different authors chronicling the history of Yale football, including Ansonia’s Rich Marazzi.
“When I wrote a Bowl Full of Memories: 100 Years of Football at the Yale Bowl, Bob was my guiding force along the way,” Marazzi said. “One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was reaching out to Bob for his help. My original intent in writing the book was to recall my memories of Yale football and the Yale Bowl. When I sent him the first 100 pages of the manuscript, I was expecting a “job well done,” response. Instead, he candidly said, “Nobody cares about your memories.”
“That was the best advice I ever got,” Marazzi said. “From that point, I decided to solicit the memories of decades of former Yale players going back to the 1940s to the present, the coaches, the fans, the media etc. It totally expanded my thought process. If I was the heart of the book, he was the soul.”
Barton’s attention to detail, both with facts and grammar, is evident in one of his final emails.
“I don’t have scoring statistics on the 1894 team; should try to find that stuff in one of my next few State Library visits,” Barton wrote in his email to Jacobs Saturday at 4 p.m. “ Because coaches including George Woodruff, the old Yalie coaching Penn, had introduced offenses with tackles or guards legally in the backfield, scoring wasn’t confined to backs, and of course anybody could fall onto a free ball from the flying wedge. Hunch here is that Bill Hickok, the place-kicking All-America guard, and fullback Frank Butterworth, who could drop-kick, accounted for a lot of points. Frank Hinkey and his kid brother, Louis, filled in sometimes at backfield spots and scored a bit during the season.”
Judy Barton said her husband had a passion for accuracy, both with facts and grammar. She said she referred to his stat-keeping as “his little numbers.” She noted he would keep stats at the games they attended, often together, once even in Hawaii, then would research other statistics when he got home, filling their basement with boxes of notebooks.
Those boxes of notebooks were valuable when Barton, the late Bo Kolinsky and Gerry deSimas started compiling Connecticut’s high school football record book.
“Bob was very generous with his time and the knowledge that he had accumulated over his career,” said Gerry deSimas, who has published the Connecticut High School Football record book each year with the help of Barton. “He didn’t hesitate to lend me his high school football books for me to copy so I could be prepared to cover teams here in northern Connecticut. Each book had every football result and scoring plays from nearly every game in a single season.
“For a sports historian, it was a treasure trove of information all in one place — gathered from papers from across Connecticut. You don’t realize how valuable this is until you spend hours spinning the microfilm reels in the state library looking for a score of a single game or few tidbits on who scored in that game. And Bob was very willing to respond to emails on a Friday night to a reporter looking for a little historical perspective.
“His research helped make the state football record book possible. I am thankful he was able to take the time to investigate many, many submissions from around the state. It may be a single line but it means so much to that athlete and to the accuracy of the record book.”
Sean Patrick Bowley, senior producer of GameTimeCT.com and who has covered high school football extensively in the state for 15 years, said Barton always took the time to offer additional information or critique his work.
“He defined sports coverage in this state and, even late into his retirement, his words carried weight with me,” Bowley said. “He was my educational link to bygone era in writing and journalism.”
Even the CIAC, the state’s governing body, would refer people to Barton with historical questions.
“We referred people to Bob for records for years,” Matt Fischer, director of information services for the CIAC said. “He was also there to give me a friendly correction when I messed up on something. For example, he’s the one who taught me a forfeit in football was 1-0 instead of 2-0. I questioned him on it and then did my own research and as usual found out he was correct.”
“Bob’s knowledge of Yale football history, and Yale sports history in general, was unparalleled,” Marazzi said. “He was a Yale treasure. I doubt that anyone can fill his shoes.”
Services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Church of Christ, Congregational, 1652, 75 Main St., Farmington