By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
James P. Manasseh has argued before the United States Supreme Court and mounted high-profile defenses in courtrooms from New York to California. He manages cases and the largest criminal defense firm in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area from a spacious, memorabilia-adorned corner office located within one of the city’s ritziest areas.
That’s life Monday through Friday. But for eight Saturdays every fall, this successful attorney is transported back to his undergraduate days at LSU.
You’ll find him at the epicenter of the cluttered chaos within the stats booth in Tiger Stadium, sitting behind a decade-old microphone trying to organize several conveyor belts of names, numbers and noteworthy details into coherent and concise announcements.
Anyone who frequents Tiger Stadium is familiar with the long-time public address announcer Dan Borne. Even those who don’t know his name would recognize his voice as the one that recites “chance of rain, never,” before the start of every game.
Well, Manasseh’s live audience isn’t the 100,000-or-so paying customers that fill Death Valley on a given night, but a press box full of journalists. The information is then disseminated to the general public in the form of tweets, articles and talking points on a broadcast.
“Jimmy,” to those who know him, could spend his game days in a comfortable suite. His long-time girlfriend and her father use his two season tickets. That time could be spent leisurely, or even conducting business with clients.
This season marks Manasseh’s 35th consecutive as the internal public address announcer at Tiger Stadium. He’s missed only one home game dating back to his debut in 1982. It was the 1985 season finale against Eastern Carolina, and Jimmy skipped it to cram for his first set of law school finals.
But he’s spent every home game running the show — “I like to think of it as making sense of the chaos,” Jimmy says — inside the crowded stats booth.
The reason why becomes abundantly clear when Jimmy begins each game by extending a hardy welcome on behalf of his alma matter to all who have come to work in the Paul Manasseh Press Box.
THOSE WHO KNEW Paul Manasseh remember him as a giant and a pioneer in a field full of unforgettable characters.
“He knew everybody, everybody knew him,” says Kent Lowe, a veteran of the LSU Sports Information Office. “It was a time when you had a group of SIDs who were kind of larger than life people because they did so much at that time and were so involved.”
Those duties included anything from media relations to promotions to swapping stories over drinks in a crowded, smoky room. Friends knew him as a man who was always quick with a joke and loved to have a good time.
Colleagues describe him as an effective communicator and a brilliant salesman who thrived in his role as the conduit between the press corps and Charles McClendon.
Both skill sets were pivotal in a time before internet and social media, when a sport information director’s job was more about growing media coverage and stumping for postseason honors as opposed to putting out public relations fires.
Lowe, who has spent decades as LSU’s basketball SID, first came into Manasseh’s orbit as a graduate student stringing sports stories for the Shreveport Times.
“He was one of the best at teaching you the basics,” Lowe says. “Teaching you what was right and what was wrong in the business, and helping you understand what you could do to advance your career. All you have to do is look at the number of writers, broadcasters and media relations people who came from LSU back then and have gone on to great jobs.”
Born in Shreveport, Manasseh served in World War II and worked for a series of independent and minor league baseball teams before becoming the original director of public relations for the Denver Broncos. He was named associate SID at LSU in March of 1969 and was promoted to SID in November of 1971.
Paul reigned for 12 years under three athletic directors in the press box that now bears his name. The Board of Supervisors approved the dedication in 2006, 23 years after his retirement from the school. A credit to the resonating impact of a man who spent only part of his illustrious career at LSU.
“He knew everybody and anybody in sports and politics,” Jimmy says. “And he was friends with everybody. He was the quintessential politician and public relations guy. He’d be on the phone with Russell Long and there’d be a call from Keith Jackson on the other line.”
Those were the formative years of Jimmy’s childhood. The Manassehs lived near the lakes on campus, so Jimmy would ride his bike to his dad’s office most days. Other times Jimmy would play on the floor of Coach McClendon’s office when Paul would come by for a meeting.
“Instead of belonging to a country club, I played in the Assembly Center or I played in the Field House,” Jimmy says. “We played in Tiger Stadium. We used to run our dogs in Tiger Stadium. Most of the offices he held were right there in Tiger Stadium. And there was a backdoor that’d open into the stands. We’d just run down the stairs and play in the grass.”
From an early age Jimmy wanted to work for LSU. At age eight he started selling programs at baseball games and track meets for 15 cents a pop. Paul had a rule that nobody under the age of 15 would be allowed in the football press box — it was a working press box, after all — and it applied to his children all the same.
Upon turning 15, Jimmy took over the “Tiger Telecopier Service,” a forerunner to the fax machine. Immediately after the game, Jimmy and his older brother would telecpopy the stat sheet — the process took about four-to-six minutes each — to newspapers in Florida, Texas and wherever else anyone wanted to cover the game from afar. He’d also pass out stats, work the scoreboard and any other odd jobs that needed doing.
But taking over as the voice of the press box wasn’t a byproduct of nepotism, though there was plenty of that going around Louisiana’s state-run institutions at the time. Just a good old fashion case of being in the right place at the right time.
FOR AS LONG as he could remember, Jimmy wanted to follow in Paul’s footsteps professionally — it wasn’t until senior year the idea of law school even entered his mind — but Paul instituted a rule years earlier decreeing nobody would work for the sports information office until they were at least a sophomore in college. The lone exception being Herb Vincent, who started working in the office as a freshman and has since gone on to a leading spokesman role with the Southeastern Conference.
Well, Jimmy actually had to wait even longer than that. University administrators ruled that Paul hiring Jimmy as even a part-time student assistant would be considered nepotism and therefore illegal. The crackdown was spurred by a high-profile battle at the time over the employment of Paul Dietzel’s son as a full-time employee with benefits.
It wasn’t until his father retired from LSU to take a job with the USFL that Jimmy was allowed to come work under Joe Yates, Paul’s successor, as a student assistant. And on Jimmy’s first official game day on the job, a frantic Yates approached him with a job assignment.
“Joe grabs me and says ‘Can you do the PA?’” Jimmy remembers. “Sure, I’ve heard it for all these years now. Of course I can do it. So I get brought into that stats booth and I know everybody in there. Most of them used to work for my dad. All people I looked up to and respected. So I take the microphone and start doing it.”
Opportunities don’t come knocking every day. Jimmy’s, as he later found out, arose because someone else was shown the door in about as LSU a fashion as imaginable.
Up to that point, Steve Myers, who worked for Paul in college and was one of the founders of Tiger Rag magazine, had handled the internal public address announcements. But on this particular day, LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead recognized his voice coming through the speakers.
Myers’ particular brand of commentary — what today would be called hot takes — always ruffled the feathers of administrators. Meanwhile, Bottom Line Bob had a reputation for score settling, and he demanded Yates fire Myers from the position on the spot.
“I guess it’s sort of like Lou Gehrig,” Jimmy says. “I never relinquished the spot after that.”
Jimmy filled in admirably that day and, aside from one game, has remained in the stats booth for more than three decades worth of home games. That covers a stretch of his life from undergrad through law school right up to managing a firm of 15 lawyers today.
Working in the press box hasn’t been about the money since Jimmy and his older brother ran the “Tiger Telecopier Service” to bring home a few hundred bucks of spending money each season. But he has no plans of quitting anytime soon.
“I’ll do it as long as they have me back,” Jimmy says. “It’s fun to keep just a little toe involved with LSU. It’s just a commitment that I want to make. It’s unique. It’s different. Most people don’t get to have that experience.”
Paul Manasseh passed away in 2009 just days shy of his 80th birthday. Every time Jimmy walks past the mural dedicated in his honor at the entrance of the press box, he feels a little charge.
Then again when he turns on the microphone and welcomes everyone to the Paul Manasseh Press Box. If for no other reason, Jimmy says he’ll continue to be the internal PA voice so long as he’s allowed to say those words before every home game.
“That’s the reason I keep doing it,” Jimmy says. “There’s parts of me that think, ‘It’d sure be fun to go tailgate and it’d be fun to have cocktail before the game.’ But there’s only one person who gets to do this. It has my dad’s name on it and I get to say those words. I just can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
“I know Paul would be proud of what he’s done in his lawyering career,” Lowe adds. “Paul is very special to a lot of us around here. We’re all happy Jimmy is still involved.”