The Obit For Lou Chapman

Lou Chapman

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

May 2, 2004

Bud Lea was working on the sports desk of the Milwaukee Sentinel late one night during the 1960 baseball season as Braves beat writer Lou Chapman covered a game against the Dodgers at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Lou Chapman, shown covering the Milwaukee Brewers in 1974, enjoyed the daily grind of covering major-league baseball.

"It was about 1 a.m. Milwaukee time and Louie was still writing," recalled Lea, who later became sports editor of the Sentinel. "I said, 'Louie, stop, there's no more room.'

"He said, 'I don't care,' and kept writing."

That was classic Lou Chapman, unfailingly diligent, dedicated to his craft and determined to get as much baseball in the newspaper as possible each day.

Chapman, whose baseball writing career at the Sentinel spanned all 13 years of the Milwaukee Braves' existence as well as the first decade of the Milwaukee Brewers, died Friday at age 90 in Venice, Fla.

Diminutive in stature but always willing to stand up to anyone who got in the way of a good story, Chapman covered baseball in what many considered the golden era of the sport, when beat writers and players freely mingled and were considered brothers in the game's great fraternity.

He called many players his friends, including home run king Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier. But that didn't mean Chapman would look the other way when a player needed to be taken to task on a particular subject.

Chapman's son, Richard, recalled a confrontation between his father and a young George Brett of the Kansas City Royals.

"My father had done a negative story about George Brett," Richard Chapman said. "George was waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel and screamed, 'I'm going to pinch your head off!'

"My father said, 'Go ahead. It'll be the biggest lawsuit in Royals history.' "

Though irascible or downright ornery at times, Chapman was a softie at heart and a true fan of the game. He could think of no better way to make a living than writing baseball stories for the Sentinel.

Started at bottom
But Chapman, a graduate of Milwaukee West Division High School, did not begin his newspaper career as a baseball writer. His first professional beat was covering the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Hawks, who played here from 1951-'55. Upon being discharged from the Army after World War II, Chapman had taken a job at the Sentinel, taking high school and bowling scores over the telephone.

When the Braves arrived from Boston in '53 and Chapman was given the opportunity to cover baseball, it was case closed. He was hooked on the game forever.

The city went nuts over the Braves in the late '50s, and Chapman rightfully believed he had the best beat at the newspaper, one he shared with Red Thisted. He became close to the team's stars, Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Aaron.

"Players and writers were contemporaries back then. They hung out a lot," said Richard Chapman, who along with brother Stuart were the talk of the neighborhood when their father would bring a player home for dinner.

Chapman befriended players on other teams as well, including the pioneer Robinson. Robinson even mailed a letter to Chapman from his home in Stanford, Conn., in February 1955 to apologize for making somewhat controversial comments in a story Chapman wrote about Mathews.

Aggressive practitioner
Despite those friendships, Chapman would do anything for a story, using a territorial approach to his beat and stepping on toes if necessary. He reveled in ferreting out stories, earning the nicknames "Scoop" and "Gumby," an offshoot of the detective term gumshoe.

Legend has it that Chapman once hid in a travel locker in the Braves' spring training clubhouse to get the jump on player cuts being made that day. Former Braves catcher Bob Uecker, now the Brewers' radio play-by-play man, said he knew for a fact that Chapman once hid behind clothing in a player's locker to hear what was going on in a team meeting.

"He absolutely did that," Uecker said. "He was always looking for stuff to write. If he could find a place to hide to get a story, he'd do it."

Chapman's competition at The Milwaukee Journal was another longtime, respected local sportswriter, Bob Wolf. The two beat writers went after each other daily, a competition that Chapman often won.

"He loved beating the competition, even though Bob Wolf was one of his best friends," Richard Chapman recalled. "They would hang out together during their off hours but were very competitive on the beat.

"My father loved to play with words and the language, crafting witty leads. He was a shrewd observer of human nature. He was sympathetic but could also be ruthless in pursuing a story."

Sons are writers, too
The writing bug eventually infected everyone in the Chapman family. Richard went on to become a successful Hollywood screenwriter and currently holds the position of senior lecturer on screen writing at Washington University in St. Louis.

Stuart Chapman founded a newspaper in Mendecino, Calif., before becoming a respected publisher of medical magazines in New York.

"My father was the quintessential newspaper man, right out of a Damon Runyan story," Stuart Chapman said. "He relentlessly pursued stories, from the clubhouse to the front office to the dugout.

"He was widely recognized by his peers for his achievements and respected by superstars of all major sports."

Indeed, Chapman's writing universe expanded beyond baseball. The thousands of interview subjects included the likes of Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor), Richard Nixon, Jesse Owens, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

As might be expected, Chapman had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from covering baseball. After leaving the Sentinel beat after the 1979 season, he continued to write stories from spring training and contributed articles to publications such as The Sporting News and Baseball Digest.

"He was very tenacious and a prolific writer," said baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who was president of the Brewers when Chapman covered the team. "He was an investigative reporter before there really was any such thing.

"He was very thorough and very aggressive. The best thing I can say about Lou Chapman is he was a damn good reporter."

Numerous honors
Chapman won countless awards for his writing, including five William Randolph Hearst Awards (Hearst formerly owned the Sentinel) and several national press club awards. He was the Wisconsin sportswriter of the year on five occasions.

Chapman, who is survived by his sons, their families and five grandchildren, was inducted into the Media Hall of Fame by the Milwaukee Press Club in October 1999. Mike Ruby, editorial page editor of the Journal Sentinel and a friend of the Chapman family, made the introductory speech that evening.

"Lou was a tough little character," Ruby said. "Richard later sent me a card that I thought described Lou perfectly. It said, 'He was a man who loved his beat and family and the sheer delight of moving words around like a kid with the best train set in the world.' "

A memorial service for Chapman is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Congregation Shalom on Santa Monica Ave. in Fox Point. Burial will be at Spring Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Richard Chapman noted how fitting Chapman's burial site will be.

"It overlooks Miller Park," he said. "Baseball was his life, so it couldn't be more appropriate."