Lacy, Who Covered Louis, Owens, J. Robinson Dies
Integration of Baseball in '30s
The Associated Press
05/09/03 20:08 EDT
BALTIMORE (May 9) -- Sam Lacy, sports editor
of The (Baltimore) Afro-American Newspaper since 1944 and a key figure in
the integration of Major League Baseball, has died. He was 99.
Lacy died Thursday at the Washington Hospital
Center, CEO and publisher Jake Oliver said Friday.
"He was the father of modern-day
African-American sportswriters,'' Oliver said.
Lacy's last column, filed from the hospital,
appeared in Friday's edition of the paper. He went into the hospital a
week ago because he had lost his appetite, Oliver said.
"Even though he looked very thin, his spirit
never stopped,'' Oliver said. "I fully expected to speak with him over the
weekend. This caught everyone by surprise.''
Lacy, the first black reporter to become a
member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, was inducted into
the writer's wing at the Hall of Fame in July 1998.
That same year he won the Red Smith Award,
presented annually by Associated Press Sports Editors for extended
meritorious service to sports journalism.
"His enduring legacy will be the impact he had
as one of the most important pioneers for civil rights in the last
half-century,'' baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "A large portion of
Sam's early work was dedicated to crusading against racism and segregation
in our country.''
Months before his induction into the baseball
Hall of Fame, Lacy insisted that his effort to bring about racial equality
on the playing field was merely the result of incorporating his
personality into his job.
"I've always felt that there was nothing
special about me, that I was not the only person who could have done what
I did,'' he said. "And I know how this may sound... But any person with a
little vision, a little curiosity, a little nerve could have done what I
His friends and peers knew
"I grew up reading Sam Lacy's articles,''
Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke said. "Sam epitomized the journalist who uses
his craft to bring about change.''
Even into his 90s, Lacy worked to change
baseball. He advocated the elimination of the designated hitter, writing,
"The only way to stop pitchers like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens from
throwing at hitters is to force them to bat.''
In the early 1930s, Lacy solicited sports
writers nationally to recognize the Negro League and its players. He
suggested to Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in 1936 that Negro
League players might be able to help the struggling team.
Griffith, fearing riots, said the timing
Soon after joining The Afro-American, Lacy was
appointed to a committee to study integration. The committee never met,
but another panel member, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, told Lacy
in a private moment that he would handle the issue on his own.
On Oct. 23, 1945 -- Lacy's 42nd birthday --
Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers' Montreal
farm club. For the next three years, Lacy chronicled Robinson's ongoing
battle to gain acceptance in the major leagues.
Much of the abuse Robinson received on and off
the field, Lacy received in the press box and on the road as he covered
Lacy also covered Jesse Owens' powerful
performance in Germany during the 1936 Olympics and Joe Louis in the
boxing ring, often staying in the same segregated rooming houses as the
men he wrote about.
Lacy spurned retirement and continued to write
his once-a-week column for The Afro-American. Because arthritis made it
impossible for him to type, for more than two decades he wrote his copy in
longhand after showing up for work at 4AM ET.
After graduating from Howard University, Lacy
worked at several Washington radio stations. In 1934, he joined the
Washington Tribune as sports editor. Ten years later, he started working
for The Afro-American.
"I have been credited with opening doors, but
I have always maintained that it's no good to open a door if there's no
one qualified to walk through it,'' he said.
Lacy never remarried after his wife, Barbara,
died in 1969.