Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jerome Holtzman

One of my culture heroes died the other day. Jerome Holtzman was 82 years old.

Jerry was one of the greatest baseball writers of all time -- in fact, he's in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. For decades he was every Chicago Sun-Times editor's go-to guy when it came to smoking out obscure historical facts about the game. In his long career he came to be known as "The Dean" by his fellow scribes, and his name was hallowed in every barbershop in Chicago and a few other city-states besides.

I remember him best for three things, one of which touched me personally:

First, in 1981, a wunderkind sports editor who thought his pages should appeal better to yuppies shocked us all by stifling Jerry's nonpareil column as the product of old-fartism, and Jerry jumped to the Tribune, where he held court for two more decades. The wunderkind sports editor lasted only a few more months before he was sent packing. (This was a harbinger of what is now happening as non-newspaper "idea men" sodomize the Tribune and its sister newspapers.)

Second, Jerry had the largest, bushiest, most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen. They looked like dancing caterpillars.

Third, Jerry was an extraordinary gentleman, a state one doesn't often encounter in a profession full of egoes and elbows. At a crowded restaurant late in the 1970s he sought out my Lady Friend and told her how much he admired her husband's work, and there was nothing patronizing about his praise, as there so often is when people talk about the profoundly deaf. Years later, when I lauded his books in my Baseball Lit reviews -- he had gone to the Tribune by then and no longer had the home field advantage -- he would write me short notes of thanks. That was rare in itself, because the reviewed don't often thank their reviewers, but Jerry always took pains in those notes to mention other things I had written. He was subtly telling me that he read my stuff and liked it well enough to remember it.

There's no need to mention the URLs of the many obituaries that are singng his praises today. Just Google "Jerome Holtzman" and you'll see plenty of them, including a longish one in The New York Times, which does not often send out-of-town journalists to a just reward.

He was a sweet reporter and a sweet human being.

1 comment:

  1. Henry, "dancing caterpillars" was the exact descriptor I was trying to think of when I looked at that photo of Jerry and his amazing eyebrows. Thanks for writing it and paying homage to someone who seems to have really made the world a better place, like you.

    Katie, your bud in Rochester, NY