At 94, still navigating the current Sam Lacy: The honors keep coming for the longtime sports editor of the Afro-American, who continues to tackle the latest issues in his weekly column with no sign of slowing down.

April 23, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

Ninety-four years of swimming upstream, and you'd think it would be enough for Sam Lacy just to tread water.

Not a chance.

Lacy is still working, still writing, still making waves.

Check out this week's edition of the Afro-American. Lacy's column calls for the end of the designated hitter, arguing that the only way to stop pitchers like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens from throwing at hitters is to force them to bat.

Another story with his byline states that the Orioles built their 10-2 record by feasting on weaker opponents, and suggests that Texas manager Johnny Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman were stealing signs last weekend.

Lacy also writes about Frank Robinson's efforts to speed up games, and delivers a notes column in which he acknowledges his latest honor, the Red Smith Award, for major contributions to sports journalism.

"With God's grace, I shall be in Richmond June 26 for the awards ceremony," Lacy writes.

Ninety-four years of swimming upstream, and he's still going strong.

Today, Lacy will receive the Frederick Douglass Award from the University System of Maryland.

On Saturday, he will be honored at Ball-timore '98, a fund-raiser to establish a scholarship fund in his name for Baltimore-area students seeking to attend a United Negro College Fund institution.

And on July 26, he will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in

Cooperstown, N.Y., joining the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Which honor stands out most?

"I'm going to surprise you," Lacy replied the other day at the Baltimore offices of the Afro-American Newspapers.

Or haven't you heard of the Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and its Hall of Fame?

Lacy was elected in 1994, along with syndicated columnist Jack Anderson and two others.

"There was a case where fellow journalists first recognized my efforts," Lacy said.

Journalism.

It means everything to Lacy.

"If I weren't working, I don't know what I would do," Lacy said. "I couldn't picture myself retiring. I see so many of my friends retire, sit around the golf course and wait to die.

"I have a rapport with all my fellow employees. They all respect me. Some don't particularly admire me. I suppose they consider me too outspoken. But I don't have to placate anyone."

Lacy will tell you that Baltimore shouldn't cling to Babe Ruth as a favorite son when the famed slugger shunned his hometown after making it big in New York.

He'll also tell you that he doesn't like the terms African-American, Negro or black -- the description he prefers is "colored," politically incorrect as it might be.

The phrase, "Black is beautiful"?

Don't get Lacy started.

"In my judgment, the aurora borealis is beautiful," he said. "What's more beautiful than a sunset or a rainbow or an orchid? All those things are multicolored. Which is what we are. We're multicolored.

"There's no way in hell they would consider someone of my complexion black or somebody of my wife's complexion," continued Lacy, whose mother was a Shinnecock Indian.

"My wife was the granddaughter of an Irishman named Radcliffe who came over with the pilgrims and whose name is on the wall down at Williamsburg.

"We are all colored. The oldest civil rights organization in the country is the NAACP, not the NAABP."

No, Lacy will not be silenced, not even at 94.

Two or three times a week, he drives an hour to work from his home in Washington, arriving at the Afro-American's offices on North Charles Street shortly after 4 a.m.

He writes his stories longhand, using a strong, legible script. He lays out, edits and proofreads the sports page. He watches ESPN, reads the daily papers, compares beanball incidents to those that occurred more than 50 years ago.

"I watch him. His mind is 30 years younger than his body," said Lacy's son, Tim, 60, who writes a column that appears at the bottom of the sports page.

"We'll come out of a place and go into a precarious stairwell. I'm OK, I've got no problems, but I'll be grabbing the rail. I look up, he's got his hands in his pockets, and he's three steps ahead."

Always has been, hasn't he?

Lacy, the sports editor of the Afro-American since 1944, helped wage the campaign to integrate major-league baseball, and spent three years reporting on Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier.

Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis -- the stories seemed so much more important then. But Lacy's vision of his role is no different from what it was a half-century ago. A journalist is one who is restless. One who is never satisfied.

He lives in the same two-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife, Barbara, who died in 1969. ("People ask me why I never remarried," Lacy said. "I had a perfect marriage. Any new woman in my life would suffer by comparison.")

He showers at night, awakens at 2: 45 a.m., leaves his apartment by 3: 15. He stopped typing after a car accident triggered arthritis in 1974. Two women, Gainor Hackney and Elinor Washington, enter his work in a computer.

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