As usual, Lacy gets to point, with strong message

July 27, 1998|By John Steadman

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- All those years of perseverance, traveling the hard road, pursuing the story and staying the course for making it a better world for the black athlete finally delivered a share of justifiable rewards to Sam Lacy. At the tender age of 94 and counting, the oldest of working sportswriters on the planet received the most prestigious tribute baseball offers in its own literary league.

He entered the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame and, in response, delivered a meaningful acceptance speech that was in itself brief, a bit whimsical and called upon his remarkable memory to mention one of his high school teachers in Washington, a Miss Caroline Calloway.

The venerable Lacy, sports editor and columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American for more than 50 years, outlined his remarks but didn't read them, preferring to deliver what he had to say in a more conversational tone than by locking himself into a script. The Lacy message also included an observation that he hoped that by virtue of his being here that the public will be inclined to give respect to the "quality of the black press."

On his way to the rostrum, he slipped and fell. Fortunately, there was no injury. A case of trying to move his feet when he didn't have "his motor running."

To relax the audience, he said in jest: "It almost destroyed my day by putting something there that I stumbled over." He then proceeded rapidly through a 4-minute, 15-second delivery that received two applause interruptions and a standing ovation at the end from the crowd of approximately 6,000.

Lacy officially became the 49th recipient of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, named in honor of the storied publisher and editor of the Sporting News when it was known as the "bible of baseball."

The honor is specifically intended to recognize a sportswriter for meritorious contributions to the game.

A group of Lacy's family members, co-workers and friends were in attendance, including a bus-load of well-wishers from Baltimore, organized by Louis Fields, president of Black Heritage Tours.

One of the former players enshrined on this glorious day of weather was Larry Doby, who joined the Cleveland Indians in 1947, only 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson had integrated the National League. Lacy accompanied both of them through their difficult pioneering efforts as a reporter, and it was certainly appropriate he be saluted on the same occasion that his friend Doby was entering the Hall of Fame.

At the end of the long installation proceedings, Lacy was obviously fatigued but overjoyed.

"The entire event fulfilled my highest expectations," he said. "I felt I got a good response to my speech. Everywhere I've been since the function ended, people have been saying how much they enjoyed it."

As pointed out by his biographer, Moses Newsome, he's the first recipient to come exclusively from the area of black journalism. Newsome points out he makes another pioneering breakthrough, becoming the first Spink selection to arrive via a weekly newspaper. The most flattering compliment that can be given Lacy is in relation to his professional performances. Quality all the way. A constant.

The only other black writer to gain similar distinction at the Hall of Fame was the late Wendell Smith, who wrote for a black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, and then joined the staff of ,, the Chicago Herald-American. Smith was in the trenches, firing his typewriter, to gain equality for black athletes, and has been credited, along with Lacy, in helping to make baseball integration a reality, with cooperation, of course, in late 1945 from Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers' progressive general manager and humanitarian.

Such past and present press-box figures as Grantland Rice, Milt Richman, Red Smith, Jerome Holtzman, Allen Lewis, Leonard Koppett, Warren Brown, John Carmichael, Frank Graham, Joe McGuff, Shirley Povich and Joe Durso are included in the lineup of previous honorees.

An Evening Sun columnist in 1989 wrote a story advocating Lacy's entrance into the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame and also contacted committee members, soliciting support. But nothing happened until Larry Whiteside of the Boston Globe became the catalyst and spokesman for the Lacy nomination.

Sam and son Tim were the guests of the Hall of Fame for four days of festivities, receptions and parties -- as were the actual Hall of Fame members from the class of 1998. It's an event held in one of the most picturesque venues of natural beauty in America, the village of Cooperstown.

For Sam Lacy, an achievement truly to treasure. And he does. A momentous personal moment, validating his abilities and the things he believed in and intensely campaigned to bring about.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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