The late John Steadman, a columnist for The Sun who wrote about the playing fields and people of Baltimore for a half-century, has won the 2001 Red Smith Award for major contributions to sports journalism.
Steadman, who wrote his column for The Sun until only weeks before his death on Jan. 1 at 73, becomes the 21st recipient of the award. It is bestowed by the Associated Press Sports Editors in honor of the late Walter "Red" Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York sportswriter.
"It's as big an award as one can get," said Dave Smith, sports editor of the Dallas Morning News and past president of APSE. Thirty-four former winners and past presidents participate in the balloting.
"John was the eyes and conscience of Baltimore for more than 50 years," Smith said. "He believed what he wrote, and his columns reflected that passion."
After graduating high school at City, Steadman began his career at the Baltimore News-Post in 1945. From 1954 to 1957, he left to work in management for the Baltimore Colts. He returned to the Hearst newspaper, became sports editor and remained until the 1986 demise of the News American. He joined The Evening Sun as a columnist and, in 1995, The Sun.
His final story appeared Dec. 3, 2000. To that date, he had attended every game played by the Colts and later by the Ravens - 719 straight. He died of cancer on New Year's Day.
"This [award] speaks to John's career at a time when it should be spoken to," said Bill Dwyre, sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, who nominated him. "To do something, and to do it well for a long time, has always impressed me. John was a 50-year wonder."
In the voting, Steadman outpolled the late Jimmy Cannon, fiery columnist for the old New York Journal-American, and George Solomon, sports editor of the Washington Post - both considered champions of ethics in sports journalism.
"John was my No. 1 choice," said Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, who himself won the award in 1998. "He had a humane quality unmatched by most writers I've known."
Other former recipients include Pulitzer winner Jim Murray (Los Angeles Times), Shirley Povich (Washington Post), Dave Kindred (Sporting News) and Jerome Holtzman (Chicago Tribune).
"Reading his work, or just talking with John, was a privilege," said William K. Marimow, editor of The Sun. "He is up there where the air is rare, in terms of excellence."
Steadman had a knack for transcending the game at hand to write about things that mattered to ordinary people - as in this excerpt of a column, "Thoughts On The Fourth of July," published in an anthology:
There was a father-and-son baseball game and Mr. Kuhn, who used to sing "Hinky Dinky Parley Voo," lost his pipe chasing a ball hit over his head in center field.
Frank Doyle and Reds Conroy stowed away on the Norfolk Bay boat and were reported missing overnight. What happened when they got home still hasn't been learned but they weren't seen for two weeks - except in church on Sunday.
All the girls had taken a shine to Norbert (Itch) Zeller, who could deliver his newspaper route faster than Billy (Stinky) Treadwell could run from the cops when they came to chase him for playing on top of the Wilsby Ave. garages.
Yes, the good ole days ... when nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was or Saigon or anyplace else that wasn't in the International League.
The APSE award would have embarrassed the humble Steadman, family members said. "He would have thought Red Smith was above him and that he wasn't worthy of such accolades, being - as he put it - `a broken-down sportswriter,' " said his brother, Tom Steadman, of Ellicott City.
"John was so modest that he would have been overwhelmed," said his wife, Mary Lee, of Stevensville. "He'd say, `I didn't deserve it' ... but he'd have been very pleased."
Steadman's family will accept his award during the APSE convention in Baltimore in June.