William K. 'Bill' Free, Sun sportswriter

February 09, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

William K. "Bill" Free, a retired Baltimore Sun sportswriter and sports car enthusiast, died Friday of a perforated bowel at his Reisterstown home. He was 66.

Mr. Free was born in Frederick and raised in Creagerstown.

After graduating in 1961 from Thurmont High School, where he played baseball, basketball and soccer, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1965 from the University of South Carolina.

Mr. Free served in the Army as a sportswriter and then went to work as a newspaper reporter for the Gettysburg Times, Waynesboro Record and Harrisburg Patriot-News before beginning his 39-year career with The Baltimore Sun's sports department in 1969.

"He was an excellent sports reporter and worked on a variety of stories for us. Anything you gave him, he'd do. I could count on that," said Seymour Smith, a retired Baltimore Sun sportswriter and editor.

"When it came to stories, Bill was tenacious, and he'd check every source including a janitor, which he did one time," Mr. Smith said. "He fit in well with our department, was a very nice man and had a funny sort of laugh."

Mr. Free, who covered the 1983 World Series, when the Orioles triumphed over the Philadelphia Phillies, had a great eye and ear for the offbeat vignette.

He recalled a press box elevator operator at Veterans Stadium turning away Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, who at the time was the spokesman for Mr. Coffee drip coffee makers, because he didn't have the required press credentials. "I couldn't let Mr. Coffee on here," she explained.

When Mr. Free was covering sports at the University of Maryland, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his work on the 1986 Len Bias overdose story.

"He helped break the Len Bias story," Mr. Smith recalled.

Even though he suffered a stroke in the University of Maryland Byrd Stadium press box around 2000, Mr. Free remained a reporter until retiring in 2008.

"Despite his physical problems, Bill continued to work and contribute what he could," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Free was a longtime member of the Baltimore Sun and Creagerstown softball teams.

A sports car fan, Mr. Free enjoyed driving his 1986 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z and 1997 Firebird Trans Am, family members said.

Mr. Free was a member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Creagerstown.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 at the Eline Funeral Home, 11824 Reisterstown Road.

Surviving are two sons, Matthew Free of Hampstead and Brett Free of Laurel, Del.; a brother, Ronald Free of Thurmont; and five grandchildren. His marriage to the former Mary Baker ended in divorce.

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