Legendary historian Holtzman passes
Longtime writer and inventor of 'save' leaves lasting legacy
Jerome Holtzman, baseball journalism's Hemingway, has passed away. There is only weeping in the press box.Holtzman died Saturday in Evanston, Ill. at 81, leaving behind an empty seat as Major League Baseball's historian, and a 66-year unparalleled body of work that includes the 1974 breakthrough oral history of sportswriting, "No Cheering in The Press Box." Holtzman divided his entire career between Chicago's two major newspapers and in 1957 began covering Major League Baseball, the sport he would profoundly influence in 1959. It was during that season that Holtzman, ever the probing and visionary writer, created the first formula for relief pitcher "saves." His statistic was adopted a decade later by the sport's Official Rules Committee as baseball's first new statistic since the 1920 introduction of runs batted in. For all that and much more, in 1989 the Baseball Hall of Fame presented him with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and 10 years later Commissioner Bud Selig appointed him as the first Official Historian for Major League Baseball. "As a baseball writer, columnist and historian for more than 50 years, Jerome Holtzman was a beloved figure and made an incredible impact on the game," Commissioner Selig said on Monday. "He created the save statistic which in turn increased the importance of the relief pitcher. He was a giant in his industry. "Those of us who knew him and worked with him will always remember his good humor, his fairness, and his love for baseball," Selig added. "He was a very good friend of mine throughout my career in the game and I will miss his friendship and counsel. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Marilyn, to his children and to his many friends."
A sportswriter from central casting with his bushy, wavy hair and the gnawed cigar between his lips, Holtzman became the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1981 following 38 years at the Chicago Sun-Times and its predecessor, The Daily Times.Recognized nationally as "The Dean" of baseball writers, Holtzman wrote seven books on baseball. His classic "No Cheering in The Press Box" was reissued with six new chapters in 1995. He also authored "Three and Two," a biography of National League umpire Tom Gorman; "The Commissioners," an in-depth look at those who've held the game's top office; "Jerome Holtzman on Baseball"; and "Fielder's Choice," an anthology of baseball fiction. Primarily, Holtzman was firmly identified with Chicago, a city in which he was an institution. His other books, co-written with George Vass, were "The Chicago Cubs Encyclopedia" and "Baseball Chicago Style." Holtzman was a four-time recipient of the Stick of Type Award presented by the Chicago Newspapers Guild, and in 1996 was saluted as Chicago Press Veteran of the Year. Jerry Reinsdorf, the Chicago White Sox chairman, mourned Holtzman as a "great advocate [of baseball]" and "a dear friend." "I will miss his visits to the ballpark and his phone calls during the season to discuss the latest baseball news," Reinsdorf said. " In the way baseball is covered by the media, in the creation of the save rule and in the history and tradition of this game, Jerome truly left his mark on the game he loved and followed passionately for decades. "Perhaps no one other person has done as much to promote the game of baseball to millions. There is no greater tribute or legacy a person can leave behind for future generations of baseball fans." "Jerome's contributions to the game of baseball were immense," said Crane Kenney, chairman of the Chicago Cubs. "Moreso, however, Jerome for more than 40 years was a primary link between Chicago baseball fans and their beloved teams. He was an accomplished writer who earned respect both from his readers and from those whom he covered." As if to confirm that, Don Zimmer, the venerable baseball man who played for the Cubs in 1960-61 and managed them from 1988-1991, said, "He was a gentleman at all times. Baseball will miss Jerry Holtzman. He was a good man, a great man. I liked Jerry. We did a lot of talking. We had a lot of fun together." Holtzman attended Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, but got a more valuable education outside of the classroom. He began his newspaper career as a 17-year-old copy boy and, following a two-year Marine Corps hitch during World War II, returned to The Daily Times in 1946 to cover prep sports for the ensuing 11 years. A quarter-century ago, The Wall Street Journal characterized Holtzman in a story as "the quintessential baseball writer." That, he was. Also, the patron saint, walking database and godfather of the profession. Commissioner Selig's decision to appoint him as the game's historian had to be an easy one, for Holtzman had already written much of that history. His typewriter strokes reached far beyond the daily grind of covering the sport, which he did for over a half century. Membership cards issued by the Baseball Writers Association of America are numbered sequentially, and the standard crack at later reunions with Holtzman -- always eliciting a chortle from him -- was to claim that his number was five. Holtzman was elected eight times as chairman of the Chicago chapter of the BBWAA, and in 1966 served a term as the organization's national president. Holtzman's definitive baseball chronicle might have been his 20,000-word contribution to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which he served as consultant. But his font of insight and enthusiasm never ran dry. Holtzman also wrote the annual recap of the preceding season for The Official Baseball Guide, and contributed countless stories to stacks of magazines. He was the Cal Ripken Jr. of The Sporting News, writing more than a thousand consecutive weekly columns for the one-time "Bible of Baseball." And he never slowed. In concert with his appointment as the game's historian, he also wrote regular columns for this Web site. Holtzman and his wife of 59 years, Marilyn, had five children (Alice Barnett of California, Arlene Disch, Catherine Holtzman, Janet Holtzman of Wilmette, and Jack Merrill of Los Angeles) and grandchildren (Genevieve, Conrad, Philip, Natalie and Melanie). Plans for a memorial service will be announced later. Burial will be private.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.