Baseball community loses 'The Dean'
Sports writer and baseball historian leaves behind legend
The Hall of Fame lost one of its own on Saturday with the passing of Jerome Holtzman, 81, who was known throughout baseball circles as "The Dean" of writers.
Holtzman won the Spink Award in 1989 and received it at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1990 that also honored pitcher Jim Palmer, second baseman Joe Morgan and Philadelphia broadcaster Sy Baam, the Ford C. Frick Award winner.
In his remarks at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown, The New York Times' Ira Berkow wrote that day that Holtzman thanked first his wife for her support, and then his family, including his three daughters and his son. One of his children wasn't there, however. "We lost Catherine Ellen six months ago, to cancer, three days before her 37th birthday," said Holtzman that day. "A day or two before she died, she said to me, 'I'm sorry I won't be with you in Cooperstown, Dad.' She was a much-loved person and an avid baseball fan. I taught her how to keep score when she was a freshman in high school, and she learned to keep an almost perfect scorecard."
In the mid-1990s, the Hall of Fame appointed Holtzman to the Veterans Committee where his knowledge of the candidates impressed fellow committee members.
"Jerry was among the most knowledgeable journalists of his time," Hall president Jeff Idelson said Monday night. "He adored and respected the game as much as anyone I know. His reporting skills and easy writing style gave generations of readers tremendous insight into both the White Sox and Cubs.
Holtzman also sparred with former BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack Lang over Chicago White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox being denied election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, his last year of eligibility. Fox received 295 votes of the 396 ballots cast, which was two votes short of the 297 necessary for the 75 percent required for election.
However, Holtzman reasoned that since Fox's percentage was 74.49, it should have been rounded off to 75 percent, contending that rounding off percentages has been done traditionally in baseball for batting averages and earned run averages. Lang's response was that he had contacted then Hall board chairman Ed Stack after the vote tallying was concluded and that Stack said "a pure 75 percent" was required.
That did not mollify Holtzman, who continued to write that Fox had been robbed and championed his credentials for the Hall until he was finally elected by the Veterans Committee in 1995.
Holtzman's regard for baseball writers was illuminated by his book, "No Cheering in the Press Box," a sort of oral history of how coverage of the game changed over the years.
|"Our profession is lesser today because of his passing."|
|-- Longtime Chicago baseball writer Dave Van Dyck on Holtzman.|
Holtzman's dedication to the BBWAA was evident by his serving eight terms as chairman of the Chicago Chapter and as national vice president in 1995 and president in 1996. Over a period of 30 years, Holtzman was a regular presence at BBWAA meetings, often getting into heated arguments with his New York counterparts, Dick Young of the Daily News and Post and Murray Chass of the Times.
Out of these battles occasionally came progressive changes in the organization. One area in which Holtzman and Chass shared views was in ensuring that membership eligibility rules be strictly observed. During Holtzman's term as president, he appointed a committee chaired by Chass that looked into membership abuses by local chapters. The BBWAA trimmed more than 100 members, many of them editors who did not attend games, from the rolls.
Another of his squabbles with New York writers occurred when Holtzman nominated Joseph Durso of the Times for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. It resulted in a two-year skirmish with members of the New York Chapter who had opposed the nomination before Durso was finally elected in 1995. Changes in the voting process resulted from that issue.
Holtzman was one of four veteran writers who passed away the past week. The others were Red Foley of New York, Matt McHale of Los Angeles and Neil Hohlfeld of Houston.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.