No Cheering in the Press Box
Jerome Holtzman was a crusty sort. Bushy eyebrows. Cigar permanently affixed to his lips. Grouchy façade. But he cared about his fellow scribes, extending kindness to the breed--even newcomers like me.
Jerome covered baseball his entire life and personified a bygone era in the press box.
He once sent me a copy of the book he wrote, No Cheering in the Press Box. Several years ago, I gave that copy to a dear friend. Recently, I ordered another copy, which I've just begun to re-read. In this classic, he interviewed fellow sports writers from the previous generation, a collection including the likes of Fred Lieb, Red Smith, John Kieran, Paul Gallico, Shirley Popovich, and Jimmy Cannon.
“No cheering in the press box” isn’t a saying, rather a mandate to those not accustomed to working in a press box. Anybody who might dare cheer would quickly identify themselves as an amateur.
Holtzman's newspaper career began as a copyboy at the Chicago Daily News in 1943. He then wrote for the News through its merger with the Chicago Sun. Lewis Grizzard's path crossed paths with Holtzman's when Grizzard worked as the sports editor of the Sun-Times. The Southern humorist called Holtzman "the dean of American baseball writers."
Holtzman moved to the Chicago Tribune in 1981 and worked there until his retirement in 1999.
My first meeting with him occurred at a Major League Baseball owners meeting in 1993. The NBA was king, and MLB's narrative was all about emulating the NBA's model. These were turbulent times between MLB owners and the players. Dick Ravitch, the owners' chief labor negotiator, was addressing a large contingent of media after a meeting. When he began speaking about the NBA, and Michael Jordan, Holtzman--remember he wrote for a Chicago paper--barked out "F@$k Michael Jordan!" You could hear the cameras stop. I still crack up thinking about the silence.
Jerome once got called onto the carpet. The sports editor told him he’d been using too many clichés in his stories. Jerome responded accordingly: “Yeah, but they’re my clichés.”
Jerome took a liking to me because I knew Hall of Famer Al Lopez. Jerome had covered the White Sox when the Tampa native managed the team from from 1957-1965 and from 1968-1969. The fact that Jerome liked me didn’t mean he knew my name. Anytime he saw me, it was, “How’s it going, Dave?” I never had the heart to correct him. At least he tried to issue me a name instead of taking the Babe Ruth route. The Bambino was known for calling people he didn’t know “Stinky,” “Captain,” “Partner,” etc.
Jerome once described the beauty of covering baseball back when the game was played primarily in the daytime. "I'd write my story on a typewriter. I'd walk by Western Union to send. Then I'd go have a nice steak dinner."
Long-time scribe Peter Schmuck shared a memory of Jerome. When Peter had gone to Chicago to cover a game in the early 1980s, Jerome told all the young sportswriters in the press box that he was taking them out on the town afterward. And that’s exactly what he did, perpetuating a kindness that had been passed along to him earlier in his career. To Jerome, all sportswriters were part of a tribe and he was one of the tribe’s elders.
Press boxes everywhere have a lot of empty seats these days. The business is in a state of flux. Nobody knows what the future holds. I’d love to hear Jerome’s take on social media and what’s on the horizon.
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