MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Strauss will be missed across baseball

Highly respected sportswriter gone to cancer at age 54

Strauss will be missed across baseball

Let's begin by remembering a few of the times Joe Strauss made his peers and coworkers laugh. This may soothe our grief for a moment.

OK, so there was the homer announcer Joe would sometimes imitate during games while covering the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Joe would do this in the middle of games, without warning, as the mood struck him. There were nights when it was the highlight of the entire affair.

"Fans, put down that negative newspaper!" Joe would bellow into a pretend microphone, "and get up on your feet for these Orioles."

Or the time the Orioles rallied for four runs in the ninth inning. Minutes away from deadline, Joe had to start his game story over.

"Well," he announced, "there goes a good solid rip job down the tubes."

Or the time the Orioles were casting a wide net in their search for a new general manager when Pat Gillick, the GM at the time, walked into the press box.

"Say, Pat," Joe said. "There was so many names on this list I may the only one who didn't make it."

Gillick smiled and shot back, "Strauss, you're on a list. But it's not that one."

Like a lot of people in baseball, Gillick admired and respected Joe Strauss. He came to know him as someone who was meticulously accurate, relentlessly fair and exhaustively thorough.

In three decades of covering the Braves, Orioles and Cardinals, Strauss touched thousands of people. Some knew him only through his work, most recently with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but all of them grieve for him today with the news that, at 54, his brief, hellish fight against cancer has ended.

Cardinals mourn passing of Strauss

Strauss' writing style was sparse and engaging and absolutely unique to his own voice. His was art in being able to produce 800 words with details, insight and quotes in minutes.

The Best Fans in Baseball had endured an eternity for this, or at least Michael Wacha's 11 minor-league starts.

Strauss' work was crafted so carefully that you'd swear it had taken a full day of cutting and crafting, of writing and rewriting.

Sidestepping the attendant medical jargon, Waino should be bueno. This isn't just good news. It's essential news.

The people who knew Joe best are remembering the sense of humor and decency more than the craftsmanship. But there was plenty of both in his work.

Dozens of players and reporters and front-office executives feel as if they've lost a close friend. Joe was tough, cynical and fearless. He loved sportswriting, loved the digging and also loved the art of turning it into clear, concise prose.

Strauss also loved the people, both the ones he dealt with in the clubhouse and in the press box. Virtually all of us considered him a friend. In private moments, after the jokes and the banter and the talk, he would pull you off to one side and ask something like, "How's your daughter doing?"

He came of age in the print era, but he was born for Twitter, for the give-and-take with college football fans and those who took the whole thing just a bit too seriously.

Strauss left behind lessons for everyone who aspires to a career in journalism. First, he was a great listener. In that way, he gained the trust of those he covered. Once, when Rafael Palmeiro was in a tough contract negotiation with the Orioles, a group of us had gathered around his locker.

At least three times in the session, Palmeiro pointed to Strauss and said something like, "Well, I showed Joe all the numbers."

Hall of Famer Tony La Russa admired Strauss, too. When the Cardinals were sprinting furiously toward a championship in 2011, La Russa decided to manipulate his rotation to get Chris Carpenter an extra start against the Reds.

Long after the fact, La Russa said, "I was taking a big risk. No one ever challenged me about it, either -- except Joe."

Here's another one for you young reporters. There was the day in Spring Training that Joe spent a half-hour huddled in the press room with a copy of the Baltimore Orioles media guide.

Actually, he had two of them: last season's and the new one. He had placed the two club mastheads side by side and was examining how job titles had changed from the previous year.

Waste of time, right? Only it wasn't. In running his fingers down the order of the names, Strauss discovered one guy had received a significant promotion while someone else had been demoted.

Twenty-four hours later, other news outlets were following up on a story that simply was a matter of leaving no stone unturned.

"Just stirring it up," Joe would say.

Strauss used that phrase a lot in Baltimore, but he refined it in St. Louis to "shake and stir." Beyond the shaking and stirring, it was his evenhandedness, his perspective, and in the end, the man himself people will miss the most.

When Cardinals public-relations director Brian Bartow was bestowed the Robert O. Fishel Award, his profession's highest honor, earlier this month at the Winter Meetings, he immediately fired off a text to Joe.

Bartow thanked him for his professionalism and his help. He wanted Joe to know he helped make him better at his job and that working with people like him was one of the things he loved about his work.

We grieve today for a distinctive voice that has been silenced. We grieve, too, for Joe's wife, Diana, and daughter, Alexi, and for the pain with which they are coping. We pray they find some comfort in the many words of admiration and love.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.