Holtzman remembered fondly by many

Holtzman remembered fondly by many

PHOENIX -- The death of historian and Chicago baseball writer par excellence Jerome Holtzman on Saturday was equally met with regret and sadness by his peers and the people he covered.

"I'm very, very sorry to hear the news," Roland Hemond, a former general manager of the White Sox and now a member of the Diamondbacks' front office, said on Monday. "I knew he wasn't doing well, so it doesn't come as a surprise. Notwithstanding, he was a fixture in Chicago. He had tremendous respect as a person and a writer."

"He was one of the most knowledgeable baseball men I ever knew," said Hal McCoy, the longtime Reds beat writer for the Dayton Daily News, who, like Holtzman, is a Spink Award winner enshrined in the writer's wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "He was kind of a curmudgeon at times, but once you got to know him, he was a great guy."

"When I was playing for the Yankees I used to always like going to Chicago and talking to him," said Lou Piniella, now the Cubs manager. "He was very knowledgeable. He loved the game of baseball. I'm sorry to hear that he passed away."

Holtzman, 81, certainly was a fixture on the Chicago baseball scene for decades. He covered both local clubs and later wrote a baseball column. During his tenure, he worked for the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Times and finally the Chicago Tribune. Upon his retirement, he was named Major League Baseball's official historian by Commissioner Bud Selig, and in his waning years wrote a column for MLB.com.

He had the typical love-hate relationship with the people that he covered shared by many writers of his and any generation.

Jerome Holtzman, 1926-2008

"He gave me the first compliment I ever had as a manager," said Tony La Russa, who managed the White Sox from 1979 to 1986 and is now in his 13th season as skipper of the Cardinals. "He said I had a good feel for handling pitchers. That was after 20 criticisms, but that was the first compliment."

Ron Santo, the Cubs third baseman from 1960 to 1974 when Holtzman covered the team and who is now a broadcaster for the club, said that he had at least one infamous confrontation with the man known as "The Dean."

Holtzman was also the official scorer in Wrigley Field at the time, an assignment no longer granted to writers covering the team.

Santo recalled taking issue with a call made by Holtzman on a struggling Randy Hundley. Holtzman charged Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion with an error instead of giving Hundley a hit.

"He must have been on edge, because when I said something to him about it, he just turned on me," Santo said. "Out of the clear blue sky, he said, 'Who do you think you are?' The way he said it was out loud and startling so I grabbed him and threw him up against the wall. I didn't hit him or anything. I just didn't like what he did. As he was up against the wall he says, 'Remember, I got the pen.'"

But that incident happened in the heat of the moment and emotions ebbed quickly, added Santo, who has been plagued with diabetes and bladder cancer in recent years, losing both legs to diabetes.

"No one held any grudges," he said.

Holtzman, who was also a diabetic, later went to Santo for advice.

"He came right to me, knowing I had it," Santo said. "And I tried to let him know what it was all about. I don't know what more to say. He was a lot of fun to be around."

In the days before smoking was banned in ballparks and press boxes, Holtzman could be found puffing on his trademark cigar and wearing a fedora.

His book, "No Cheering in the Press Box," should be required reading for all young sportswriters, said Dick Kaegel, the former editor of the Sporting News when that publication was considered the "baseball bible," and now the Royals beat writer for MLB.com.

"He could be feisty," Kaegel recalled. "Once during a World Series at Cincinnati, he and Chicago rival Dave Nightengale got into a yelling match and almost came to blows in the press box over elbow room at their seats. And during the postseason or at the Winter Meetings, you might see Jerome parading through the hotel late at night in a bathrobe and puffing on a huge cigar, heading for a poker game."

Holtzman also was a mentor to many a young baseball writer, said Jim Hawkins, who currently covers the Tigers for the Oakland Press.

"Jerome had a great baseball mind. He was very knowledgeable about the game. He was fair. If he wrote something about you, he was there the next day. He wasn't one of those guys who didn't show up. He was always asking questions. He was well-known all over the game, not just in Chicago. He was a very pleasant man. He cared about the game big-time."
-- Larry Bowa on the late Jerome Holtzman

"I first met Jerry Holtzman back in 1970, when I was a rookie baseball writer at the Free Press," Hawkins said. "And even then, he was the sage veteran that we all called 'The Dean.' As I recall, the nickname started as a joke, but it fit. And over the years, 'The Dean' became synonymous with Jerry. As experienced and prominent as he was in the business, Jerry always had time for 'the little guys.' At least he did for me. I will always remember him fondly."

"There was a sense of connecting the dots of baseball with him," said broadcaster Marty Lurie, who hosts a pregame show prior to A's games and has been a contributor to MLB.com. "Baseball's a generational game. He could talk about the White Sox and the Cubs and the late '30s and '40s and guys like Ted Lyons [a White Sox player from 1923 to 1946] and he made it come alive for me."

Former and current Cubs alike respected Holtzman.

Lee Elia, now a Mariners coach, was the Cubs manager in 1982 and 1983 and is most remembered in Chicago for his postgame tirade excoriating Cubs fans.

"Jerome Holtzman was the one guy when I went to Chicago who was like an icon," Elia said. "He was an icon in the media and a historian. He loved the memory of the game and the now-ness of it. He loved the game and he wanted everyone to do well. I considered him a good friend. He came over my house the night I got hired and met my family. This is a tough loss for everyone in the game."

Said Jim Riggleman, now the Mariners manager, and the Cubs skipper from 1995 to 1999: "In the five years I was in Chicago, Jerome was kind of winding it down a little bit. He wasn't out there with us every day, but he was a very interesting character to talk to. I had a lot of conversations with him. He was a good man."

Said Larry Bowa, now the Dodgers third-base coach and the Cubs shortstop from 1982 to 1984:

"Jerome had a great baseball mind. He was very knowledgeable about the game. He was fair. If he wrote something about you, he was there the next day. He wasn't one of those guys who didn't show up. He was always asking questions. He was well-known all over the game, not just in Chicago. He was a very pleasant man. He cared about the game big-time."

And finally from Alan Trammell, the former All-Star Tigers shortstop and manager, who is now the Cubs' bench coach:

"Both [Chicago sports writer] Bob Verdi and Jerome go back quite a ways, and when I think about [Jerome], he brought a presence," Trammell said. "When he walked in, you knew he was around and guys respected him. He was one of the better sportswriters of his time. He was one of the higher-statured sportswriters of his time, and one of the most respected sportswriters of his time."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.