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Chicago mourns for historian Holtzman

Chicago mourns for historian Holtzman

PHOENIX -- To some, he was a tough competitor. To others, he was a mentor who offered guidance in the press box. To many, he was a friend and colleague. Jerome Holtzman will always be remembered as having a cigar in one hand, a notebook in another.

"He was the Elvis of baseball writers and a great friend, too," said Cubs beat writer Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. "Baseball lost its greatest chronicler."

Chicago's baseball family mourned the passing of Holtzman, the legendary baseball writer, who died Saturday at the age of 81.

"Jerome was one of those people who, as fierce a competitor as he was, he looked out for the profession, and he had our profession at heart first," said Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles of the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.

"I remember coming up as a young writer, I went to interview Jim Leyland, and Jerome greeted me at the ballpark and introduced me to Leyland," Miles said, "and he said, 'Jim, these younger writers today are much better than we ever were.' What he was doing was greasing the skids and making the interview easier for me, and I ended up getting a good interview and I have Jerome to thank for that.

"He told me how to act on the beat, he told me how to conduct myself," said Miles, who has covered baseball in Chicago since 1989. "He said, 'Get to the ballpark early, and you'll never get scooped. If you ever criticize a player, make sure you're standing in the middle of the clubhouse the next day so he can have his say.' He was a true giant."

Holtzman, who covered baseball for more than six decades, was known as "the Dean" in the press box.

"Baseball lost a great advocate and fan today, and I lost a dear friend," said Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox. "I will miss his visits to the ballpark and his phone calls during the season to discuss the latest baseball news.

"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," Reinsdorf said. "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."

The White Sox had a moment of silence before Monday's game in honor of Holtzman, who joined the Chicago Tribune in 1981 after 38 years at the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Times, its predecessor.

He was first assigned to Major League Baseball in 1957 and traveled with the Cubs and White Sox for 28 years, dividing his time between the teams.

Jerome Holtzman, 1926-2008

"The Chicago Cubs are terribly saddened to learn of the passing of Hall of Fame baseball writer Jerome Holtzman," said Cubs chairman Crane Kenney. "Jerome's contributions to the game of baseball were immense, from creating the modern-day save rule to his role as Major League Baseball's official historian following his retirement from the Chicago Tribune nine years ago.

"More so, however, Jerome for more than 40 years was a primary link between Chicago baseball fans and their beloved teams," Kenney said. "He was an accomplished writer who earned respect both from his readers and from those whom he covered. On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs family, I send our heartfelt condolences to Jerome's wife, Marilyn, and to his entire family."

Current Tribune baseball writer Dave Van Dyck was one of Holtzman's competitors for several years in Chicago.

"Jerome Holtzman broke in dozens of Chicago baseball writers over the years and each one became his disciple, some of them learning the hard way that Jerome knew absolutely everyone in baseball and everything about baseball," Van Dyck said.

"He was a wonderful tutor and fantastic traveling companion, who loved to tell stories while smoking his cigars," Van Dyck said. "He was the last of a breed, a unique figure who broke in riding the 'iron horse,' as he called the train, and filing via Western Union and finished by flying and filing by computers.

"He had a keen wit and one-of-a-kind writing style, easy to read and understand," Van Dyck said. "While Chicago may have lost an important link to its past, so did all of Major League Baseball. He will be missed as a competitor, a colleague, and as a very dear friend."

Many of the current Cubs players didn't remember Holtzman, but he left his mark on the game.

"He was an amazing baseball guy," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He was an amazing baseball fan and he did a lot of things for baseball. It's sad. But in the meanwhile, I'm kind of happy for him because he's not suffering anymore and he can rest in peace. He gave his life to baseball and we'll always remember how great he was."

Holtzman not only reported on the game, but was named Major League Baseball's official historian, a tribute former big league pitcher and current broadcaster Steve Stone said was worthy.

"[Holtzman] gave his life really to baseball as a writer and was so involved with all the labor negotiations and really gave a fair shake to both sides," Stone said. "He had everything right. He dealt with it as professionally as he dealt with everything."

And Holtzman stood his ground when he felt he was right. He was an official scorer at Wrigley Field, an assignment no longer granted to writers covering the team. Former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo recalled taking issue with one of the calls against 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 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.'"

That was in the heat of the moment, Santo said. The two became friends, and Holtzman went to Santo for advice after being diagnosed with diabetes. Santo has lost both legs because of diabetes.

"He came right to me knowing I had it," Santo said. "And I tried to let him know what it was all about. He was a lot of fun to be around."

Holtzman made a point of working both clubhouses.

"When I was playing for the Yankees, I used to always like going to Chicago and talking to him," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He was very knowledgeable. He loved the game of baseball."

Toni Ginnetti, who covers baseball for the Chicago Sun-Times, remembers Holtzman fondly.

"I grew up reading Jerome -- he was probably as much a part of Chicago baseball as the players and managers in that sense," Ginnetti said. "When I got to the Sun-Times, he already had gone to the Tribune, but I got to know him well as a colleague -- more like elder statesman. I always thought he could have been just as good covering City Hall as baseball. He was certainly 'old school,' but what I always thought was a great testament to his ability was how he was able to adapt to the way the business changed -- literally from sending copy by Western Union to the laptop computer."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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