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Sam Lacy, 99; Sports Editor Was Advocate for Integration of Baseball

May 10, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro American newspaper since 1944 and a leading proponent of integration in major league baseball, has died. He was 99.

Lacy died Thursday at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., the newspaper's chief executive and publisher, Jake Oliver, said Friday. The cause of death was heart and kidney failure.

"He was the father of modern-day African American sportswriters," Oliver said.

Lacy's last column, filed from the hospital, appeared in Friday's edition. He went to the hospital a week ago because he had lost his appetite, Oliver said.

"Even though he looked very thin, his spirit never stopped," Oliver said. "I fully expected to speak with him over the weekend. This caught everyone by surprise."

Lacy, the first black reporter to become a member of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, was inducted into the writers' wing at the baseball Hall of Fame in July 1998. That same year, he received the Red Smith Award from the Associated Press Sports Editors organization for major contributions to sports journalism.

"His enduring legacy will be the impact he had as one of the most important pioneers for civil rights in the last half-century," said Bud Selig, commissioner of major league baseball.

In the early 1930s, Lacy solicited sportswriters nationally to recognize the Negro League and its players. He suggested to Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in 1936 that Negro League players might be able to help the struggling team. Griffith, fearing riots, said the timing wasn't right.

Soon after joining the Afro American, Lacy was appointed to a committee to study integration. The committee never met, but another panel member, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, told Lacy in a private moment that he would handle the issue on his own.

On Oct. 23, 1945 -- Lacy's 42nd birthday -- Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers' Montreal farm club. For the next three years, Lacy chronicled Robinson's ongoing battle to gain acceptance in the major leagues.

Much of the abuse Robinson received on and off the field Lacy received in the press box and on the road as he covered the breakthrough.

Lacy also covered Jesse Owens' powerful performance in Germany during the 1936 Olympics and Joe Louis in the boxing ring, often staying in the same segregated rooming houses as the men he wrote about.

Lacy spurned retirement and continued to write his once-a-week column for the Afro American. Because arthritis made it impossible for him to type, for more than two decades he wrote his copy in longhand after showing up for work at 4 a.m.

Born in Mystic, Conn., Lacy grew up in Washington, D.C., and was a three-sport letterman in high school.

After graduating from Howard University, Lacy worked at several Washington radio stations. In 1934, he joined the Washington Tribune as sports editor. Ten years later, he started working for the Afro American.

Even into his 90s, Lacy worked to change baseball. He advocated the elimination of the designated hitter, writing, "The only way to stop pitchers like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens from throwing at hitters is to force them to bat."

He is survived by a son, Samuel Howe "Tim" Lacy of Baltimore; a daughter, Michaelyn Harris of New York City; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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