NASHVILLE - All any of us need to say about Larry Whiteside was said by commissioner Bud Selig from his office in Milwaukee yesterday afternoon.
"I say this with all of my heart: I loved Larry Whiteside," said Selig. "I knew Larry from the day we bought the Milwaukee Brewers, and Larry was there from the outset. He was one of the fairest reporters I ever encountered. He was a friend to me and I was a friend to him.
"I remember in 1971, I tried to hire Larry to be the head of public relations for the Brewers. I know he thought long and hard about it and it was a very difficult decision for him. But I think shortly after that, he had a chance to go to the Boston Globe and really be at the pinnacle of his career and he took it. He was a great journalist. A great man."
Whiteside was honored yesterday as the 59th recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.
"Sides," who died in June at age 69, was a great friend who had no ego. He helped us do our jobs better. He understood how things worked, the politics of the job and the sport. He wasn't shy about letting us know about obstacles we all faced and how to overcome them.
He also taught us that we were fortunate to do what we do, and to enjoy every moment. In that respect, he had no regrets.
He did everything with a smile during a time when there was good reason not to smile. He experienced racism and resistance as the only African-American baseball beat writer of his time. As much as he idolized Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith, there are young reporters who felt the same affection and respect for Whiteside.
There were doors he went through alone. Simple things we all take for granted as reporters were a constant struggle for Larry because of the color of his skin. He never complained about it, instead always keeping it inside and persevering, hoping there would be a better day.
"I never thought of myself as a trailblazer," said former Philadelphia Inquirer national baseball writer Claire Smith, an African-American who also opened doors for others, and who now works at ESPN. "Larry walked a road lonelier and in braver fashion than I had to. I'll always remember that the road I walked was much easier because of what Larry did. I loved Larry so much as a person. I miss him so much. I'm so happy for his family. To watch him the way he handled social situations and the fact that he never felt awkward. I watched his interviewing techniques and how he could interact with Bud Selig and Bart Giamatti. He was a mentor for me. He was a Hall of Famer in so many ways."
Whiteside started the "Black List," a compilation of African-American journalists, in 1971. He would send it to sports editors of major daily newspapers across the country.
"Larry was not only a true gentleman, but a friend," said USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale. "I don't think the man had an enemy in the world. Everyone loved him. He brought so much cheer into everyone's lives. I wish I could see his face now."
After graduating from Drake University, Whiteside began his career with the Kansas City Kansan in 1959. He moved on to the Milwaukee Journal in 1963, and covered the Brewers before joining the Globe in 1973. In 1980, Whiteside became the first African-American Hall of Fame voter. To qualify for a Hall vote, you have to have covered baseball for 10 consecutive years on a full-time basis. Whiteside is the first African-American beat writer to receive the Spink Award.
"This is great news. It's a great day," said New York Daily News sports editor Leon Carter. "The baseball writers did the right thing. I just wish Larry was here to see it. He was a role model for so many of us early in our careers. His famous 'Black List' was an invaluable tool for sports editors. Many African-American journalists got discovered by big-city newspapers, including myself, because we were on the list."
ESPN's Peter Gammons, who won the Spink Award in 2004, worked with Whiteside for 15 years.
"Of all the great talent on the Globe in the 1970s, from Bob Ryan to Will McDonough, Leigh Montville, Ray Fitzgerald, I'd say the two people who had the greatest impact over time were Lesley Visser, opening the door for women in journalism, and Larry Whiteside for what he did for African-American reporters," said Gammons.
Gammons called Whiteside "a pioneer. It's hard for any of us to have known what it was like to cover major league baseball as an African-American. He did it without ever complaining and without ever playing the race card."
One of the funniest Whiteside moments came in 1986, when he left the Red Sox' game against the Mariners after the second inning and headed to the Celtics' playoff game against Atlanta. For many years, Whiteside also covered the Celtics, but on that night, Roger Clemens struck out a record 20 Seattle batters. Ten years later at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Clemens struck out 20 again. Afterward, Clemens joked with Whiteside, "Glad you could stick around for this one."
Clemens, upon learning of Whiteside's death, said, "He was such a nice man. He was so fair. He respected what we did as athletes, and we respected his profession."
Indeed, we all did. Whiteside, along with Gammons and McDonough, led the charge to have this reporter hired by the Globe in 1989. Whiteside made me feel at ease, introducing me to the people I needed to know.
Before his death, Whiteside, who died from complications of Parkinson's disease, was aware he had been nominated for the award. According to his wife, Elaine, and his son Tony, Larry was overjoyed.
"It was long overdue," said longtime WBZ Radio reporter Jon Miller. "It's too bad it didn't happen when he was alive."
Like Selig, like Gammons, like all of us, when we heard the news yesterday, we smiled. It was affirmation that there is truth in the adage, what goes around, comes around.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.