It's not a good thing when a friend of yours has to die before you find out how great he really was.
I had known Larry Whiteside since 1973. I knew he was held in great esteem among fellow black journalists. But because he was so unassuming, so much just a Good Guy, I had no idea just how much he had meant to so many until he sadly passed away last week at the age of 69, the victim of stroke and Parkinson's Disease.
I knew his bio, how he had become the first full-time black baseball writer covering a major league team back in 1970 when he started covering the expansion Milwaukee Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal. Three years later he came to the Globe, where, in addition to baseball, he also covered many a Celtic game with me, home and away. This was when we still had an evening paper, thus the need for two major stories a night. We hit it off immediately. Ask anyone: On any list of all-time flat-out great companions, Larry Whiteside was in the top 5.
We at the Globe just took Larry for granted. He was one of us; that's all. Everyone loved hanging out with the man we called 'Sides.
I swear to God. I never even heard of the Black List until he died.
This just goes to show that we whites should never take this racial gulf in our society too lightly. All these years I never knew that when he wasn't doing his job for the Boston Globe he was out there striving on behalf of countless other journalists, or would-be journalists, who happened to be black. For Larry had compiled what he jokingly called the "Black List," a compendium of African-American writers in American sports sections. The list included both writers and copy editors.
He didn't just do this for fun. He did it so there would be a public record, so when someone would say, "Gee, I don't know any good black writers (or editors) out there," Larry could say, "Wait a minute, I know five of them," or, later, "125 of them." Larry was The Source. We've got great black sportswriters all over the place, and Larry was the spiritual Godfather of them all.
And I, for one, never knew. I mean, I knew people liked him, but I didn't know how revered he was. It was, to borrow a phrase, a "black thing."
It didn't surprise me when I learned of all the encouragement he offered and kindnesses he extended to young black writers, but the fact that he was such a vital source of information, as well as inspiration knocked me over. You see, Larry never talked about it with us. He never bragged. He never boasted. He was simply the eternal Good Guy.
The Larry I remember loved looking good. He was the King of Filene's Basement here in Boston. Larry would target, say, a suit, and then he would monitor its progress down the price scale. He'd watch it get marked down until he felt now was the time to pounce. He wasn't cheap. Larry would pick up a tab. He liked the game. It was fun.
He once took me to a clothing warehouse place in his beloved Milwaukee and I wound up buying a sportcoat. He was very proud.
To say that Larry Whiteside was a man of immense good cheer is to state the obvious. Back in the 1981 NBA Finals, we took ourselves to the famed Gilley's, then at the height of its game in the wake of "Urban Cowboy." Larry was hardly unused to being the only black in a given situation, but this was a test, even for Larry. Gilley's was monstrous, and among the thousands on this particular evening his was the only dark face.
"How're ya' doin', 'Sides?" I asked at one point.
"You ever try smiling for four hours?" he asked.
We're all going to miss Larry Whiteside. But the good he did on this earth will long out-live him.