Friday, April 29, 2016

Scattershooting while mourning Blackie Sherrod

Felix McKnight (seated) joined co-publisher James Chambers Jr. (left), 
Blackie Sherrod and A.C. Greene as the staff of the Dallas Times Herald 
worked on coverage of the JFK assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. (Courtesy DMN)

Blackie Sherrod, the greatest Texas sportswriter of his generation or any other, now and forevermore, died Thursday afternoon at age 96.

Sherrod died at his home in Dallas of natural causes, said his wife, Joyce. He had been in hospice care for the past week.

Sherrod was voted Texas Sportswriter of the Year a record 16 times and was honored with the prestigious Red Smith Award, national recognition for lifetime achievement. He won so many awards over more than six decades at Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News starting in 1985, that he stopped keeping plaques or certificates for anything other than first place.

But his greatest trophies may have been the lasting memories he created for legions of readers and his peers, in particular.

He was nicknamed "Blackie" by a newsroom boss when he came in to the office one morning having absorbed a little too much sunshine, a story that speaks to the extraordinary unacknowledged white privilege of his era.  His soft bigotry didn't suffer from low expectations; it was just soft bigotry like most everybody else's in the '40's up to the present day, but especially in the '60's.  You'd have to read a lot written by and about the guy to get to that POV, and I have.

You might like to start here with this 1975 Texas Monthly piece.

Blackie Sherrod inspected the three or four manicured acres surrounding A. C. Greene’s semi-mansion in a much-advantaged section of Dallas, cocked his head to monitor the sweet calls of summer-morning birds, and sat down at an outdoor table loaded as if to accommodate a threshing crew: platters of eggs, bacon, cantaloupe slices, exotic breads, jams and jellies, coffee, pitchers of fruit juice, and maybe assorted samples of caviar or candied yak’s ass. He took in the grandly bent weeping willows, the sun-dappled swimming pool and bathhouse, the tall hedges hiding the green grounds from the gazes of Democrats or other riffraff. Sipping a spiced bloody mary, he said, “Boy hidy, A. C., all this sure is . . .”

Sherrod hesitated, as if determined to choose the exact right word—it is, after all, the way he makes his living—and you could see ol’ A. C. Greene, a Depression-era Abilene boy who was not born fast friends with money, puffing with the pride of ownership and preparing to respond to some record-breaking gracious compliment.

“. . . totally,” Blackie said, “and completely . . .”

Out of this world, he might say. Or beyond belief. Somesuch. A. C. nodded and beamed like a politician being bragged on, patting a well-shod foot as if impatient to deliver his own pretty little acceptance speech.

“ . . . vulgar,” Blackie Sherrod finished.

Before the manor’s lord could blink good, Sherrod smote him again: “What’d you plant the most of this year, A. C.? What time you commence whupping-up on them slaves?” A. C. Greene, knowing when he’d been out-country-boyed, threw up his hands and laughed a crippled giggle.

He was indeed the best there's ever been, at a time when good newspaperin' was at its best, when people read the Fort Worth (and Dallas) papers for news about the Cowboys from all over the state of Texas and probably all of Oklahoma and certainly parts of Arkansas and Louisiana.  Sherrod also covered Democratic conventions when Democrats were still riding high 'round these parts, which tells you how blessed he was with longevity.

He spawned a legion of great writers like Larry King (who wrote that TM piece forty years ago) and Dan Jenkins and many more, not necessarily including those of us who cribbed from him.

A columnist on the Texas Gulf Coast so persistently thieved from Sherrod’s column that Times Herald authorities ultimately complained and the would-be genius was fired. In 1950, when Sherrod was a columnist for the Fort Worth Press and I was the rookie one-man sports department for the Midland Reporter-Telegram, it was my urgent habit to be on hand at the Scharbauer Hotel each day to buy all six copies of the Press left at the local newsstand. Five were pitched into the handiest trash can. This wasteful practice guarded against my bosses and readers learning where I got those many little funnies shamelessly sprinkled throughout a daily column carrying my own by-line. Had the Midland paper observed a policy of granting raises, I’m confident Blackie would have earned me one.

Not that the whole world was fooled. No, for when I moved on to the Odessa American, a resident sports scribe named Ben Peeler wigwagged me into a neutral corner to whisper that our newspaper wasn’t big enough for both of us to crib from Blackie Sherrod, and, by gum, he claimed certain inalienable seniority rights. Within the last fortnight I enjoyed a magazine piece by a freelance writer who’d stolen enough lines from a single Sherrod column to retire on. All that doesn’t bother Blackie much more than the running colic, “seeing as how I’ve robbed ole Shakespeare and S. J. Perelman purty good myself.”

He was just as solid when he wrote about moonshots and presidential assassinations.

There's more at both links above and I'll stop here before I get in the way of myself.  I've long needed an editor and now I'm afraid Blackie's gonna be looking over my shoulder.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Amen. I still do an occasional scattershooting-style column in my paper, and often include a Blackie-style shoutout as part of it.