Whiteside Honored With Legacy Award

By Justice B. Hill
Updated: January 14, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Larry Whiteside was more than what he seemed.

“Because he rarely called attention to himself, it took me a while to realize who the friendly, older brother with the gap-toothed smile was,” said David Aldridge, a sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “What he was, was history. Walking, breathing history.”

He was history — and more. A lot more.

For Whiteside, the gap-toothed baseball writer for The Boston Globe, proved every bit the trailblazing figure that black journalists a generation earlier were. Like Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith, Rollo Wilson or Doc Young, Whiteside practiced the craft with the same passion and principles that drove his predecessors, the men who opened doors for Whiteside.

He would open doors for the men and women who followed in his footsteps.

It was for that reason and his love of baseball history that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and MLB.com decided to honor “Sides,” as his friends called him, with the inaugural Sam Lacy Legacy Award.

“It’s so important for us to preserve and to expand what the Negro Leagues Museum does,” said Elaine Whiteside, his wife. “We need to expand our history, and Larry would have felt that way.”

The Lacy Award was one of 25 baseball awards handed out here last Saturday night at the annual Legacy Awards in The Gem Theater.

Of those awards, the Lacy Award for Baseball Writer of the Year is the newest. It is a salute to the pioneering spirit of sportswriters who covered “black baseball.”

Whiteside, who died last June, entered sports journalism after integration had come to baseball. The diamonds filled steadily with talent from the Negro Leagues. But the press had no feeder system, and it was slow to bring blacks and Latinos into its ranks.

Almost everywhere Whiteside traveled for The Milwaukee Journal and then The Globe, he found himself the lone writer of color. Yet Whiteside never felt isolated. He proved his worth with pure talent, and his disarming personality soon built friendships everywhere he went.

His greatest contribution to the craft, however, was in bringing others of color into the press box. Whiteside was a staunch supporter of diversity, and in 1971, he created “The Black List,” his tally of black journalists that he’d make available to sports editors who claimed they couldn’t find a “qualified” black candidate to fill a vacancy.

“People talk about the ‘Black List,’ ” said Anthony Whiteside, sharing his thoughts on his father. “But what I saw was him working all the time. Finally, someone is recognizing him for that.”

Within the small circle of black sportswriters, Whiteside long ago got his due. They watched as he campaigned tirelessly on their behalf, and the seeds of his labors have grown into talent that now fills high-profile jobs in the mainstream media.

Men like Aldridge, Greg Lee, Roy Johnson, Mike Wilbon, Bryan Burwell, Mike Freeman, A.J. Adande, Rob Parker, Art Thompson III and Deron Snyder or women like Jemele Hill owe a debt to Whiteside.

None can easily forget the contribution Whiteside made in their lives.

“When I first met Larry Whiteside, and told him that my favorite sport to cover was baseball, and that my dream was to become a full-fledged baseball beat writer, I could tell right away that I had come under his wing,” said Thompson, a sportswriter with The Orange County Register. “From that point on, whenever I would see him, he would give me pointers on covering baseball — both on and off the field.

“I know that Larry cared about my advancing in this field, and I felt a strong kinship with him, because of my love for baseball. He was my mentor.”

Like Thompson, a legion of black sportswriters called Whiteside a “mentor,” a title he wore as a badge of pride. They lobbied hard for sportswriters to award Sides the grand prize for baseball writers: the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which earns a writer a plaque in the writers’ wing at Cooperstown.

Their lobbying helped.

In late July, Whiteside will join Lacy and Smith as the only black sportswriters in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

For now, Whiteside is the only sportswriter with a Lacy Legacy. He was the only writer of his era deserving of being the first recipient, said Lee, a senior assistant sports editor at The Globe.

“Larry Whiteside wasn’t just a pioneering black sports journalist covering Major League Baseball,” Lee said. “Sure, he had great skill and touch with the word, and it showed because of his passion for America’s favorite pastime.

“But his greatest impact was his foresight and determination to make sure people like him get a shot at becoming a national baseball writer or whatever type of sports journalists African-Americans wanted to be. He was the guiding light to many, and we should all be in debt to this great man.”