The Best Sportswriter in Texas

Blackie Sherrod, of course.

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.

Betty Greene thought to ask of Sherrod’s wife: ‘How’s Marilyn?”

“Expensive,” Blackie said.

Sherrod is rarely without a swift riposte. When young Tom Johnson (who’d been LBJ’s right hand, yes, but hadn’t excessive experience newspapering) came aboard as editorial top dog for the Dallas Times Herald , he said to Blackie Sherrod, “How do you get a good job like sports editor?”

“Oh, I guess like you get to be editor-in-chief. You start at the bottom and work up,” Blackie shot back at his new boss.

William Forrest (Blackie) Sherrod has been named the Outstanding Sportswriter of Texas ten times in fourteen years and probably would have won them all except for picky laws against monopolies and unfair restraints of trade. The National Headliner Award is his for being found the most consistently outstanding sports columnist in the whole blamed United States. Felix R. McKnight, recently retired vice-chairman of the Times Herald —where Sherrod has captained the sports section since 1958—claims his man has won more awards than any writer in Texas newspaper history.

McKnight assigned Sherrod to cover the Apollo 11 space shot, “as a change-of-pace observer of the fringe drama attending a moonflight.” All Blackie did was win the Texas Headliner Club’s award for science writing, though I personally know he fails to understand the theory of the wheelbarrow or what makes a screwdriver work or why bees suck flowers. When McKnight dispatched him to the 1960 Democratic National Convention as a sidelight writer, Sherrod’s yarns were picked up by the national wire services; bags of fan mail and job offers poured in. In the shocked chaos following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, it was Sherrod they plucked from the fun-and-games section and placed in charge as rewrite coordinator on the news desk. Again prizes were won. Sherrod’s personal account of the death of young Freddy Steinmark, the Texas Longhorn football player who lost a leg and then his life to cancer, won a Pulitzer nomination. He is the author of three books (one on Darrell Royal, one on Steinmark, and a recently published collection called Scattershooting) and he has more professional admirers than the Happy Hooker.

Perhaps a writer’s work may best be judged by how many of his colleagues steal 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.”

One flies in the face of many honors and an old personal hero in faulting Sherrod. It might be done, however, on the grounds that he sometimes seems a bit much the “house man” in covering sports. He may be so enamoured of games and the men connected with them that he forfeits certain critical observations. The same thing can happen to political reporters who become more like the cops than the gumshoes they cover. It is an occupational hazard.

One is discomforted, for example, in hearing Blackie Sherrod explain why he never has concentrated on covering labor or economic issues in sports. “That bullshit

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