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Lacy, Sam(1903–2003) - Sportswriter, journalist, editor, Chronology, Begins Crusade to Integrate Major League Baseball

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Perhaps it was prophetic that Sam Harold Lacy was born in October 1903, the month and year of the first World Series. For over sixty years, he used his pen and his persistence as a sports journalist to become a crusader for the integration of major league baseball and other sports.

Samuel Lacy was born in Mystic, Connecticut on October 23, 1903. His father, Samuel Erskine Lacy, and his mother, Rose Lacy, moved the family to Washington, D.C., when he was two years old. Perhaps his interest in newspapers began when, at age eight, he began working for two dollars a week as a printer’s helper. It was there that he learned to set type and run a rotary press. As a youth, he also shined shoes, set up pins in a bowling alley, sold newspapers, waited tables, and lugged heavy golf bags at a country club. Living near Griffith baseball stadium, Lacy took advantage of the opportunity to meet professional players by fielding batting practice balls for the Washington Nationals. In addition, he earned cash selling merchandise at the ballpark. The youngster attended Garnet Elementary School, and, for a short time, he attended Dunbar High School. At Dunbar, several future prominent African Americans were his classmates, including Charles Drew, William Hastie, Allison Davis, and W. Montague Cobb. A budding rebel, Lacy eschewed the middle-class intellectuals of Dunbar and transferred to Armstrong Technical High School which his sports-playing friends from the local YMCA attended. There he played basketball, football, and in multiple roles as star pitcher, third baseman, and captain, he helped the baseball team win three straight city championships from 1922 to 1924. Lacy dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. During the 1920s, while still in high school, he pitched for a couple of black sandlot teams in the District of Columbia, the Buffalo A.C. and the LeDroit Tigers. Although in his autobiography, written when he was ninety-five, Lacy claimed that he played with the semi-pro Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, a black professional team, there is no supporting documentation for that claim.

After graduating from high school in 1924, he coached men’s and women’s basketball teams, refereed games, and promoted and announced sporting events. Again rejecting an icon of black middle class, he left Howard University in 1926 after one year. Subsequently, the young man made several irresponsible decisions. Lacy’s obsession with betting on racehorses led to money problems. His illicit efforts to earn quick money by writing bad checks resulted in close encounters with the police; however, he managed to correct his mistakes before he became a convict instead of a reporter.

Chronology

1903

Born in Mystic, Connecticut on October 23

1920s

Works as sportswriter at the Washington Tribune

1934–37

Serves as managing editor and sports editor of the Washington Tribune

1940–42

Works as assistant national editor for the Chicago Defender

1943

Becomes columnist and sports editor for the Afro-American

1945

Begins travel to report first-hand on the Jackie Robinson experience

1948

Accepted as first African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America

1997

Wins the J. G. Taylor Spink Award

1998

Becomes first Baseball Hall of Fame sportswriter inductee who spent entire career with a black newspaper

2003

Dies in Washington, D.C. on May 8

Even as a teenager while he pursued a baseball career, Lacy had another occupation. When he was a sophomore in high school, he began writing sports for the Washington Tribune . The Tribune hired Lacy as a full time journalist in 1926. His assignment was to cover high school and amateur sports. Within two months, the newspaper promoted the young man to sports editor. He married Alberta Robinson in 1927 and their son, Samuel Howe (Tim) Lacy, was born in 1938. However, tempted again by baseball, Lacy left the Tribune in 1929 to play in Connecticut. After finally accepting the reality that a professional baseball career was not in his future, he returned to reporting full-time for the Washington Tribune . From 1934 to 1937, Lacy was both managing editor and sports editor of the paper.

Begins Crusade to Integrate Major League Baseball

The mid-1930s was a time when the NAACP was soliciting for anti-lynching legislation. Black newspapers took advantage of their influence to fight segregation. A product of his times, Lacy used his column to highlight racial disparities in sporting facilities and opportunities. Lacy began campaigning against policies that banned black players from major league teams. From 1937 to 1939, he was sports editor for the Washington Afro-American . In October 1937, Lacy exposed a Syracuse University scheme to pass off their black star player, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, as a Hindu so that he could play in a game with the University of Maryland. As a result, Syracuse yielded to Maryland’s refusal to participate if a black played in the game. The controversial story produced criticism of Lacy, even from African Americans. Nevertheless, he stood behind his story. Lacy thought that it was a reporter’s responsibility to be honest, and he believed racial progress required candor. Soon after the Sidat-Singh episode, Lacy met with Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, to discuss the hiring of African American players. Griffith’s refusal to cooperate apparently fueled Lacy’s resolve to integrate baseball. In a column “Pro and Con on The Negro in Organized Baseball,” Lacy printed the diverse opinions of white sports-writers as well as letters of support from black Washingtonians. In 1940, Lacy left Washington to work as assistant national editor for another black newspaper, the Chicago Defender . There he began a letter-writing campaign to the major league owners.

Lacy returned to Baltimore in 1943 to work as a columnist and sports editor for the weekly Afro-American newspapers, a position he held for almost sixty years. Still committed to the cause, he continued to write on the subject of integrating baseball in his column. He also urged baseball owners to set up a committee to discuss integration. The full membership of Major League Committee on Baseball Integration never met, but member Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers, broke the color barrier when he signed a black player, Jackie Robinson, in August 1945.

Travels with Jackie Robinson

Aware of the historical implication of Jackie Robinson’s signing, Carl Murphy, publisher of the Afro-American , assigned Lacy to follow Robinson and cover the story. Lacy began to travel in order to give detailed reports on the treatment of Robinson and other black players and on the progress of the integration of baseball. As a result, he was exposed to indignities similar to those endured by many other blacks. For example, Lacy was not allowed to sit in the press boxes of ballparks in Texas. As a compromise, the president of the National League gave permission for Lacy to set in the dugout. On one occasion, according to Lacy, he and Jackie Robinson were not admitted into a stadium in Florida. In order for Robinson to play that day and for Lacy to do his job, they had to get in through a loose plank in the stadium fence. Asking for directions to the colored rest-room in a Florida stadium, the usher directed him to a tree about thirty-five yards away from the right field fowl line. Another time, when Lacy was refused admission to a press box, he decided to view the game from the roof. Several sympathetic white peers joined him on his perch declaring as a joke that they wanted to get a tan. Ironically, in order to segregate Lacy from the other reporters, park authorities placed him in a separate field box, which resulted in a better seat for him than for many of the white fans. Lacy viewed his race-based encounters as representative of the humiliations suffered by many other blacks in countless other jobs. Like others, he did not let the innumerable confrontations interfere with the tasks he set out to accomplish.

Though remembered mainly for his battle to eliminate obstacles faced by black, major league baseball players, Lacy also reported about the achievements of African Americans in other sports. While he felt obliged to confront the individuals and institutions that resisted extending equal opportunities to players, his professional honesty also required him to query athletes about personal and sensitive issues.

Receives Recognition for Work

Hard work, sports, and writing were constant factors throughout his life. Although his goal was to be a star professional player, rather than reporting the feats of other athletes, Lacy won acclaim and shaped society through his writing. During his lifetime, he received numerous awards and tributes. Sports Illustrated presented Lacy with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism in 1989 and the National Association of Black Journalists presented him with a similar honor in 1991. He was inducted into the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame in 1994 and honored at the All Sports Hall of Fame dinner in New York City in 1998. In 1948, Lacy was the first African American admitted to membership in the Baseball Writers Association. In 1997, he won the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest award given by the Baseball Writers Association to its members. According to Lacy, the most important award was induction into the writers’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. He was only the second African American to receive the honor and the first Baseball Hall of Fame sportswriter inductee who spent his entire career with a black newspaper.

Following his divorce from his first wife in 1952, Lacy married Barbara Robinson in 1953. She often traveled with him and her fair complexion sometimes led to embarrassing incidents when they were mistaken as an interracial couple. Lacy credited Barbara with teaching him responsibility. He remained a widower after her death in 1969.

Lacy died on May 8, 2003, in Washington, D.C., at age 99. The Baseball Hall of Fame notes, “it was as a crusader in the 1930s and 1940s, when Lacy’s columns were devoted to desegregating baseball in the major leagues, that he made his greatest impact as a journalist.” Lacy’s pen and typewriter were truly mightier than a sword.

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