Blackie Sherrod, 1920-2016: A sports journalist legend Dan Jenkins called 'our hero'
Blackie Sherrod wrote three stories for Golf Digest, though he was not a golf writer. Too limiting. To call him a sportswriter would not do him justice, either. He won an award for science writing when he was assigned, as a change of pace, to cover the Apollo 11 space shot, “though I personally know he fails to understand the theory of the wheelbarrow or what makes a screwdriver work or why bees suck flowers,” Larry L. King wrote in Texas Monthly.
What he was to many, as Golf Digest’s Dan Jenkins once called him, was “our hero.” What he was to all was a legend in a business with too few of them left.
“He was one of the great sports columnists when sports columnists mattered most, there with Red Smith, Shirley Povich, Jimmy Cannon, Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins, Jack Murphy, Furman Bisher, and Ed Pope,” Golf Digest contributor Dave Kindred wrote on Facebook. “None of them could've quoted the infield-fly rule. Better, they were graceful writers who understood people and whose work mostly made you smile.”
Sherrod, who spent more than six decades writing and editing for Texas newspapers, including the Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News, died on Thursday. He was 96.
In 1985, Sherrod won the Red Smith Award, the Associated Press Sports Editors’ annual award given to a person who has made “major contributions to sports journalism.”
Here is how Sherrod began a Golf Digest story from 1973, titled “Preston Trail: Last Bastion of Male Chauvinism”:
“The elegantly gowned dowager stalked across the stone entrance-way, pulled open the ornate door, waltzed inside and braked to a stop in horror. Sprawled in a leather chair, jaybird naked save for a towel, was a man calmly talking on the telephone. His eyebrows shot up in shock and he clutched the towel as if Hannibal’s elephants were dragging it from him. Then both, stifling genteel little screams, fled in opposite directions.
“The lady was a lost guest who had mistaken Preston Trail Golf Club for the neighboring Prestonwood Country Club, where she had a luncheon date.
“The unsuspecting nudist was a Dallas oil millionaire making a business call and if he wished to talk buff bare then by damn that was his right. He paid dearly for the Preston Trail privileges, one of which is a strict ban on women visitors.”
In a story on Dan January, Sherrod called him, “the best sneak thief in today’s golf dodge. While the public eyeball is fastened on Ben Crenshaw or Hale Irwin or Jack Nicklaus putting out on the final green for 40,000 berries, Ole Stovepipe slips his hand in the till, grabs a fistful and moseys off down the lane, whistling Old Man River on the way to the bank.”
In a Golf Digest story headlined, “Blackie’s Texas” in which he “recalls the rich history of golf in Baja Oklahoma,” he wrote:
“Texas, after all, offered local natural facilities for golf. There were abundant prairie dog holes and gutta percha abounded in every stream. The weather was conducive to year-round participation, with only an occasional day off to let a tornado play through. It rained every year or so, just enough to keep grass hopeful of eventual salvation.
“Besides, the hardy defenders of the Alamo discovered that a mashie niblick came in rather handy for close infighting and drawing lines in the dirt.
“Brassies were frequently used for stirring chili and fending off the pesky Comanche.”
Sherrod’s way with words was equaled by his eye for talent. When he was the sports editor of the Fort Worth Press, he hired Dan Jenkins, having noticed his work on his high school newspaper. “Blackie lured him from the Paschal Pantherette for a zinging $15 per week, and Jenkins worked his way through TCU without excessive raises,” King wrote.
“Blackie was a great disciplinarian,” Jenkins said in the same story. “I always thought he’d make a good football coach. He commanded respect. I was scared to death of him at first. My first story, I spent all night writing it at home on the kitchen table — cutting, polishing, making it bright. Blackie read the first paragraph and said, ‘Don’t ever write a morning lead for an afternoon newspaper, dumb ass.’ I was crushed. He was never really abusive, but . . well, he bit his words off. It was intimidating.”
Jenkins saluted his old boss and long-time friend with this Tweet:
Eras end and often they’re irreplaceable. This is one of them, the era of “great sports columnists when sports columnists mattered most.” It is survived by its words, for which we are grateful, and Sherrod himself will have the last word here, pulled from another Texas Monthly story:
“I want my epitaph to read: ‘He was a pro.’”