Pioneer of the Pen

Sam Lacy chronicled the National Pastime for African-American newspapers

February 11, 2013
Sam Lacy (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.

By Bill Francis

Recognized as a pioneer in baseball journalism, Sam Lacy spent the majority of his long life attempting to place sports’ daily happenings into a larger cultural context.

A Washington, D.C. native, Lacy’s career in journalism as a sports writer, columnist and editor, dating back to the 1930s, was divided among such African-American weeklies as the Washington Tribune, Chicago Defender and the Afro-American Newspapers in the Washington-Baltimore area. Though he covered a wide variety of sports, including boxing, basketball, tennis, and track and field, in 1948 he became the first African American to become a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“I wrote from my heart. What came out was exactly what I thought,” said Lacy, a former semipro baseball player. “I’ve always felt that there was nothing special about me, that I was not the only person that could have done what I did. And I know how this may sound … but any person with a little vision, a little curiosity, (and) a little nerve could have done what I did.”

As an aggressive and persistent reporter of his times, Lacy’s greatest impact may have come in the 1930s and ‘40s, when he wrote extensively on why big league baseball should become desegregated.

On April 8, 1944, Lacy penned, “This year’s (baseball) rosters includes men of the following nationalities: Irish, Dutch, Italian, French, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Swedish, Lithuanian, Mexican, Cuban and Norwegian. The Philadelphia Athletics have a full-blooded Indian. Can there be any doubt that it’s simply a case of ‘anything but’ a – er – gentleman of African extraction?”

When Jackie Robinson broke big league baseball’s “color line” by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, Lacy was there to chronicle his every step along the way.

“When we were trying to get Robinson into major league ball, I had players in the old Negro leagues say we were taking away their jobs,” Lacy said. “I said, ‘Yeah, when Lincoln freed the slaves, he was taking away those jobs, too.’”

In 1997, Lacy was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.

“During the Spink Award announcement, someone used the slogan that I was the voice of the black players during that important transition period,” Lacy said at the time. “Maybe that’s why I’m being honored.”

Lacy passed away in 2003 at the age of 99.

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’NeilElston HowardRachel Robinsonthe Evolution of Night BaseballWelday WalkerHerb WashingtonConnie Morgan, Bill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum