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No cheering in press box: A legend remembered

Here's a memory of sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, who died Saturday at age 82. He was the author of the oral history "No Cheering in the Press Box," dean of Chicago sportswriters and inventor of baseball's "save" rule.
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We were in the press box at Wrigley Field, on a summer night during the home run mania of 1998, and Jerome Holtzman was on the phone with the desk. At age 72, he had interviewed Sammy Sosa, then trudged up the long ramp to file his column.

"Yep, I know he hit two home runs," Jerome explained politely to the editor at Tribune Tower. "Yep. Yep. That'll be in the story. The column is from the interview."

The editor, probably one-third Jerome's age, was demanding that he rewrite the column. Not just add in a fact, but rewrite it.

Jerome Holtzman! The man had been covering sports since a month before his 17th birthday in 1943. And he hadn't just done it. He'd sat down with the generation before his — Jimmy Cannon, Red Smith, Shirley Povich — to record how it had been done. (I hope some kid is out there right now writing the sequel to "No Cheering in the Press Box," getting today's old-timers on tape about how the craft has changed in the steroids era.)

But that night, in front of the national press corps like a schoolboy called out in class, Jerome Holtzman was having to defend his column. He wasn't backing down. His suspenders bulged as he explained firmly that there were two other Tribune writers at the game, and he was pretty sure they were going to mention the home runs.

"The stuff from the column won't be in the story," Jerome said. "This is the column."

And then a voice rang out behind him.

"Run the column!"

Maybe it was the writer from USA Today, or the guy from the Sun-Times. Jerome had taken most of the youngsters in the press box under his wing. He'd let anybody come up to the house in Evanston to smoke a cigar and look at his files on Shoeless Joe. And he'd take anybody's money in a poker game. The press box can be a pretty competitive place, but we were all on Jerome's side of this battle.

"Run the column!"

Jerome kept explaining (Yep, but...") as another voice shouted.

"Run the (expletive) column!"

Now we were all into it, and the chant began.

"Run the (expletive) column!"

"Run the (expletive) column!"

"Run the (expletive) column!"

Maybe it went on for 10 seconds or so. The windows of the press box were wide open, and people in the stands below us must have wondered where those voices were coming from.

The editor at Tribune Tower could hear us, too, and backed down. Jerry hung up the phone.

Who says there's no cheering in the press box?