October 23, 1903-May 8 2003
Civil Rights Advocate
Baseball Hall Of Famer
Born in 1903 in Mystic, Connecticut, Sam Lacy was the product of an African-American father and a Native American (Shinnecock) mother. Raised in Washington D.C., Sam was just blocks away from the home of the old Washington Senators baseball team at Griffith Stadium. As kids do, he got to know the place well and ended up catching fly balls during batting practice, running errands for players and eventually worked as a vendor in the stands. But when he and his father went to watch ball games, they watched from the "colored-only" section in right field. "Colored-only" was a sign of the times and one that Sam Lacy would spend a good portion of his life trying to change.
Lacy graduated from Howard University, played semi-pro baseball in the Negroe Leagues, managed some local teams and finally began his journalism career at the Washington Tribune under the guidance of editor Lewis Lautier. He was managing editor and sports editor there from 1934-1939. As a sports writer, Lacy used his columns as a means to an end, that end being desegregation of baseball in the major leagues. Having played in the leagues himself, he was able to evaluate the level of expertise of both black and white players and sensed ,
"something unreal and unfair about this, so when I got to the Washington Tribune ...I began to campaign to correct something that I thought was a terrible injustice."
Lacy moved to Chicago in 1940 and was assistant national editor at the Chicago Defender from 1940-1943. In 1940, he tried meeting with Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Baseball Commissioner at the time, to advocate integration in pro ball. Landis wouldn't have anything to do with it and critics lambasted Lacy, believing integration would destroy the Negroe Leagues. Lacy believed the Negroe Leagues "were an institution", that needed to be destroyed, "because they were a symbol of segregation." He began a letter writing campaign to baseball owners and columnists hoping to persuade and had positive responses but no action. In 1943, Lacy's paper, the Defender did send Paul Robeson, a black actor and advocate to speak with owners and Lacy was furious, due to Robeson's "communist leanings", feeling that it only farther alienated owners. Receiving no support, Lacy moved on.
In 1944, Lacy moved to Baltimore and found his life's work, the weekly Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper. As a columnist and sports editor, Lacy had found a home, and a friend. Afro-American's publisher, Carl Murphy, arranged for Lacy to speak with the interim baseball committee chair, Leslie O'Connor. Lacy presented his proposal for a fourth minor league, the Negroe League, allowing for a bigger pool of players for the majors to choose from, some of those choices obviously being black. Despite support, the proposal never got off the ground. Next, undeterred, Lacy and another sportswriter, Wendell Smith, wrote articles suggesting certain black players be considered for major league status. They both came to believe that a fellow by the name of Jackie Robinson might just be the best bet to lead the integration of baseball, and they were right. Lacy traveled with Robinson, was subject to the same discrimination and prejudice and continued to write about him until that fateful day in 1947, when the color of baseball changed.
Sam Lacy continued to write for the Baltimore Afro-American for over fifty years, including his widely popular "A to Z" column. In 1948, Lacy became the first member of the Baseball Writer Association of America and almost 50 years later, in 1997, he won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. This earned him a spot in the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In September of 2002, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Press Club presented Sam Lacy with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism.
Sam Lacy went to baseball Heaven last week at the age of 99.