The 'Dean' helped show me the way
I arrived at Wrigley Field in good time to make my appointed round with Jim Leyland, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This would have been long about 1994-95, when I was a backup baseball writer for the Daily Herald.
As it was, I arrived a little too early, and the press gate wasn't open yet.
"Come on," said a raspy voice from a few feet away. "I'll show you how to get in."
That voice belonged to Jerome Holtzman, the longtime "Dean" of Chicago baseball writers, who died over the weekend at age 82.
Jerome spirited me through a side door and asked what my story was that day. I told him I was going to write about Leyland, who was presiding over a bad Pirates team and was rumored to be going everywhere, including the White Sox.
"If you'll carry my stuff upstairs to the press box, I'll meet you in Leyland's office," Jerome said.
Like I wasn't going to help Jerome?
When I got to Leyland's office, Jerome was already there. Leyland was smoking a cigarette. Jerome had his trademark cigar. Although Jerome was working for the Trib, he did something extraordinary. He introduced me to Leyland and gave me an endorsement.
"Let me tell you something, Jim," he said. "These young writers today are better than we ever were."
Jerome was greasing the skids for me with Leyland, who could be gruff.
My interview went well, and with a doff of the chapeau, I wished Leyland and Jerome well and was on my way.
I met Jerome in 1989, when I began covering baseball. Jerome started writing baseball for the Sun-Times in 1957, the year I was born. As fierce a competitor as he was, he always looked out for the profession. My first game was the White Sox home opener in '89. Manager Jeff Torborg was making a series of pitching moves.
"This is how Al Lopez did it," Jerome told me.
Jerome and Lopez ("The Senor") were close, and it always a pleasure to read Jerome's columns on The Senor, as Jerome would dutifully report from Florida that Lopez was shooting his age at golf.
Jerome, along with former Daily Herald baseball writer Mark Ruda, got me my first Baseball Writers Association of America card.
When I got the Cubs beat before the 1998 season, Jerome was one of the first to congratulate me.
"I've got only one piece of advice for you, kid," he said. "Get to the clubhouse early, and you won't get scooped. But you already know that. And if you rip a player, make sure you stand in the middle of the clubhouse the next day so he can have his shot back."
Here's a doff of the chapeau to you, Jerome.