RIP, Jerome Holtzman

July 22, 2008 – 2:34 am by Hickey

He was quite possibly the last of his breed — which is why there is no shortage of irony in writing a tribute to him on a blog.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Jerome Holtzman died over the weekend at the age of 81. An old-school reporter with eyebrows that would make Andy Rooney blush, he started his career as a copy boy (a now-obsolete profession) at the Chicago Daily News (a now-obsolete paper), which eventually merged with the Sun to become the Sun-Times. From there, he moved up the ladder from high school sports to the baseball beat in 1957. He eventually moved on to the Tribune, and finally became Major League Baseball’s official historian after hanging up his typewriter in 1999.

Jerome is best remembered for being the Patron Saint of the Bullpen — he’s the one who came up with the idea for counting the save as a statistic, which baseball finally adopted as a rule in 1966 — the first time a new statistic and been put into the books since the RBI became official in 1920. (Yeah, the Cubs have gone so long without a World Series title that there wasn’t even such thing as the RBI.)

Granted, a lot of people think the save is stupid, but he’s made lots of players lots of money thanks to its existence. (Eric Gagne should be forced to pay for his funeral.)

As revolutionary as the save was at the time, Holtzman didn’t continue staying on the cutting edge of statistical changes — he and Bill James had a very contentious opinion of one another’s work. Then again, writers tend to be wary of people who are obsessed with numbers. That’s just the way it works.

But the best story about Holtzman comes in Lewis Grizzard’s book If I Ever Get Back To Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet To The Ground. Grizzard, who was best remembered as a Southern humorist, had a short stint as Sun-Times sports editor in the late ’70s. And at one point he admonished Holtzman for using too many cliches in his copy.

Holtman’s reply: “Those are my cliches. I invented them.”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

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