'Sides' was one of a kind
If you followed Red Sox baseball over the last 30 years, you knew Larry Whiteside. At least you knew his byline. You knew his work.
Those of us in the press box and the Globe sports department were more fortunate. We knew the man. "Sides."
Larry, who died yesterday at age 69, was generous, kind, humble, and dignified. He showed up every day, worked the beat, and covered all the bases before he went home. He was great to young reporters. He was a champion of African-American sportswriters, one of the first to break racial barriers in the press box. He was trusted by the ballplayers and front-office folks. He was neither jealous nor petty. He could laugh at himself.
He wrote a lot of great stories, but the greatest Sides story involved a game he didn't cover.
It was April 29, 1986, and a kid pitcher named Roger Clemens was scheduled to start against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway. On the same night, the Larry Bird Celtics were playing the Dominique Wilkins Hawks at the old Garden.
Sides was not scheduled to work and had two choices for his busman's holiday. It was an easy call. The '86 Sox were coming off a .500 season. The '86 Celtics were perhaps the greatest team in NBA history. Celtics all the way.
Still, a guy has to eat, so Sides stopped off at Fenway for dinner in the press room before going to the important game on Causeway Street. He dined, watched a couple of innings, then drove to the Garden.
In the middle of the Celtics game, the scoreboard flashed this message: "Roger Clemens has 12 strikeouts after five innings."
At the Garden, former Globe sports editor Vince Doria took note of the news, turned to Sides, and said, "Weren't you over at Fenway earlier?"
"Yeah," said Larry. "But he only had five strikeouts when I left."
That was after two innings. Veteran reporter Larry Whiteside was not easily impressed.
In the end, of course, Clemens fanned a record 20 batters, forcing dozens of photographers and reporters to drive west on Storrow Drive to get the story.
Ten years later, Clemens did it again, striking out 20 Detroit batters at Tiger Stadium. This time, Globe readers were treated to Larry Whiteside's account of the historic event. Even Clemens took note of the irony at the end of his press conference when he said, "Thanks for sticking about this time, Larry."
Like most ballplayers, Clemens liked Larry. Everybody liked Sides.
You could talk to Bud Selig, Marvin Miller, Hank Aaron, Jim Rice, or Carlton Fisk. Didn't matter. They all liked and respected Larry Whiteside.
Rice came up to me at spring training this year and asked, "How's Larry? Please give him my best."
Trust me when I tell you this is rare. It's rare for any ex-ballplayer to ask about a former writer. And Rice is not in the habit of throwing bouquets at the feet of most members of my profession. But Jim Ed got to know Larry the way we got to know him. He knew Sides was a good man, a guy you could trust and respect.
Larry could cover any sport, but baseball was his passion. He worked alongside Peter Gammons, Joe Giuliotti, Larry Claflin, Ray Fitzgerald, Clif Keane, Tim Horgan, Jake Liston, and Dave O'Hara. He was at our paper in 1975 when the Red Sox and Reds played perhaps the greatest World Series of them all. He wrote every game story for the Globe at the 1986 World Series.
He didn't get mad very often, but he wouldn't back down if confronted by a player. Press box old-timers remember Larry's retort when a bust-out lefthander (who'd been successful in the National League) started giving Larry the business during an interview after blowing a game.
"Be quiet, you National League fraud," said Larry. A day later, the pitcher apologized to Sides.
He taught young reporters how to arrange travel and fill out expense accounts. And he never got rattled. Sides could always manage to walk on an airplane, holding a cup of coffee, 30 seconds before the cabin door closed. And he was great company every hour of every road trip.
He took me to his tennis club when I was a 21-year-old kid fresh out of college. He taught me how to write running stories when we covered the Boston Shootout in 1974. During the 1984 Celtics-Bucks playoff series, Sides and I were out late one night in Milwaukee when I learned that my wife had gone into labor with our first child back in Boston. He gave me the keys to his rental car along with directions to O'Hare and sent me on my way. Then he bought us a baby gift.
You could tease him. He once talked to Lefty Gomez and accidentally attributed the quotes to Lefty Grove -- who had been dead for a while. On the next road trip to Detroit, before running downstairs to get postgame quotes, I asked Larry if he wanted me to get any remarks from Ty Cobb. Sides laughed. He had a smile and a laugh for everybody.
He married well. The lovely Elaine carries herself with the same class and dignity Larry always had. And when illness attacked his body in these last few years, Elaine stood by her man through the toughest of days.
We lost a good one yesterday. Larry Whiteside. Press box pioneer. All-around good guy.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.