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Good company ...

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  July 22, 2008 03:35 PM

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You have enough opportunity elsewhere to read about how it all came about, or what people think about the save rule that was given to baseball by the late Jerome Holzman in 1969.

Jerome Holzman, who died on Monday at age 82 from the complications of a stroke, earned a place in sports history few writers will ever know. For better or worse, he did write the current save rule. That ensures a legacy.

What I want to tell you is that I have lost, if not a friend, a solid, lovable acquaintance. Jerry Holzman was good company.

I first met him during the baseball playoffs in 1975 or 1976. What I remember was sharing a ride to the airport and heading to the coffee shop, whereupon Jerry sat down, rubbed his hands together and said, "OK, now let's have some good basketball talk!"

He knew I was covering the Celtics, and it turned out that he loved basketball. He had covered preps, as they call it in most areas of the country, for 11 years while working his way up the ladder, and he had fond memories of the Illinois state high school basketball tournament. He rhapsodized about the Judson Twins, one of whom, he said, once threw a pass off one side of the backboard to his sib, who took the carom on the other side and laid the ball in.

Over the next 20-some years, Jerry always wanted to talk basketball when we met, and I wanted to talk baseball.

The relationship reached its peak when Michael Jordan arrived. Jerry was a major big-time Larry Bird fan, and he absolutely bristled when the folks in Chicago immediately canonized Jordan. "Jordan's a ball hog!" Jerry would declare.

One night I was at the Marriott Hotel bar in downtown Denver when a waiter told me I had a phone call (This was pre-cell phone). It was Jerry, back home in Chicago.

"Do me a favor," he yelled. "Tell this guy here that Jordan couldn't carry Bird's sneakers!"

Now this was deep into the Bulls' championship run. Nothing I was going to say would convince someone from Chicago that anyone was anywhere near as good as Michael Jordan. But was flattering that Jerry Holzman thought I was the man to do it.

But baseball was what Jerry was known for. Again, you can read all about it elsewhere. One of my favorite days ever was the time he invited me to lunch (he lived in Evanston and we drove out to a spot on Lake Michigan). After lunch, he took me back to the house and there I laid eyes on what was perhaps the single most famous private collection of baseball books in the world. He had floor-to-ceiling bookcases everywhere, all filled with books on baseball. I read that a society paid $300,000 for the collection, but who really knows what something like that is truly worth?

We can argue the ins and outs of Jerry's save rule forever, but he should be remembered for something else about which there is no real debate. For Jerry Holzman left us with an indispensable record of both sportswriting and sport itself in the 20th century in the form of a 1974 book entitled "No Cheering In The Press Box."

Jerry had the inspired idea of tracking down 30 elderly, retired sportswriters to get their recollections of the sports and journalistic world they had known. In so doing, readers were transported far back into the early days of the 20th century. It is a timeless work one well worth tracking down via Amazon, or wherever.

It was a life well-lived, even if he did leave us with the three-run, one-inning save. Nobody's perfect, and Jerry never claimed to be. I can tell you trips to Denver have never been the same for me.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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