The Goal Line

If Blackie Sherrod's just another writer, then Wilt Chamberlain was just another center

The photographs alone tell the story. Not just the faces in them, but the way the pictures fill every bit of free space left in the office of a man who insists he's seen bigger closets. It's like walking into someone's memory and getting the full tour. Maybe the pictures hang here for the sake of misguided conceit, Blackie Sherrod says, proof that their owner has known so many celebrated men. But more likely, he adds with shrug, the pictures in his office serve to remind him of where he's been, whom he's known, whom he's lost.

There are the old faded photos of a bespectacled, baby-faced Sherrod at the Fort Worth Press in the 1950s; he and his colleagues, among them columnist and novelist Dan Jenkins, look like children playing newspapermen, their clothes too big on such small frames. There are the pictures of Sherrod with Heisman winners and discarded local heroes -- or, in the case of Herschel Walker, both. There is even one featuring an unshaven Blackie holding a cigarette in one hand and a Bud in the other. In it, he wears a grin the way Frank Sinatra sang "In the Wee Small Hours."

But among the most prominent are several pictures featuring Sherrod and old friend Jim Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and among Sherrod's dearest friends. Murray, at age 78, died last September, a few months before Sherrod, Murray, and the rest of their group of graying press-boxers -- the so-called Geezers -- were to meet for their annual weeklong trip to Atlanta, where they drink and talk and, well, nap.

Murray had long been considered the "last of the best" of the old-time sportswriters -- a man who condensed absolute truths into one-liners. Murray's name is often mentioned in the same cocktail recipe as Grantland Rice, Jimmy Cannon, Red Smith, John Kiernan, and other press-box legends, men who didn't just flesh out box scores with quotes and comments. They penned some of the finest literature of the 20th century, serializing their prowess in the pages of New York and Los Angeles dailies. When Murray died last year, it was often said among sportswriters that the good old days were over, buried in a coffin in California.

But that is so much nonsense, especially when Blackie Sherrod still goes into work at The Dallas Morning News every day, sits in his office, and stares at a blank computer screen.

"Look, nobody admired Blackie more than Jim Murray," says Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway, who claimed Sherrod as a "hero" when he first read him in, oh, 1958. "What more is there to say? Is there another Blackie Sherrod around here? Shit no. The rest of us are hanging on, and damned proud of it. To me, that goes back to who he is. Not who he was, but who he is. I think we have in our midst one of the greatest who ever lived, and if you could ask the legends who are no longer with us, they would all tell you that."

During his trips to Dallas, Jimmy Cannon used to have Sherrod read his copy before shipping it back east. But in recent years, Sherrod has seemed to fade a bit from the front page of this town's collective consciousness; he's a buried lead, stuck in the middle of the Sunday sports section, where his notes column -- or what he refers to as his "horseshit notes column" -- has long appeared. But perhaps that's by choice: Sherrod has sort of eased into semi-retirement, having long ago stopped writing his every-other-day sports column. This way, he has more time to read Chaucer or Oscar Wilde -- more time to spend avoiding sports.

"I just have other interests and wish I had had these other interests years ago," he says now, his voice a booming rumble. "I wish I had spent earlier years in more fulfilling ways. Either sports has passed me by, or I've passed sports by."

He doesn't go to ball games much anymore, doesn't watch sporting events on television unless it's something important -- say, the NBA Finals or the World Series. He realized he was just about through with sports when he switched off Monday Night Football to watch Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca on Channel 13 instead. The way Sherrod recalls the moment, he was never so proud as when he hit the channel-changer. "Used to be, I'd be there," Sherrod says. "But when I turned on Rebecca, I thought, 'Damn, you get another stripe for that.'"

The Belton, Texas, native once counted the seconds until spring training rolled around; he had sort of grown up in Vero Beach, Florida, where the Brooklyn Dodgers trained alongside their farm clubs, including the Fort Worth Cats. He had grown fond of Dodgers president Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson. In 1965, when Rickey suffered his third heart attack and lay in a coma, Sherrod wrote a piece celebrating "his splendid mind and overwhelming charm." But Sherrod no longer goes to spring training, having long ago lost his taste for the clinical, cynical business of baseball. The last time he went to Florida, during the early part of this decade, he had fun only once -- when he and some old buddies had their annual shrimp boil.

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