"It's a sad day for everybody in baseball," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Jerome was a Hall of Famer in everything he did, in every sense of the word."
It was Cubs great and fellow Hall of Famer Billy Williams who dubbed him "the Dean."
"He wrote about sports, but he cared about people—that was the thing that stood out," Williams said. "When you developed a friendship with Jerome, it lasted a liftetime."
Holtzman was author of six books, including the classic "No Cheering in the Press Box," an oral history of baseball as recounted by 24 sportswriting legends such as Paul Gallico, Shirley Povich and Red Smith. The book was reissued in 1995 with six new chapters and remains a popular text in college journalism classes.
"He was the consummate writer," said George Vass, a former colleague and friend who collaborated with Holtzman on two books. "No one was ever more dedicated and clear-minded about the sport, those who played it and wrote about it. He was a great writer, but more important, a great friend."
Holtzman chronicled the seasons of the White Sox and Cubs for more than 40 years at Chicago newspapers, beginning in 1957 at the Sun-Times. He was responsible for the institution of the "save" rule in 1966, a move to acknowledge effective relief pitching that was the first major addition to baseball statistics since runs batted in were recognized in 1920.
"The reality is, he revolutionized baseball," former Sun-Times columnist Bill Gleason said. "He glamorized the relief pitcher, who was just another guy before [the save rule]. Jerome said not long ago that he was sorry he'd come up with the concept, that it wasn't necessary. But there was no need to apologize. If there were more people who thought like Jerome Holtzman, the newspaper business would be in better shape."
After Holtzman retired as the Tribune's baseball columnist in 1998, Selig hired him as baseball's official historian.
"What I will miss most is not only the friendship, but the knowledge," Selig said. "He was a historian's historian. He was an unmatched resource for baseball. I will miss his counsel."
Loyal friendRaised in an orphanage, Holtzman grew up to become a prolific writer whose name was synonymous with baseball. He began his newspaper career as a copy boy in the Chicago Times sports department at the age of 17 in 1943. He served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and returned to cover high school sports at the Times and Sun-Times before moving onto the baseball beat in '57.
It was at the Sun-Times that Holtzman met the love of his life, the former Marilyn Ryan, whom he married in 1949. They raised five children in their Evanston home.
"Romance prevailed, and romance succeeded," Gleason said. "They had a beautiful relationship."
Holtzman traveled with the Cubs and White Sox for the next 28 years, usually changing beats at midseason. He was an influential leader in the Baseball Writers Association of America and a longtime member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, which voted on candidates who had been overlooked in voting by the baseball writers.
Holtzman famously looked out for his friends, even the ones who were trying to beat him on stories, such as the late Wendell Smith, a pioneer among African-American sportswriters. The two became fast friends and fellow Hall of Famers.
"Wendell and Jerry covered baseball together for years," said Wyonella Smith, Wendell's widow. "They went to spring training together and remained very close friends. Jerry was very instrumental in getting Wendell elected into Cooperstown [in 1993]."
Mary Frances Veeck, widow of former White Sox owner and baseball maverick Bill Veeck, said "trust" was the operative word in Holtzman's dealings with people. He never broke that trust with a friend or a source.
"You develop friendships in the game, and I think the thing between Bill and Jerome was they could always count on what the other one was saying," Mrs. Veeck said. "There was mutual respect, and when something came up and they wanted answers, they could count on each other being truthful."