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Sandy Grady left legacy at Charlotte News of writing with his heart

Sandy Grady
Sandy Grady

When I broke into sportswriting a long time ago, Red Smith was writing for a New York newspaper on his way to winning a Pulitzer Prize. He was the unquestioned star of the press box, writing with a unique style and authority and tossing in lines like “Charlie Goldman weighed about as much as 30 cents worth of liver.” And “Eddie Gottlieb was a wonderful little guy about the size and shape of a half-keg of beer.”

Writers at the old Charlotte News where I was working, and writers around the country, tried to copy Smith’s style.

Me? I tried to copy Sandy Grady’s style.

Sandy, who grew up here, was one of the best writers this state has ever seen. Not one of the best reporters, one of the best writers. There’s a difference. The best writers see things that others don’t see, hear things others don’t hear. They don’t write with their fingers, they write with their heart.

Unless you’ve been around a good while, you probably didn’t know Sandy.

He had been gone from Charlotte for a long time. I’m sorry you missed him.

Sandy died Tuesday at his home in Reston, Va., at the age of 87. About a year ago, he was still being honored for his work, earning the A.J. Liebling Award, which qualified him as an inductee into the Boxing Writers Hall of Fame.

Sandy and I worked together in the 1950s, and I never stopped marveling at him. He could stay out all night listening to jazz artists jam, walk in just after sunup and write you a piece that would bring to mind what Red Smith said about another great, Jimmy Cannon: “The mother tongue behaved for Jimmy as it behaved for hardly anyone else. At his best, he could make any writer wonder what was the use.”

I hung around Sandy like a loyal pup. We – along with the late, great Charles Kuralt – used to play handball at the old YMCA on South Tryon St.

We fished, played tennis, played golf together, spent lunch hours listening to records in a music store. We bought out-of-town newspapers to see what others were writing, and how they were writing. Whatever I was as a sports columnist, I owed much of it to him.

He had a fondness for boxers and race car drivers and every kind of character you could find in town. Wrestlers, pool room operators, bookies, guys who owned restaurants, bird dog hunters, harness racers, softball players, guys named Tugboat and Snooks and Doc and Honest John, shady operators who could get it for you cheaper than wholesale, out-of-luck guys looking for a handout, all kinds.

Sandy left the News, where he was a sportswriter from 1950 to 1957, and went to work in Philadelphia, covering the Phillies and Eagles and Muhammad Ali along the way. Then he turned his attention to a world outside of sports.

Two days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Grady found himself covering an NFL game while the world mourned. He decided right there that he was leaving sportswriting.

He became a political writer, a syndicated columnist, covering seven presidents and 16 national conventions, and in his coverage, all the way to the finish, you could still read the Sandy Grady I wanted to be.

Ron Green is a retired Charlotte News and Charlotte Observer columnist.

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