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Dave Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist, dies at 89

Dave Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist, dies at 89
Dave Anderson, right, gestures while on a 2004 panel discussion with Jerry Izenberg, left, Newark Star-Ledger sports columnist, and Bill Conlin, Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist. (Mike Mergen / Associated Press)

Dave Anderson, a genteel sportswriter whose elegant, descriptive prose won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary as a columnist for the New York Times, died Thursday. He was 89.

Anderson died at an assisted living facility in Cresskill, N.J., the Times said. He worked at the newspaper from 1966 to 2007.

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An expert on baseball, the NFL, boxing and golf, Anderson wrote 21 books, received the 1994 Red Smith Award for outstanding contributions to sports journalism from the Associated Press Sports Editors and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1990. He was known for his warmth to friends and strangers alike and his unflagging politeness.

His Pulitzer cited six columns from 1980. The most memorable was “The Food on a Table at the Execution,” portraying the scene at the Yankee Stadium office of George Steinbrenner when the New York owner forced out rookie manager Dick Howser with two years remaining on his contract.

New York went 103-59 in the regular season but was swept 3-0 by Kansas City in the American League Championship Series, and Steinbrenner gave the implausible explanation that Howser decided to leave baseball for real estate development in Florida. Howser and his successor, Gene Michael, were on hand for the announcement.

“Near the door of George Steinbrenner's office in Yankee Stadium yesterday, there were two trays of bite-sized roast beef, turkey and ham sandwiches, each with a toothpick in it,” Anderson wrote. “As soon as 14 invited newsmen entered his office for the execution of Dick Howser as manager and the transfer of Gene Michael from general manager to dugout manager, Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner looked around. `Anybody want any sandwiches?' he asked. ‘We've got a lot of sandwiches here.’”

After describing the awkward scene and contorted explanations, Anderson ended his 1,000-word allotment by quoting what Steinbrenner said after Howser left the room: “‘Nobody ate any sandwiches.’”

Anderson was born in Troy, N.Y., on May 6, 1929, attended Xavier High School and received a bachelor's degree in English literature from Holy Cross.

A few months after his graduation in 1951, he became a clerk for the Brooklyn Eagle and started covering baseball the following year, when he was assigned card No. 457 by the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America. He would rise to No. 1 in 2001.

When Harold C. Burr, the Eagle’s beat writer for the Dodgers, broke a hip in a fall at a Cincinnati hotel during a road trip in 1953, sports editor Lou Niss assigned Anderson to replace him.

“I learned this business in self-defense. I mostly kept my mouth shut,” Anderson wrote in an article for an unpublished book on the history of the BBWAA compiled by Bill Shannon.

“I listened as the other writers questioned manager Charlie Dressen and the players. I read what each of them had written, if only to compare their stories that day to mine. Had I taken the correct afternoon-paper angle? Had I missed anything?”

Anderson was about to leave for spring training in 1955 when Newspaper Guild members of the Eagle went on strike and the paper folded. He was hired by the New York Journal-American to write a Brooklyn sports column.

He switched to the New York Times a decade later and became a sports columnist in 1971 alongside Red Smith. He became involved in controversy in 2002 when the Daily News reported the Times refused to publish columns by Anderson and Harvey Araton about the Augusta National Golf Club’s refusal to admit women.

A Times editorial had stated, “Tiger Woods, who has won the Masters three times, could simply choose to stay home in April.” After the Daily News report, the Times said editors did not run the columns because Executive Editor Howell Raines thought they gave the appearance of internal squabbling with the editorial board. Anderson’s column later ran with the lead: “Please, let Tiger Woods just play golf.”

He retired as a full-time columnist in 2007, cutting back his workload to about 18 columns a year.

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Anderson, who lived in Tenafly, N.J., is survived by sons Stephen and Mark, and daughters Jo and Jean-Marie, the Times said.

In his article for the unpublished book, Anderson recalled covering the Dodgers’ last game at Ebbets Field in 1957 before their move to Los Angeles.

“In the upstairs press box after the game, Bill Roeder [of the World-Telegram & Sun] and I, as usual, were the last to finish our afternoon-paper stories,” Anderson wrote. “After handing them to the Western Union teletype operator, we took the small elevator down to the field level and walked behind the marble rotunda to the small door at the night watchman’s entrance.

“As we approached the door, I stopped and let Bill Roeder go through it. As I did, I realized that I would be the last baseball writer to leave Ebbets Field after the last Dodger game there. Put it on my tombstone.”

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