Sid Ziff, former Times sports columnist and one of the most controversial and opinionated sports writers in Los Angeles history, died Sunday at 86 of an acute blood infection.
Ziff was the youngest sports editor ever in Los Angeles, taking over the position at the Express when he was 19. He had started at the paper as a copyboy at 16.
In May, 1950, he became sports editor of the Mirror, and when the Mirror consolidated with The Times in January, 1962, he became a sports columnist. He retired in 1967.
"Sid had an opinion on everything, and he didn't mind expressing it, either," recalled Paul Zimmerman, former Times sports editor, now retired.
Ziff's opinions often were based on instant observation. For instance, in the opening week of the 1963 National League season, the Dodgers lost and Ziff immediately labeled them a team going nowhere. They won the pennant.
On another occasion, after the Dodgers had lost the sixth game of a World Series, he wrote them off and didn't stay for the seventh game. They won it.
He was often a tyrant around his staff, but he bore no grudges. Moments after chewing out one of his writers or deskmen, he would casually ask about his family, golf game or night life with a genuine interest. Once, when a particular story didn't come out the way he wanted it, he picked up a typewriter and threw it across the room.
When he wrote his column, he talked it out, and it often read more like a conversation than a story.
"The Pilot (as the staff called him) is one of a kind, and I don't ever want to meet another one," the late Harley Tinkham once said of his boss.
Old-timers at the Times-Mirror recall Ziff walking through the corridors, reading his column and chuckling to himself. He never looked up, so fellow employees learned to give him a wide berth.
"The guys in the composing room will remember him," Zimmerman said. "He would write his column and then (instead of rewriting) he would go to the composing room and make corrections after it was set in type. The Linotype operators used to dread seeing him coming."
Ziff became sports editor of the Express in 1924, and when it merged with the Herald, he retained his position. After four years in the Army during World War II, Ziff returned to Los Angeles and became sports editor of the Valley Green Sheet, later the Valley Times.
On Oct. 15, 1962, his 57th birthday, Ziff was honored with a testimonial dinner at the Biltmore Bowl. He also had a number of columns reprinted in the "Best Sports Stories" anthologies.
When he decided to retire, he told associates: "I'm going to retire now (at 62) because I don't like writing obituaries about friends of mine who are dying."
He spent much of his time in early retirement playing bridge at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Ziff is survived by his wife, Frances, with whom he lived in a West Los Angeles rest home before being taken to Midway Hospital, where he died. Other survivors include his son, Gerald, a professor of art history at the University of Chicago; daughter-in-law, Jackie; granddaughters and a nephew, Dr. Harris Ziff, of Westlake Village.
Services will be private.