Dave Feldman, who worked at Chicago newspapers for more than 70 years, going from copy boy to one of the most widely known horse-racing writers and handicappers, died Monday at Weiss Hospital in Chicago.
Feldman, who was 85, had heart trouble but still continued to work for the Chicago Sun-Times, cranking out columns and trying to pick winners this winter at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.
Feldman's personal life was frequently more interesting than the lives of the many racing figures he knew and wrote about. In 1989, he put together many of his experiences in a memoir called "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda."
Besides writing about and handicapping horses, Feldman wore just about every hat in the racing game. At one time, he wrote a column, handicapped and owned and trained horses while also announcing the races at Sportsman's Park and serving as president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn.
Most newspapers would have cited Feldman for multiple conflicts of interest, but his editors tolerated his crossovers because he was such a cult figure in Chicago and sold a lot of newspapers.
At the now defunct Chicago Today, the paper plastered Feldman's picture on the sides of its delivery trucks. When he worked at the Chicago Daily News, his contract was so sacrosanct that Marshall Field, the publisher, kept it in his office safe.
When the Daily News' editors first invited Feldman to work for them, he said loyalty would prevent him from leaving Today, but he did make a courtesy visit to the rival paper's offices.
Several editors secretly estimated what they thought Feldman was worth, and tossed the folded-up pieces of paper into an ashtray. Feldman was asked to put his suggested annual salary on a slip and add it to the mix. When the editors looked at the salary ranges, Feldman's figure was the lowest in the room.
"That kind of made up my mind for me," Feldman said later.
Once he made the switch, there was a year when a forgetful Feldman didn't turn in an expense report for 11 months. In early December, he hit the paper with all those expenses, sending the unsuspecting sports editor well over his department's annual budget.
"I did 'em a favor," Feldman insisted. "Can you imagine how many cab fares I forgot to turn in doing it that way?"
The son of a hat maker, Feldman started working at the old Chicago Examiner when he was in the eighth grade. He did everything at the paper, and early on was well versed in placing bets through local bookies. He said he ran bets for Buck Weaver, the third baseman on the infamous Chicago "Black Sox," which was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.
Feldman and his wife, Fern, believed to be his only survivor, always lived in the downtown Loop, shunning the suburbs. At the time of his death, they lived on Dave Feldman Way, a street the city named after him.
"The key to Dave's longevity is a lesson to us all," said Bill Adee, the Sun-Times sports editor. "He loved his work."