I should have known about Sherman “Jocko” Maxwell. I should have known about him, but I didn’t. And it saddens me.
You should have known about him, too.
We all should have known about him before he died last week, at the age of 100, in West Chester, Pa. Cause of death was complications from, well, the man was 100 years old.
We should have known about him because Maxwell was America’s first black sportscaster. Actually, back in 1929, when he read scores for five minutes every Saturday on WNJR in Newark, he was was a Negro. At best, as far as much of America was concern.
But like millions of other black men in his age and beyond, he was a man of class and dignity, I learned today as I read through the clips that accompanied his obits. He was a baseball fan who, through the grace of WNJR’s owner, was given an opportunity to read Negro League scores each week for the sation’s audience.
That was the beginning. Maxwell, I also learned today, ultimately did play-by-play for the Newark Eagles over the public address system, and was there when they won the Negro League World Series in 1946.
He was a baseball fan but in his career interviewed the greats of the day, including Sugar Ray Robinson and others.
Maxwell reported games for the Baltimore Afro-American and even chronicled Negro League games for the Newark Star-Ledger at a time when few non-black newspapers were reporting about those wondrous games. In fact, he kept such records at Negro League games that it seems folks believe much of its history would have been lost. “We, the old Afro-American players (the ones whom baseball’s social retardation kept out of their closed, lily white society for so long) owe him one hell of a debt,” Monte Irvin, 87, the former Newark Eagles/New York Giants superstar, said over the telephone yesterday. “So do the fans we had before they broke down racial barriers. So does baseball itself.”
In a sense, he was my Jackie Robinson. He was Bryant and Greg Gumble’s Jackie Robinson. Mike Tirico’s Jackie Robinson. Stephen A. Smith’s Jackie Robinson. James Brown’s Jackie Robinson. He was Jackie Robinson for the myriad black sportswriters who dot the cable and broadcast television and radio airwaves every day now.
And I should have known about him.
But I didn’t.
Oh and I learned that he was on the radio until his retirement in 1967. And that he never was paid a dime for a single moment he was on the air. “No salary ever in any sports, put that down,” he told the Star-Ledger’s Christine V. Baird in a wondrous profile published a decade ago. “Never asked. They never gave me any.
Maxwell earned his living as a postal worker.
Others have championed this, so I am only joining the chorus: Sherman “Jocko” Maxwell should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Star-Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg reported last week that there are 32 baseball broadcasters in Cooperstown, and yet Maxwell isn’t among them.
I didn’t know that, either. And I should have.