Sherman L. Maxwell, 100, Sportscaster and Writer, Dies

July 19, 2008

By BRUCE WEBER

Sherman L. Maxwell, a chronicler of Negro league baseball and, some believe, the first black sports broadcaster, died on Wednesday in West Chester, Pa. Maxwell, known as Jocko, was 100 and had lived most of his life in Newark.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said his son, Bruce Maxwell.

A lifelong sports enthusiast — those closest to him said he was sports-obsessed — Mr. Maxwell made his living as a postal clerk in Newark and, according to his sister, Berenice Maxwell Cross, was rarely paid for his radio work.

He reportedly began his radio career in 1929 at the age of 22, and although accounts differ on where, most point to WNJ, known in the 1920s as “the voice of Newark” and owned by Herman Lubinsky, later a co-founder of the jazz and gospel label Savoy Records. Many who have written about Mr. Maxwell and that radio era said he was the first black person to broadcast sports.

What is certain is that in the early 1930s Mr. Maxwell could be heard on WHOM in Jersey City and on WRNY, a Coytesville, N.J., station with a studio in the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, where his report was titled “Runs, Hits and Errors.”

Mr. Maxwell’s air time eventually expanded enough to include interviews. He later became the public address announcer at Ruppert Stadium for the Negro leagues team the Newark Eagles. Maxwell could be heard on the air until 1967.

He made it his business to attend as many sporting events as he could and record what went on in them. He kept box scores and sold stories of Eagles games to newspapers.

Mr. Maxwell contributed to magazines like Baseball Digest, for which he wrote about Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball. He also wrote “Thrills and Spills in Sports,” a 1940 book of interviews with sports stars.

“Jocko was on his own mission,” the sportswriter Jerry Izenberg wrote in The Star-Ledger on Thursday. “He let the world know what was going on in places like Ruppert Stadium and Forbes Field and Comiskey Park when the ‘other’ teams (which meant blacks) took over from the regular tenants. And in his way, he made the part of America that would listen know all about these black knights of the open road.”

Bob Kendrick, director of marketing for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said Mr. Maxwell had been well known to Negro league players as someone who got the word out and kept records that would otherwise have been lost. “He was a significant figure in Negro leagues baseball,” Mr. Kendrick said.

Sherman Leander Maxwell was born in December 1907 in Newark, where he got his nickname as a teenager, his sister said, when he climbed a tree to catch a fly ball and someone yelled out, “Hey, look at Jocko!” (Jocko the Monkey was a popular performer in movies of the 1920s.)

Mr. Maxwell graduated from Central High School in Newark and served in the Army in Europe during World War II.

His sister, Mrs. Cross of West Caldwell, N.J., and his son, Bruce of West Chester, Pa., are his only survivors.

In 2001, Mr. Maxwell achieved a lifelong ambition by visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I have to say,” he told The Star-Ledger then, “I never had a nicer day in my whole life — and I’m 93, so that’s saying something.”

New York Times

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