Furman Bisher (left) interviews Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1949. (BlackBetsy.com)The sports world is mourning the passing of Furman Bisher, the legendary Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist who died of a heart attack at age 93 on Sunday.
As you might expect from someone who started his career in 1938 and lived to be 93, Bisher bore witness to the best sporting events over nine different decades. He welcomed all of Atlanta's pro sports teams to town, wrote about Hank and Herschel as they broke high-profile records and covered the Masters back when it was just a Bobby Jones golf tournament that writers covered on their way home from spring training.
Bisher's age and stature in the South also gave him access to a number of figures that most of us only know as yellowed newspaper clippings and black-and-white archive photos.
Chief among them was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was cited in Bisher's obituary as one of the "biggest scoops" in the writer's long career. In 1949, a young Bisher traveled to the Greenville, S.C., home of the exiled "Black Sox" star, and secured an interview with the 61-year-old for Sport magazine. It was the first time that Jackson had opened up to a national outlet since the World Series scandal in 1919 and perhaps also the last. Jackson died in 1951. (Here's a reprint of the obituary that Bisher wrote at the time.)
The portrait that Bisher painted of Jackson in his "as told to" piece was that of a proud ballplayer who still maintained his innocence as he ran a successful liquor business in his life's autumn years.
Here's an excerpt from Bisher's article, but make sure to read the whole thing at BlackBetsy.com. It's a really cool way to remember a life well lived.
Sure I'd heard talk that there was something going on (in 1919). I even had a fellow come to me one day and proposition me. It was on the 16th floor of a hotel and there were four other people there, two men and their wives. I told him: "Why you cheap so-and-so! Either me or you one of us is going out that window."
I started for him, but he ran out the door and I never saw him again. Those four people offered their testimony at my trial. Oh, there was so much talk those days, but I didn't know anything was going on.
When the talk got so bad just before the World Series with Cincinnati, I went to Mr. Charles Comiskey's room the night before the Series started and asked him to keep me out of the line-up. Mr Comiskey was the owner of the White Sox. He refused, and I begged him: "Tell the newspapers you just suspended me for being drunk, or anything, but leave me out of the Series and then there can be no question."
Bisher would start as a reporter with the Atlanta Journal in 1950 and would back up the great Jackson "get" with 59 years of incredible work. Though his experience and ties to the past were so valuable to those of us who were born in later years — Jeff Schultz writes about getting to talk with Bisher about knowing Cobb — today's tributes are a testament to his ability to stay relevant as the world around him dramatically changed.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bisher.
Update: Here's Furman Bisher narrating the Braves' opening day video in 2010: