Feature

Sherman Maxwell

The black sportscaster who was a radio pioneer

The black sportscaster who was a radio pioneer
Sherman Maxwell
1907–2008

Sherman Maxwell, who has died of pneumonia at 100, is widely believed to have been the country’s first black sports broad­caster. Though rarely paid for his work, he tirelessly covered baseball’s old Negro Leagues and, in the process, amassed mounds of statistics that would otherwise have been lost to history.

A New Jersey native, “Jocko” Maxwell loved baseball so much that he deliberately failed his senior year so he could continue playing on his high school team, said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. He began broadcasting in 1929 for Newark station WNJR, “when he talked the owner into giving him five minutes of airtime every Saturday to read scores.” In the ensuing years, he worked for other New Jersey stations, chronicling baseball’s segregated teams for his mainly black audience. When the great Josh Gibson of the Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays “hit home runs in Yankee Stadium while the Yankees were away, Maxwell was there.” He also contributed to various publications, announced for the Newark Eagles, and ran his own multiracial semi-pro team, the Newark Starlings— “all while working full-time as a postal clerk.” He retired in 1967.

Though not among the 32 broadcasters in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Maxwell was happy to pay a visit there in 2001. “I have to say, I never had a nicer day in my whole life,” he said. “And I’m 93, so that’s saying something.”

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