Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Sandy Grady, 87, legendary sports and political columnist

He wrote for both the Daily News and the old Evening Bulletin.

Sandy Grady
Sandy GradyRead more

MANY A YOUNGSTER with the sounds of newspaper presses thundering in their dreams had one great wish: They wanted to be a Sandy Grady when they grew up.

Sandy could mold a sentence into a work of art, no matter the subject, from boxing to the Olympics to baseball to the political scene, all of which he graced with a fluid style that never seemed to bump.

Some of his memorable words still ring like a punch in the funny bone.

He once wrote of an unpopular Eagles coach: "He couldn't sell iced tea to a Tasmanian at a dried-up water hole."

After Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns trampled the Eagles, Sandy wrote: "Jim Brown runs as if the earth is his enemy."

Ernest "Sandy" Grady, whose legend was sharpened at the Daily News and the old Evening Bulletin as both a sports and political writer, who then wrote for USA Today late in his career, died last night in the den of his home in Reston, Va. He was surrounded by the memorabilia of his long career, including old typewriters and plaques of his many honors on the walls.

He was 87 and had waged a long battle with cancer.

Sandy was a product of the South, who, in the words of Daily News assistant managing editor Gar Joseph, "could outwrite Faulkner."

If anyone had ink in his veins, it was Sandy. A native of Charlotte, N.C., he delivered the old Charlotte News as a kid and later produced a neighborhood weekly, the Grady Gazette. After winning a writing contest, he got to spend a week covering the minor-league baseball team the Charlotte Hornets. He later became a sports columnist for the News.

Larry Merchant, an innovative Daily News sports editor, said he read Sandy's column as a 23-year-old in 1954 and vowed that if he ever were in a position to hire Sandy, he would.

"Lo and behold, three years later I was sports editor of the Daily News, and Sandy's name popped into my head," Larry said. "I hired him and Jack Kiser from the same paper.

"When I brought Sandy in, he was an instant star. He was just one of those brilliant Southern writers. There was a grace to his writing, a kind of naturalism. He wrote beautiful sentences."

It was a shock to Merchant when, after about three years at the Daily News, Sandy moved to the Bulletin, for which he covered all sports.

When the Bulletin folded in 1982, Sandy returned to the Daily News, first writing sports and later switching to politics.

"I had the honor of being Sandy's editor for most of his last decade with the newspaper," Gar Joseph said. "He was a great sports columnist and a great political columnist, and you don't hit that exacta unless you are smart, fearless, funny and fiercely on the side of the reader.

"Sandy had all that plus the eye for detail of a homicide detective. He could outwrite Faulkner. In fact, he could outwrite Red Smith. I suspect Red, who knew him, agreed.

"Sandy was a big star who never acted like a big star. He would rip you when you deserved it, and in sports and politics, if you are on the side of the readers, you knew many who deserved it and you let them have it.

"He used a scalpel, not an ax. That, plus his Southern gentility, is what kept him from getting punched in the jaw. He was a product of Jim Crow North Carolina who never once stopped agitating for equal rights, a common thread in both his sports and political columns.

"Daily News sports editor Larry Merchant hired Grady and Stan Hochman, another legend we've just lost, within two years in the late 1950s. I want some of whatever Merch was drinking in those days."

"I know the moment Grady hooked me on newspaper work," said former Daily News editor Zack Stalberg. "The Eagles had screwed Norm Van Brocklin, who had quarterbacked the team to the NFL championship [in 1960] and who had been promised and then cheated out of the Birds' head-coaching job.

"Sandy wrote a column for the Bulletin, headlined 'Epitaph for a Dutchman,' that was so exquisitely outraged that I was suddenly able to appreciate the immense power of strong words written on deadline.

"He was a tower of integrity, and he had a personal code he wouldn't allow anyone to violate. When the Bulletin went down, the Inky offered him a rich deal with one string attached: He'd have to take a personality test, a corporate tool he despised. He chose the Daily News.

"Sandy was the model political commentator. He was fair, incorruptible, nonideological and he could write like a dream. That model doesn't exist anymore."

When Sandy was covering the Phillies, he found out that in spring training in Clearwater, Fla., the white players stayed at a nice hotel, while the black players had to find their own accommodations.

He exposed the practice, and changes were made.

Sandy covered a variety of news. He went to China with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1973. He went to Monaco after Philadelphia's Princess Grace Kelly died in a car crash in September 1982.

In 1994, he went to France to write about the 50th anniversary of World War II's D-Day invasion.

Sandy was often honored. In January 2014, he received the A.J. Liebling Award of the Boxing Writers Association of America for his coverage of the sweet science.

Sandy never graduated from college, but attended a number of them. He always considered the University of North Carolina as his alma mater.

Sandy married Edith Carswell in 1950. She was a tournament bridge player. She died in 2006.

"He provided us with the greatest life," said his son, Patrick. "He was really dedicated to his family."

Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Debby Grady; a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren, and his longtime companion, Kathy Kiely. He was predeceased by another son, Michael.

Services: Were being arranged.