Furman Bisher, dean of Southern sportswriters, dies at 93


Furman Bisher was one of six 2006 inductees into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. (Joey Ivansco/AJC)
March 20, 2012

Furman Bisher, an Atlanta sports columnist for 59 years who wrote evocatively about golf, car racing, college football and the sad fate of baseball’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, died March 18 at his home in Fayetteville, Ga. He was 93.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Mr. Bisher spent most of his career, reported that he had suffered a heart attack.

Mr. Bisher was a constant presence for decades at the major events of the sports calendar — the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, the Masters golf tournament, baseball’s World Series and college football games.

He covered the first modern NASCAR stock-car race in Charlotte in 1949. His columns were credited with helping bring major league baseball to Atlanta in 1966, and he remained a lyrical chronicler of the Masters in Augusta, Ga., into his 90s.

Mr. Bisher came from a time when sportswriters were often more famous than the players they covered, when their columns were the pride of regions in which they lived.

He was, NASCAR writer Ed Hinton wrote on ESPN.com, “the singular, undisputed titan of all Southern sports writers.”

Mr. Bisher had a knack for gaining incisive interviews from tight-lipped athletes who were wary of the press, including baseball stars Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and — most elusive of all — Joe Jackson.

From 1911 to 1920, Jackson — an illiterate outfielder from South Carolina — was one the finest hitters in baseball. His .356 batting average is third highest in major league history.

He became embroiled in baseball’s most infamous scandal when he and several of his Chicago White Sox teammates were accused of accepting bribes from gamblers before the 1919 World Series. After the heavily favored White Sox committed a series of inexplicable errors and lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, the episode became known as the Black Sox Scandal.

A year later, when the bribery was revealed, eight members of the White Sox, including Jackson, were banned from baseball for life. Jackson never spoke in public about the incident until Mr. Bisher found him in Greenville, S.C., in 1949.

In an as-told-to story, published in Sport magazine, Jackson professed his innocence, pointing out his stellar performance in the World Series, in which he had the highest batting average on either team (.375), played errorless defense and hit the only home run.

He also explained how he acquired the memorable nickname of “Shoeless Joe.” Once, while breaking in a new pair of shoes in the minor leagues, he got blisters on his feet.

The next day, to ease the pain, he played in his stockings and hit a triple, prompting an opposing fan to shout, “You shoeless sonofagun, you!” The name entered into baseball legend.

“I never played the outfield barefoot,” Jackson told Mr. Bisher, “and that was the only day I ever played in my stockinged feet, but it stuck with me.”

Mr. Bisher was sympathetic to Jackson but always believed the player accepted a $5,000 bribe in 1919.

When Jackson died in 1951, Mr. Bisher wrote: “They say he was the greatest natural hitter who ever lived.

“But without a bat in his hands, he had a weakness. He relied heavily on his friends for mental guidance. Any person kind to him got in return warmth and trust, and it has since been proven that Joe’s trust was in bad hands.”

James Furman Bisher was born Nov. 4, 1918, in Denton, N.C., where his father was a textile manufacturer.

He attended Furman University in South Carolina — “because of the name,” he said, despite no family connections — before studying journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After graduating in 1938, he worked at newspapers in North Carolina before and after serving in the Navy during World War II.

In 1950, he was named sports editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He later worked for its afternoon counterpart, the Journal, before the two papers merged in the 1980s. He retired at 91 in 2009 but kept writing occasional columns for the Journal-Constitution and other papers until his death.

His marriage to Montyne Harrell ended in divorce. Their son, Roger Bisher, died in 2000.

Survivors include his wife, Lynda Landon, whom he married in 1991; two sons from his previous marriage, James Furman Bisher Jr. and Monte Bisher; two stepdaughters; a sister; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Bisher wrote nine books, was a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame and received many other honors. Drawn to the rugged simplicity of sports, he sometimes courted controversy when he stepped outside the field of play. In 2002, Mr. Bisher drew ire from feminists when he defended the right of Augusta National, the private club where the Masters is held, not to admit women.

He also had a long-running feud with Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, whom he accused of encouraging dirty play.

“This man coaches violence,” he once wrote.

Mr. Bisher was better known as a gregarious man with friends in and out of sports, from singer Bing Crosby to golfers Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer to hapless stock-car driver Herman Beam, who drove so slowly that he was known as “the Turtle.”

Mr. Bisher never tired of the pageantry and excitement of sports, saying in 2007, ”I’ve seen 56 Georgia-Georgia Tech games.”

Then he added, “I’ve seen 56 of a lot of things.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Sports
Stats, scores and schedules