James C. Elliot, a retired sportswriter and copy editor for The Sun who covered the Orioles for nearly two decades and was awarded a World Series ring in the process, died of cancer Sunday at St. Joseph Medical Center. The longtime Lutherville resident was 84.
Born and raised in Taneytown, the son of a physician, Mr. Elliot was a 1938 graduate of Taneytown High School. He interrupted his studies at what was then Western Maryland College to enlist in the Army Air Forces during World War II and was assigned as a technical instructor.
After the war, he returned to Western Maryland, now McDaniel College, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 - also working as a part-time sports stringer for The Sun.
"He received his first press pass in 1943 from the Sunpapers, numbered 142, when he began covering high school and college sports while at WMC," said a son-in-law, Wayne Murphy of Lutherville. "He carried that press pass with him the rest of his life."
Thinking he would pursue a career in law, Mr. Elliot enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Law but left after a year to take a job in the newspaper's business office. While working there, Mr. Elliot sent articles and his observations on sports to Jesse Linthicum, then Sun sports editor, who hired him as a reporter in 1952.
After covering high school and college sports, Mr. Elliot was given a coveted spot in 1956 on the Orioles beat with veteran sports reporter Lou Hatter. He remained on the beat for the next 19 years.
"Jim had as much fun covering the Orioles as we did playing," Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson recalled yesterday. "He gave us a lot of laughs through the years. He was a wonderful person and a real good friend."
Mr. Elliot had a habit of asking a battery of questions during news conferences, which once prompted then-Orioles manager Hank Bauer to ask after his first question whether it was "a two-prong question."
"He was a character," said Kent Baker, a Sun sportswriter. "Jim once asked Bauer a three-pronged question at a press conference, and the next day when he went into his office, the tough ex-Marine asked, 'How many damn prongs do you have today?'"
"Jim was always one of my favorite writers," former Oriole manager Earl Weaver, also a Hall of Fame member, said yesterday. "He was a good writer, did his job, and didn't try to start controversies. However, if there was a controversy, he didn't shy away from it. He'd report it and always from both sides.
"But basically, Jim was happy informing people about what transpired during a game. We enjoyed each other's company, and once in a while, he'd give me a glimpse of his column, especially if I had jumped off on something. He'd want to check quotes and make sure he hadn't taken anything out of context. Sometimes, he'd check three or four times."
Former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, another member of the Hall of Fame, said of Mr. Elliot: "He was a fair guy and very good-natured, with a great sense of humor. In those days, reporters used to travel with the team, and we got to know them real well. Weaver would actually hang up and grade sports stories with an 'A,' 'B' or 'F,' and for a guy like Jim to have to live in that atmosphere, it had to be tough at times."
Mr. Elliot was often the target of pranks by Orioles pitcher Moe Drabowski, who was especially known for administering the hot foot, Mr. Palmer said. "Moe would melt the cuffs of Jim's double-knit pants with a hot foot, and he'd [Mr. Elliot] stand there with a smile on his face."
"He really was a sports editor's security blanket," said Bob Maisel, retired Sun sports editor and columnist. "He didn't drink or smoke, and never missed a deadline - never. You knew when Jim was on the beat it would be done right."
Mr. Elliot is credited with coming up with attendance stories that are now a routine component of sports pages across the nation. He would compile all the data on how major league teams did at the gate, and in a weekly Monday article would break down attendance statistics into categories such as daily, weekly and annual averages.
Mr. Elliot was an official scorer during the 1970 World Series, which the Orioles won in five games against the Cincinnati Reds.
"One of his proudest moments, he recalled throughout his life, was when the team voted to award him a World Series ring," Mr. Murphy said. "Elrod Hendricks used to joke that it was him who secured the ring for Jim because the vote had to be unanimous. He wore it for the rest of his life."
From 1975 until his retirement in 1984, Mr. Elliot worked nights as a copy editor on the sports desk.
"He was a very good copy editor because he knew baseball, the players, and loved the game," said Seymour S. Smith, a retired assistant sports editor. "That was his love. You never hesitated to give him a story, especially when the clock was ticking."
Mr. Elliot enjoyed singing and studied it professionally. He could often be heard singing operatic arias or "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the newsroom men's room.
His wife of 42 years, the former Betty Hamilton, died in 1999.
He was a member of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1609 Kurtz Ave., Lutherville, where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Surviving are three daughters, Nancy E. Whitney of Baltimore and Linda R. Straub and Bonnie E. Murphy, both of Lutherville; a brother, John C. Elliot of Reading, Pa.; and three grandchildren.