R. Gordon Beard

The Baltimore Sun

R. Gordon Beard, a retired Associated Press sportswriter and well-known master of ceremonies who was also an author and expert on Baltimorese, died Saturday of Parkinson's disease at Perring Parkway Center. The longtime Gardenville resident was 82.

Mr. Beard - who was known to generations of readers by the byline Gordon Beard - as born and raised in South Baltimore.

While a student at Southern High School, he played basketball and baseball and enrolled in a public speaking class.

He also found out he had a talent for making people laugh - as was shown when a physics teacher asked the class one day, "What happens when a body is immersed in water?"

Without missing a beat, Mr. Beard replied, "The phone rings."

"Gordon who was two years ahead of me at Southern, was a good basketball player, a damn good first baseman and awfully funny," Seymour Smith, a retired Sun sportswriter and editor, said yesterday.

After graduating in 1944, Mr. Beard enlisted in the Air Force, where he served as a cryptologist in India, Burma, Cairo and Casablanca.

In 1947, he enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, and in 1951 was a member of its first graduating class in journalism.

He began his career in Annapolis with the AP in 1951 and later transferred to Baltimore, where he worked until retiring in 1988.

In addition to covering major sports teams, he also covered University of Maryland basketball and football.

Mr. Beard's first book, B irds On The Wing: The Story of the Baltimore Orioles , published in 1967, recounted the 1966 season, when the team won the American League pennant and then swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in four straight games in the World Series.

"Gordon was a heck of a good reporter and a guy you couldn't help but like," recalled Bob Maisel, retired Sun sports editor.

Mr. Smith recalled that Mr. Beard made the subjects of his questioning uncomfortable at times.

"He would dive into a story and ask very probing questions. Not everyone liked that," he said.

Mr. Beard's competitive nature extended to his activities outside the newsroom.

"In the old days, the guys from the morning Sun sports department would play the guys from AP at a place we called the 'Snake Pit,' because it was behind the reptile house in Druid Hill Park," said Alan "Goldy" Goldstein, a retired Sun sportswriter.

"It was a tie game, and when the ball was hit, I came around third and Gordon, who was playing third, wouldn't let me score," he said, laughing. "He was a fierce competitor and hated to lose at anything."

Mr. Beard's dry wit and droll way of looking at sports made him a popular press box companion.

"He was absolutely the funniest guy in the press box. He was the star, and as an emcee, was hilarious," said Bill Tanton, former Evening Sun sports editor. "His sense of humor was very contemporary. If Gordon heard something on the 6 p.m. news, he was making jokes about it an hour later at a banquet."

Mr. Beard also was capable of needling his colleagues.

After John Steadman, the longtime Baltimore sportwriter, had published a column where he relayed an imagined phone conversation in heaven with Babe Ruth, Mr. Beard asked for the phone number.

When Mr. Steadman, apparently unamused, balked, Mr. Beard said if he wouldn't give him the number, would he at least consider letting him have the area code?

Mr. Beard was the heir apparent to former Evening Sun columnist John Goodspeed as a collector of examples of the city's native tongue.

In 1960, Mr. Goodspeed, who died in 2006, published 130 examples in his A Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese.

Mr. Beard's first book on the subject, Basic Baltimorese: An Illustrated Guide for Getting Around Balamer, Merlin, with illustrations by his brother, Armand H. Beard, a cartoonist and engineer, was published in 1979.

It was followed by Basic Baltimorese II in 1990; and finally, Basic Baltimorese III , with illustrations by Mike Ricigliano, in 1999.

"Linguists and scholars for years have argued over [the Baltimore dialect's] derivation and have suggested various blends of Virginia Southern, Pennsylvania Dutch, Brooklynese, Allegheny Mountain English, Irish and British Cockney," Mr. Beard wrote.

Mr. Beard enjoyed telling people he grew up on South Charles Street. where he enjoyed eating his mother's "lemon moran" pie.

For 15 years, Mr. Beard and his brother collaborated on a cartoon, Emcee, that was published on the op-ed pages of The Evening Sun beginning in 1979. He furnished the captions for his brother's cartoons.

Mr. Beard co-wrote with Chuck Thompson the veteran Orioles broadcaster's autobiography, A in't the Beer Cold, published in 1996.

His career as an emcee started with a Lions Club meeting years ago, and he later branched out to become a much-in-demand host of roasts, sports awards and sports banquets.

"He loved to tell the story of hosting a roast for Mickey Mantle," said a niece, Carol Armstrong of Middle River. "It was Bob Costas' turn to speak, and [Mr. Beard] couldn't get him to say anything mean about Mantle because he admired the man so much."

When Mr. Beard emceed the farewell for Brooks Robinson in 1977 at Memorial Stadium, he reminded the crowd of Reggie Jackson's remark: "If I played in New York, they'd name a candy bar after me."

He added, "Around here, nobody's named a candy bar after Brooks Robinson. We name our children after him."

Mr. Beard is survived by his wife of 32 years, the former Joan Russoniello.

"Writing and sports were Gordon's life," she said. "Also, making people laugh."

A memorial Mass will be offered at noon Saturday at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 4414 Frankford Ave.

Also surviving are a stepson, Robert Pry of Gardenville; another niece; and a nephew.

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