Chronicle sportswriter Rosenbaum dies at 91

When Art Rosenbaum walked into the San Francisco Chronicle’s Fifth Street offices in the late 1920s looking for a job, the editors didn’t care how well he wrote. But they were bowled over by how well he typed.

“My sister had gone to secretarial school and had brought home a chart of a keyboard. It doesn’t seem like much today, but to operate a keyboard typewriter was a big deal,” Rosenbaum told j. in a lengthy May interview at his cozy room in Rhoda Goldman Plaza.

“Harry B. Smith, the sports editor, said go over to the typewriter and type something. I was using 10 fingers, bang, bang, bang, and most of them were just one- or two-finger guys. It didn’t seem to matter what I typed, just that I was able to type it. He said, ‘You’re hired. You get 10 cents an inch, but you can’ t go over $25 a month.'”

Chronicle higher-ups and generations of Bay Area sports fans would come to appreciate Rosenbaum for more than just his typing skills over the next seven decades as he became an award-winning writer, columnist and the paper’s sports editor for 25 years.

The 91-year-old died Sunday, Dec. 21, in the room at the Jewish Home he shared with his older brother, Jack, also a famous San Francisco newspaper columnist.

Rosenbaum was one of six children — all of whom lived into their late 80s or 90s — born into an Orthodox San Francisco family. His father, a Russian immigrant, was the president of Congregation Keneseth Israel, the city’s oldest Orthodox shul.

As a five-day-a-week columnist for the Chronicle in an era uncluttered by televised sports coverage, Rosenbaum was a huge figure in the Bay Area sporting scene. He befriended local athletes such as Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays and covered nine Olympic games.

And, in an era best known for hokey sportswriting rife with clichés, Rosenbaum’s prose stands out with its clean, economical English.

Rosenbaum was also respected for his kindly demeanor. Former Chronicle writers remembered him as an extraordinarily even-keeled man. The late baseball writer Bob Stephens once said, “A man could not ever have asked for a better boss. I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper.”

When j. asked Rosenbaum in May about his reputation as an easygoing guy, he laughed. He could afford to be soft-spoken and calm because he always made sure to have a real hard-ass as an assistant, he said.

Rosenbaum’ s friendliness wasn’t an act, though. He served as a mentor for countless young writers, and a sportswriting competition for Bay Area high school students has long borne his name.

Rosenbaum’s wife of 66 years, Shirley, died in October 2002. Their only daughter, Marjorie, died in 1998.

He is survived by two granddaughters, Cindy Viola of San Francisco and Jennifer Viola of Los Angeles, as well as his brother, Jack.

Donations may be sent to any Jewish or sports charity.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.