When George Sullivan was a Red Sox batboy in 1949, the great Boston slugger Ted Williams would often drop him off at his Cambridge home after a game.
His high school friends would wait on the street corner for a glimpse of Williams, who once held his hands out the driver’s window like he was gripping a bat. Tongue in cheek, he called out: “Thanks, Sully, for telling me to choke up on the bat — it really helped.”
Five years later, Mr. Sullivan was back in Fenway Park as a cub sports reporter for the Boston Traveler. Williams asked what he was doing, and when Mr. Sullivan told him, Williams said: “You used to be a good kid. Where did you go wrong?”
Mr. Sullivan liked to share those stories with family and friends as he went on to become one of Boston’s most widely read sportswriters, the author of a dozen books, a journalism professor at Boston University, and public relations director for the Red Sox and Suffolk Downs race track.
A role model who set high standards for his students, Mr. Sullivan died in his Acton home May 21 of congestive heart failure. He was 83 and had been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for more than 50 years.
His nephew John Powers, a former Globe staff writer, said, “Nobody I’ve known worked harder at his craft, talked to more people, or was more dogged and careful about his reporting.”
Mr. Sullivan wrote a notes column for the Traveler and Boston Herald Traveler “that was remarkable for its scope and rich detail,” said Powers, who coauthored a 1982 year-by-year history of the New York Yankees with his uncle.
Because the Traveler was an afternoon paper, Mr. Sullivan often worked into the early morning hours on his column.
“I would often stop by the newsroom, well past midnight, to pick up a paper on my way home from Fenway Park or the Garden and I’d hear the tap-tap-tap of an old Royal or Underwood typewriter, and know I’d be seeing George when I turned the corner,” Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald recalled.
“Without saying a word, he modeled what a pro in our business ought to be.”
Frank Dyer, a former Traveler night sports editor and close friend, called Mr. Sullivan “a walking file cabinet. When he came into the office, he had pieces of paper coming out of his coat, shirt, and pants pockets.”
A highlight of Mr. Sullivan’s career was a first-person account of playing a minor league baseball game for the Manchester, N.H., Yankees in 1969. New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle signed him to a $1 contract.
Mr. Sullivan went 0-for-1 with a walk and recalled afterward that when the players called him “sir,” he told them: “Forget that ‘sir’ stuff, I’m only 35.”
Mr. Sullivan’s assignments included covering the Patriots from their inception through the next 22 seasons. He also covered the first Super Bowl; the World Series; the Celtics of the Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, and John Havlicek eras; and the Big Bad Bruins of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
“George wrote two of the best books on local teams with his illustrated histories of the Red Sox and Celtics,” said Richard Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum, who added that Mr. Sullivan’s coverage of the Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and ’60s as a beat reporter “allowed him unprecedented access to the players.”
He served as PR director for the Red Sox from 1981-1984, when Buddy LeRoux co-owned the team, and subsequently was PR director at Suffolk Downs, when LeRoux owned the track.
Mr. Sullivan’s roles as a batboy and PR director for the Red Sox “gave him unusual insight into the inner sanctum of the club,” Johnson said.
The youngest of six children, George Francis Xavier Sullivan was a son of Timothy Sullivan, who was director of veteran’s benefits in Cambridge, and the former Katherine Dowd.
When Mr. Sullivan was the water boy for Harvard University’s football team in 1947, he befriended Robert F. Kennedy, who was one of its players. On the 25th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Mr. Sullivan wrote a tribute for the Herald. “To me, he was never so big that he didn’t have time for his friends,” he wrote.
Mr. Sullivan played baseball, basketball, and hockey at Cambridge High and Latin School, from which he graduated in 1951.
In 1955, he married Elizabeth Curcio, who had attended the same high school. Their romance blossomed after they met at a church dance.
Mr. Sullivan graduated from Boston University in 1955 and received a master’s from BU the following year. He served in the Marine Corps from 1956 to 1958.
He left the Herald Traveler shortly after Hearst Corp. bought the paper in 1972. Mr. Sullivan joined BU as an associate professor of journalism, and was a contributing writer and copy editor at the Globe.
Among his students was Globe reporter and columnist Kevin Paul Dupont. “George was, by far, my finest college instructor, above all preaching accuracy and fairness on the job, and conveying his passion for sports, reporting, writing, and newspapering. Each day on this job, I think of what he taught me,” Dupont wrote in 2013.
“I was the first of nearly a dozen students he helped shepherd through the Globe’s front door as a copyboy,” Dupont added.
A prolific freelance writer, sports talk show guest, and occasional radio color commentator, Mr. Sullivan later in life was a substitute teacher at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School.
A private burial service has been held for Mr. Sullivan, who in addition to his wife leaves his daughter Lisa Guittarr of Lowell; his sons Sean of Littleton and George of Burlington; a brother James of Darien, Conn.; and seven grandchildren.
“He was a consummate professional who didn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘good enough,’ and he would never compromise his core values to further his career or for personal gain,” Sean said. “He was the most selfless person I ever knew.”
Powers recalled that when he was 6 and visited the Sullivan home, “I remember hearing Uncle George typing a story, splashing on a bit of aftershave, dashing down the stairs, and driving off to the paper to make deadline. As soon as he left, I went into his room, banged away at the keys, splashed on aftershave, and dashed down the stairs. Quite literally, I followed in his footsteps.”Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.