Reflections Of A Sports Broadcasting Pioneer’s Career
The late sports broadcasting legend Bob Woff knew how fortunate he was to have had the career that he did.
Meeting a hero is never easy. Access to a person who has special meaning to you, for whatever reasons, in all likelihood is not available. People of notoriety move about at schedules few on the outside could match.
But, there's always that chance of a meeting that could happen. In my case, I was in the right place at the right time, and on the right day to come face-to-face with Wolff on perhaps the greatest day of his professional career.
July 30, 1995 in Cooperstown, New York, not long after Wolff gave his acceptance speech at the Clark Sports Center grounds, just one mile from where the National Baseball Hall of Fame held their inductions ceremonies, I spotted him standing unnoticed on Main Street.
There he was. Standing in front of the Seventh Inning Stretch memorabilia store at 137 Main. Wolff appeared to be waiting for someone. If that was the case, I'm glad they were late.
Less than two hours earlier Wolff received the Ford C. Frick Award. This prestigious award goes to an individual each summer for a broadcaster who has made major contributions to baseball. As I approached Wolff, aside from congratulating the native from New York City of his being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame's broadcasters' wing in the Baseball Library, I was in awe of finally seeing in person, to what until then was just a voice on radio and a face on TV broadcasts.
As a student of sports broadcasting, for me, meeting the voices of the game has always been as exciting and important to me, the same as to those in uniform. Wolff, as they say, did it all - beginning in 1939. From the time he retired from broadcasting in 2017, Wolff also witrnessed many of the greatest moments ever in sports.
Wolff was at the microphine when Jackie Robinson collected his final major league hit that won Game 6 of the World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He was the TV face and voice of the New York Knickerbockers only two NBA championships seasons (1969-1970 & 1972-1973), at Yankee Stadium in 1958 describing to a TV audience an NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts - forever remembered as "The Greatest Game Ever Played", and then there was another great baseball moment that Wolff was calling to a national radio audience involving the Yankees, again.
During the 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, Game 5, at the Stadium in the Bronx, Wolff was one of the radio broadcasters heard on the Mutual Broadcast System. It is Wolff's call of the final inning of Yankee pitcher Don Larsen's perfect game on October 8 that has been heard by millions of baseball fans since.
There were 14 years broadcasting Washington Senators baseball on radio for Wolff, who stayed with the club during the 1961 season as they moved to become the Minnesota Twins. He was seen, beginning in 1962, handling play-by-play assignments for NBC's Game of the Week. Wolff even answered the call to lend his credibility with audiences and sponsors to announce the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
My time with Wolff on Main Street in Cooperstown was fleeting. I only wish that I had a camera at the time to have a picture snapped of the two of us. But, again, as fate would have it, the next important date involving Wolff and his biggest fan (me) would be during the early morning hours of January 24, 2009.
14 years after our brief meeting in Cooperstown, I have Wolff all to myself as a guest on my MOVA Radio program in Utica. In the early days of internet radio/podcasts, I had full control of what guests to bring on the program. Earlier that week I called Wolff at his South Nyack home in New York's Rockland County (25 miles north of Manhattan) asking if he would be a guest on the show.
He couldn't have been more gracious with his time. What a joy it was to speak with one of my childhood idols.
When I take my daily walks, most recently I carried my CD player, and listened to the MOVA program with Wolff as my quest.
From his days calling professional basketball games, Wolff rated the first Knicks' championship team as the best he had ever watched. Coach Red Holzman, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Dave Debusschere from the 1969-1970 team are all in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. During the program while discussing the great Knicks teams, Wolff reminds that Phil Jackson was a forward for the championship seasons.
Memories of the great Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle come front and center. Wolff declared Mantle as the most versatile ballplayer he ever covered. Whether Mantle put down a drag bunt, of which he more times than not reached first for a hit, or hit with power from both sides of home plate, Wolff remembered Mantle as the fasted guy in the American League during most of his 18 year career in New York.
The first MLB all-star game broadcast on TV was called by Wolf. The first inaugural telecast of a United States President on TV, in 1949, was shown on the DuMont TV Network. President Harry Truman, for the first time, was seen live by Americans being sworn into office. Wolff hosted this historic event.
By 1950, Wolff was broadcasting 275 sporting events annually.
During his illustrious career in broadcasting Wolff experienced a time in the media few could claim. He was there for radio's infancy, TV's introduction, and programs put on cable being sent coast to cost.
The 15 minutes I spoke with Wolff seemed to go fast. He passed away on July 15, 2017. In his 96 years, Wolff had the best seat in the house for nearly every sporting event of importance.
Oh, one more note of extreme accomplishment for Wolff. He was also enshrined in the basketball hall of fame for his media contributions. Only Wolff and broadcasting great Curt Gowdy are in both the baseball and basketball halls of fame as broasdcasters.
From the up close and personal minutes chatting with Wolff in Cooperstown, to worshiping him for his fabulous career as my guest on MOVA Radio, hearing his voice brought me back to a time when I had my transitor radio turned on to a sports game in New York City, and I was once again a teenager antiscipating Wolff's storytelling.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.