Bob Wolff, a sportscasting legend, died Saturday night at the age of 96. For those of you asking ‘Bob Who?’ you have just paid him the ultimate compliment.
For although Wolff is one of only two broadcasters to be honored by the Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fames, he never forgot who he was – a New York City native who worked his way to the top.
He called Don Larsen’s perfect World Series Game in 1956, the Baltimore Colts first title over the New York Giants in 1958 and Jackie Robinson’s last hit. He called the Knicks’ championship seasons in 1970 and 1973.
How’s that for a resume?
But this is what made Wolff one of the most respected and beloved broadcasters of all time:
He never saw himself as the story. He wasn’t about shtick. He was about substance.
He researched players, coaches, managers and teams, always looking for a unique angle or a fact. There was no sporting event too big or small, to popular or obscure that Wolff didn’t attack with relish.
Yes, he covered those epic events. But he also covered the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and National Horse Show. He broadcasted pro bowling.
Wolff worked his way up, from calling Duke University (his alma mater) baseball games on local radio, to NBC-TV’s baseball Game of the Week to Madison Square Garden, where he broadcasted Knicks and Rangers games for more than 50 years, to News 12 Long Island where he was a commentator since 1986.
The Madison Square Garden Company and MSG Networks released the following joint statement:
“Bob Wolff was not only one of the seminal figures in American sportscasting, but he was a part of the very fabric of Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers for more than six decades.
“In addition to leaving behind an unmatched body of work, his spirit carries on in the hundreds of broadcasters he mentored and the millions of fans he touched. His legacy will live forever.”
The other quality that set Wolff apart was his humility. He was generous and he was a gentleman.
When I was fortunate to cover my first Knicks game in the Early 80’s, I bumped into Wolff in the bowels of The Garden, having no idea where the locker rooms were.
Before pointing me in the right direction, Wolff graciously adjusted my tie.
“First game?’’ he asked.
“Yes sir,’’ I replied.
“You’ll do fine,’’ he said.
Which is what Wolff did for more than eight decades.
In 2012 the Guinness World Records recognized Wolff as having had the longest career of any sports broadcaster.
There are only two men enshrined in the both the basketball and baseball Hall of Fames. One is Curt Gowdy. The other is Bob Wolff. Wolff received the Curt Gowdy media award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
But perhaps all you really need to know about Wolff is this:
When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, he played ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ on his ukulele.