By Phil Hochberg
Bob Wolff died last week at his home in South Nyack, NY, having worked right up to the very end of his 77-year career as a sportscaster and his 96-year lifetime as a gentleman. Guinness lists his career as the longest ever for a sportscaster. Inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, he was localy noted primarily for his years a s the radio and television play-by-play announcer for the Senators from 1947 through 1960. Bob left with the Senators to go to Minneapolis for the 1961 season, but then joined NBC full time where he was its lead sports announcer for years. He did the radio play-by-play of two of the greatest games in sports history: Don Larsen’s 1956 World series perfect game and the first sudden death NFL Championship game, where the Colts beat the Giants in 1958. Bob also was the only man to do championship games in the NBA and the NHL. He spent the rest of his career in New York with Madison Square Garden and Cablevision, writing and announcing “think pieces” until the very end.
I last saw Bob, a member of baseball and basketball’s Halls of Fame (Broadcasting wings) this past February when my son Jeff and I visited him and his wife Jane at their home in South Nyack. I had known him for nearly 60 years and had promised to visit him when in New YOrk. When I was a junior at Wilson High School in Washington, my friend Dick Heller— who later went on to a newspaper career in D.C.— happened to mention me that he had done some “go-fer” work for Bob, but that he no longer wanted t o do it. He suggested I call Bob and ask if I could step into Dick’s shoes. Bob lived almost around the corner, right off Linnean Avenue near Rock Creek Park and I walked over to his house and went to the ball game with him. For the next year, I used to go to games with him, doing whatever he needed, including spotting for him. A testament to his approach to broadcasting, he always had someone by his side, listening to his broadcast, correcting him when necessary and passing him notes. When the writers from the Washington Daily News, the ones he usually used and paid $10 to do it, werent’ available, I filled in. You can imagine what this was like for a 16-year-old kid. For me, that lasted a year until Bob— no fool he— hired Shirley Povich’s son Maury to work for him in 1958.
Memories? Too many. I helped script is 6 p.m. sportscast on WWDC. I was with Bob when he interviewed a “government employee” at one game, Vice President Richard Nixon. And I was there when he did many of his “Dugout Chatter” interviews, including a famous one with a generally disinterested Ted Williams. And I sat in the dugout only a couple of feet away from Ty Cobb as he was being questioned by the press. (Why didn’t I have the presence of mind to get a ball autographed by Cobb?)
Bob and I maintained the association and the friendship as the years passed. I helped him get an assignment from the National Hockey League and I had continuing contact with his younger son, Rick, on behalf of a client of mine. Seven years ago, I proposed to the Nationals that they honor Bob by having him throw out the first pitch in a game. Stan Kasten, then President of the Nationals, did me one better, by producing a video of Bob’s career, honoring him before the game, and naming the Radio-TV booth for him. That led to an inquiry from the Library of Congress about Bob’s collection of tapes and discs of interviews that he had done in his 70-plus year career, which in turn led to Bob and his family asking me to handle the Library negotiations and the tax and personal estate issues which were involves. Those negotiations went on for a year, finally culminating in a 2013 ceremony at the Library and a huge article about the Bob Wolff Collection going to the Library of Congress on the front page of The New York Times Sports Section.
Bob’s last trip to D.C. was for a Smithsonian appearance in September 2014 that I moterated with about 150 baseball fans, listening to him reminisce. The first inquiry from the audience asked Bob if he thought the final pitch to Dale Mitchell in Larsen’s World Series perfect game was actually outside (some fans never forget!).
When I graduated from Wilson in January 1598, Bob and Jane gave me a stadium blanket as a gift; I still have it along with many fond recollections.
Phil Hochberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a member of the selection committee of the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
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