The man who de­scribed per­fec­tion, hit right notes

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - RICHARD SANDOMIR

In 1990, I mentioned to my friend Rick Wolff that I was think­ing of writ­ing a book about Don Larsen’s per­fect game in the 1956 World Series. “I think you should speak to my dad,” Rick said. “He was there. He called the game.” I had never met Bob Wolff, who died July 15, but like many peo­ple in the New York and Wash­ing­ton sports mar­kets, I knew Bob. He was the TV voice of the New York Knicks dur­ing their 1970 and 1973 NBA cham­pi­onship runs. To fans of the Wash­ing­ton Se­na­tors, he was the voice of a fran­chise from 1947 to 1961 (in­clud­ing its aw­ful first sea­son as the Min­nesota Twins). And for just about ev­ery­one who lis­tened to him over the course of a re­mark­ably long ca­reer, he was that smart, joy­ful, ge­nial voice who loved what he was do­ing, who worked hard to ap­pear that he wasn’t work­ing hard, and who made you feel that there was a friend be­hind the mi­cro­phone. In 1990, I met him in South Ny­ack, New York. On his din­ing room ta­ble that au­tumn af­ter­noon was a cas­sette recorder with a tape of the ra­dio broad­cast of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen ver­sus Sal Maglie of the Brook­lyn Dodgers. “Let’s lis­ten,” he said turn­ing it on. We con­cen­trated as if the game were hap­pen­ing for the first time. Bob leaned to­ward the recorder as if he had not heard the game — as if he had not called it. But there was the voice of the then 35-yearold Wolff, call­ing the sec­ond half of the game af­ter Bob Neal had fin­ished the first half. Wolff got the bet­ter of the deal. It was en­thralling to lis­ten to the game for the first time across the ta­ble from this very ex­u­ber­ant man who of­ten told me how he equated call­ing games to singing, how his voice rose and fell with the events of the game, how he hit his high notes with the en­thu­si­asm of a tenor on­stage at the Metropoli­tan Opera. He did not de­clare Larsen’s gem per­fect un­til the fi­nal out. But when it ended, he ex­cit­edly said, “Man, oh man, how about that, a per­fect game for Don Larsen!” Two years later, he was again in the right place at the right time when he called the 1958 NFL cham­pi­onship game won in over­time by the Bal­ti­more Colts, 23-17, over the New York Giants. “The Colts are the world cham­pi­ons — Ameche scores!” And if you lis­ten, you will hear his voice be­gin to crescendo be­fore land­ing on those last two words. It was a lyric to Wolff, not a call — words to sing, not shout. These are tran­si­tional times in sportscast­ing. Vin Scully (whose birth date, Nov. 29, was the same as Wolff ’s) re­tired from the Dodgers last year af­ter 67 sea­sons. Verne Lundquist and Chris Ber­man have dras­ti­cally scaled back their work­load Brent Mus­burger left the booth to join his fam­ily’s sports hand­i­cap­ping busi­ness. But Wolff ’s death ended a re­mark­able era. He be­gan his ca­reer on ra­dio while at Duke in 1939 and ended it with a com­men­tary in Fe­bru­ary on News 12 Long Is­land. He had not re­tired, not at 96, when he still had some­thing to say or an event to cover. No sports­caster has had a longer ca­reer — Guin­ness World Records backs up that claim — and few have had one that was more var­ied. A long time ago, Wolff fol­lowed with fidelity the ad­vice of his col­lege base­ball coach when he asked him what he thought of his chances of play­ing in the ma­jor leagues. “If you want to make it to the ma­jors,” the coach told him, “keep talk­ing.” So he did. Wolff was a gen­er­al­ist who called foot­ball, bas­ket­ball, base­ball, hockey, soc­cer and the West­min­ster Ken­nel Club Dog Show. One of his more in­trigu­ing ven­tures be­gan on road trips with the Se­na­tors: It re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of a choral group, with Wolff on his ukulele, and play­ers like Jim Lemon, Roy Siev­ers and Tex Cle­venger singing along. So many of us grew up with him as well: a de­cent, hard­work­ing sports­caster and en­ter­tainer with the heart of a jour­nal­ist and the soul of a happy ham.


Don Larsen pitches en route to a per­fect game in the fourth in­ning of Game 5 of the World Series in New York on Oct. 8, 1956.


Bal­ti­more Colts full­back Alan Ameche ad­vances through a big open­ing to score the win­ning touch­down in over­time against the New York Giants on Dec. 28, 1958.


Bob Wolff plays his ukulele and sings “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at his home in South Ny­ack, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 2015.

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