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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

NEW YORK TIMES FILE PHOTO

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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