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Monday, July 17, 2017

Bob Wolff, Sports Broadcaster for Nearly 80 Years, Dies at 96

In the 1950s, when the original Senators were continuing to finish far from first place, Mr. Wolff knew that their long-suffering fans needed diversions from the team’s habitual losing.

On Memorial Day 1957, the Senators were playing a doubleheader against the Yankees at Griffith Stadium when he picked out an ostensibly typical fan in the stands to interview on the radio between games.

In a memoir, “It’s Not Who Won or Lost the Game — It’s How You Sold the Beer” (1996), Mr. Wolff recalled the moment:

“Are you originally from Washington, sir?”

“No, I’m a Californian. I was and still am.”

“Have you done much traveling around the country?”

“I’ve been in most of the 48 states at one time or another. And I’ve also traveled a bit abroad in the last few years.”

“What sort of work do you do, sir?”

“I work for the government.”


“My boss is President Eisenhower. I’m the vice president.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, our guest has been Vice President Richard Nixon.”

As Mr. Wolff put it in his memoir, “Politics notwithstanding, good straight men are hard to find.”

ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: July 17, 2017 at 08:40 AM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: broadcasters, general

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   1. Bote Man Posted: July 17, 2017 at 11:53 AM (#5494583)
Well, the Senators had to win in SOME way! R.I.P. Bob.
   2. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: July 17, 2017 at 12:18 PM (#5494602)
"A no-hitter for Don Larsen!"

"Ameche scores!"

"Willis Reed is limping out onto the court!"

Those are the 3 I can remember...
   3. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: July 17, 2017 at 01:55 PM (#5494695)
If Wolff had somehow began his career with the Yankees or the Giants instead of the Nats, with his laid back announcing style and soothing voice he'd be as renowned today as Vin Scully. His problem was that unlike Scully, he never became identified with any one team, and in fact his longest consecutive run as a broadcaster was his 33 years of being the play-by-play announcer for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, whatever "play-by-play" means for that event.

I've always had a personal reason for liking Wolff, beyond the fact that the one time I met him he was as down to Earth as any "celebrity" could be.

Back in 1958, a friend of mine, for reasons I'll never quite understand, woke up one morning and decided that his mission in life that day was to throw a fish at Ted Williams.

Yes, a fish. At Ted Williams.

Again, don't ask, because I don't know why, and I don't think he does, either. But yada yada yada on the way from his folks' apartment in Arlington to Griffith Stadium, he stops at a fish store and buys a large day old fish, as is, head and bones intact, and takes it on the bus with him, drawing curious stares as the ride grew longer and the Indian Summer day grew hotter. When he got to the stadium he was careful to sit apart from the other fans, which wasn't hard to do when the attendance was barely over 4000.

So after waiting for most of the game, when the 8th inning came along he figured this was going to be his last chance. So he ran up the ramp to the almost completely deserted upper deck, and as soon as Williams came up to the plate, he fired a perfect strike right at Teddy Ballgame's feet, complete with the wrapping where he'd written "Your hitting stinks like this fish".

Ah, the fine art of adolescent wit.

So Williams looks at the wrapper, sees what's inside, and brushes it aside. He then flies out and gets replaced for defensive purposes in the 9th.

Meanwhile, my friend ran back down the ramp while the fish was still in mid-air, and as everyone was staring at Williams and the fish, nobody was paying attention to the culprit. When he got downstairs, he feigned ignorance while asking what happened, and one of the hot dog salesmen said "Someone done thrown a FEESH at Ted Williams".

Mission accomplished, but the problem was that it was one of those stories that almost seemed too good to be true, and so it got frustrating over the years that nobody would believe me whenever I told it.

That is, nobody believed me until Bob Wolff published his memoir and laid it all out on p. 183, under the heading "THE GREAT FISH HUNT". He misremembered that it was a night game (it wasn't), but otherwise he got it right, although for some reason he'd assumed my friend had been sitting amidst other fans for the whole game, and tried to find the fan who'd been sitting next to him for an interview. Of course my friend wasn't so stupid to have exposed himself by sitting next to anyone with a rotting fish on his lap, and in fact he'd spent the prior 7 innings sitting by himself with another friend (not me) in one of the many empty sections. It was a cautionary instinct that later enabled him to survive a Marine tour in Vietnam.

So now whenever anyone gives me the fish eye (sorry) when I relate that story, I always know I have Bob Wolff as a backup. R.I.P. Mr. Wolff, one of the great ones.

   4. Bote Man Posted: July 17, 2017 at 06:14 PM (#5494900)
in fact his longest consecutive run as a broadcaster was his 33 years of being the play-by-play announcer for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, whatever "play-by-play" means for that event.

Best In Show provides a glimpse.
   5. Bote Man Posted: July 17, 2017 at 06:47 PM (#5494929)
I don't know how long this will last, but right this moment there's a YouTube "channel" live-streaming Bob Wolff calling the 1956 World's Series Game 7 pitting the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dahhhdgers.

It's a horrible recording, sounds like somebody placed a microphone in front of the radio speakers, which inevitably results in poor results. Better to connect directly to the radio's line output, but I have to be forgiving in these matters.
   6. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: July 18, 2017 at 07:55 AM (#5495085)
The lack of much response to the obit of one of the game's great announcing careers pretty much confirms my suspicions that it's almost exclusively the long time local announcers who stay with one team for most of their careers who become embedded in the popular imagination. I remember Wolff vividly for his years with the original Nats franchise, but if I were "just" 63 rather than 73 I doubt if his name would even have registered with me.

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