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Bob Wolff, sports broadcasting legend, dies at 96

Bob Wolff speaks to friends and co-workers during

Bob Wolff speaks to friends and co-workers during his surprise 90th birthday party at Carlyle on the Green on Nov. 17, 2010. Credit: Newsday / Sally Morrow

Bob Wolff was born before the first live radio broadcast of a sports event.

He began his announcing career the same spring that a sports event first was broadcast live on television.

He graduated from Duke University before star coach Mike Krzyzewski was born. He interviewed Babe Ruth and Jim Thorpe. He called both a World Series perfect game and “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

And he seemed to have a great deal of fun doing it, approaching a dream job as if it all were a happy dream, making friends across several generations of athletes, coaches, executives, fans and colleagues.

To say that Wolff had a heck of a run would be to understate the obvious. He liked it so much that he worked deep into his 90s, cementing his status as the longest-working sports broadcaster in history.

Wolff died Saturday, according to News 12 Long Island.

He was 96.

Wolff was born in New York on Nov. 29, 1920, and graduated from what’s now Lawrence Woodmere Academy. While attending Duke on a baseball scholarship, he broke his ankle during a rundown in 1939; he then tried his hand at the radio business and succeeded.

From 1947 to 1960, he was the voice of the Washington Senators, during which he enhanced broadcasts of mostly losing teams by interviewing baseball’s biggest names, past and present, including Ruth, Connie Mack, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. He even was able to tame the famously cranky Ted Williams.

More importantly, he had the foresight to keep and organize the recordings, hundreds of which he later donated to the Library of Congress.

During that period he also did national work, including radio calls of Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series and the Colts’ overtime victory over the Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game.

Wolff lived for many years in South Nyack, New York, but he worked at News 12 Long Island, starting in 1986, usually getting a ride to work from his wife, Jane, whom he married in 1945.

Wolff was honored by the baseball and basketball Halls of Fame, is in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and was inducted into Madison Square Garden’s Walk of Fame.

Many baby boomer-era Knicks fans recall him as the TV voice of the team during its championship era in the early 1970s.

Two of Wolff’s favorites from that era: The 106-105 victory over the Cincinnati Royals on Nov. 28, 1969, that gave the Knicks their then-record 18th victory in a row, and the Nov. 18, 1972, victory over the Bucks in which the Knicks scored the final 19 points to win, 87-86, at the Garden.

Another of his signature events was the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which he called for more than three decades.

But the Larsen game, in which he followed the tradition of the time and refused to use the words “no-hitter” or “perfect game” as the day unfolded, remains his signature moment.

Wolff quickly rose toward the top of Twitter’s national trending list Sunday evening, nearly eight decades after he began his career, another reminder of how many media eras he spanned.

Among those who reacted to his death were many of his friends and fans in the business, and many of the baby boomers — and their elders — who grew up listening to him.

Brian Kenny of MLB Network, who grew up in Levittown, summed up the sentiment, writing, “For those too young — you missed a true gentleman. Bob Wolff was a terrific person — a role model.”

Madison Square Garden and MSG Networks issued a joint statement that read, “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 hundreds of broadcasters he mentored and the millions of fans he touched. His legacy will live forever.”

Wolff is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. One of Wolff’s sons, Rick, is an author and weekend morning radio host at WFAN.

Wolff did not get out to games much in his later years, focusing primarily on essays for News 12. “I love the fact that I’m doing opinion pieces,” he said in an interview with Newsday in October. “They may not be right, but they’re opinions.”

Why did he keep at it for so long beyond most people’s retirement age? “I enjoy it,” he said in October. “If I didn’t do it, what would I do to have fun?”

New York Sports