Legendary Broadcaster Bob Wolff Dies at 96

Jul 19, 2017

Bob Wolff and SportsJam host Doug Doyle at the Major League Baseball Awards Dinner
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

The sports broadcasting world lost one of its finest this past weekend. Bob Wolff, the only sportscaster to call play-by-play of championships in all four major North American professional team sports, has died at the age of 96.

Wolff died peacefully in his South Nyack home Saturday night.  The Yankees said in a team statement, "Bob Wolff's inconic, Hall-of Fame broadcasting career was matched by his class and character."  Bob was a guest on SportsJam with Doug Doyle in 2014. 

Wolff broadcast the NFL's championship game, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. He interviewed Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Vince Lombardi to just name a few:

"When doing an interview I wanted the natural feelings and emotions to come out, that's the way you do it.  I always went for the unusual ones (interviews)."

One of those unusual interviews was with then Vice President Richard Nixon at a Washington Senators game.  Wolff didn't recognize Nixon prior to the interview.

Wolfe gained fame as the voice of the Senators, and for decades did play-by-play for the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

Wolff was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest consecutive run as a broadcaster at 78 years, dating to 1939 on WDNC Radio when he was a student at Duke University. This year, he did sports commentary on News 12 Long Island and hosted the Con Edison Scholastic Sports Award program on WHUD Radio in Westchester.

During his SportsJam interview, Wolff talked about calling the only perfect game in World Series history when the Yankees' Don Larsen accomplished the feat against Brooklyn in 1956.  Wolff was also the play-by-play announcer for Baltimore Colts' overtime victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL title game.

Many remember Bob for being behind the microphone, doing television play-by-play for the New York Knicks' two championships.

Bob Wolff interviews Babe Ruth
Credit Bob Wolff for WBGO News

I asked him to compare his interview experiences with Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter?

"Completely different personalities.  The Bambino loved to be in the public eye, he just came to life and he liked people, and particularly he liked the applause. But he knew that his off the field life wasn't the same as his charm on the field when he was hitting home runs.  He was really concerned about that, so he went out of his way whenever he made a talk to anybody..he would say "I wanna tell kids to live a clean life, keep away from sins and temptations. and he made it clear what his viewpoint was."  So he wasn't exactly newsworthy, but you had to get a hold of him because he was always a big name and certainly the most powerful figure in all of baseball.  Derek Jeter is the all-American guy in every way, his actions, his words, his thoughts, his behavior...but he's not a glamorous type guy, just a down to earth human being.  If you're around him asking questions, and probing for something which is different and noboby ever hits that point.... He's not a newsmaker, but he's a news gatherer because people want to hear from him all the time."

Bob Wolff was considered a master interviewer:

"I had no trouble asking tough questions, nor did the guys have trouble answering my questions because they knew I was trying to be fair with my approach.  I've tried to be a friend as well as a reporter."

Wolff recently donated much of his audio archive to the Library of Congress.  He is enshrined in the broadcast wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters-Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame, and in July 2008 was voted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award.

Bob Wolff in action calling a game
Credit Bob Wolff for WBGO News

Wolff was passionate about calling all different sporting events:

"I love the emotion of games and to able to take games where I can use with my voice and explain how I feel...I'm lucky I was born with the ability to do that."

You can hear Bob's great little songs from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the podcast that was recorded in his South Nyack, New York home in 2014.

Wolff served in the U.S. Navy as a supply officer in the Pacific during World War II. He is survived by Jane Wolff, his wife of 72 years, sons Dr. Robert Wolff and Rick Wolff, daughter Margy Clark, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

You can hear the entire SportsJam interview with Bob Wolff by clicking above. 

It was quite an honor to have interviewed amazing and talented man.  His wife Jane was a sweetheart as well during our talk.  Bob Wolff will be greatly missed.