- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

It has been more than 40 years since Bob Wolff dominated Washington’s sports broadcast scene as the radio and TV voice of the original Senators, but now he is back and youthful as ever with a new DVD that should be a must for baseball fans of any age.

First, a disclaimer: Wolff has been my friend (and former boss) for half a century, so this review is hardly objective. His work ethic, attention to detail and accuracy impressed me in the mid-1950s and still do. Wolff was elected to the media wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and, at age 84, is still broadcasting for the MSG Network and the News 12 cable station on Long Island.

Yet the DVD (“Legend to Legend: Conversations With Bob Wolff,” Hart Sharp Video, $19.99) can stand on its own merits as a welcome reminder of the days when most ballplayers were so poorly paid they welcomed the chance to be interviewed by Wolff and receive a $15 Countess Mara necktie as compensation.

“Legend” includes 50 interviews with 50 or so of the greats and not-so-greats (the latter meaning most of the Senators) conducted primarily on the field at old Griffith Stadium from 1955 to 1959. Among the list of notables who agreed to do Wolff’s pregame “Dugout Chatter” are Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox and Al Lopez. Other guests include longtime Senators owner Clark Griffith, Chicago White Sox manager Al Lopez and Casey Stengel. The Ol’ Perfessor selects his all-time all-star team for Wolff — and does it in English rather than his largely unintelligible second tongue known as “Stengelese.”

In the early days of television, the Senators telecast solely home games, and Wolff did “Dugout Chatter” and the postgame “Tenth Inning” live. But after WTTG-Channel 5 began carrying road games as well, Wolff added filmed interviews to be shown before those contests.

The biggest gem was a session with Williams shortly after the hot-tempered slugger made headlines by spitting at booing fans in Boston. Ted stiffed the press afterward, but when the Red Sox came to Washington, Wolff reminded Williams that he had agreed previously to be on the show.

“If you don’t want to come on, I’ll understand,” Wolff told him. “You’re a friend, Ted, but if you do the show, I’m going to have to ask you about [the spitting].”

Williams’ reply: “What time do we go on?” The resulting interview gives remarkable insight into how baseball’s Splendid Splinter could act like a child and then be contrite.

Wolff also likes to tell how he once filmed an interview with a White Sox pitcher who subsequently seemed on the brink of being released. “You know, Al, I’m running it Saturday,” he told manager Lopez a few days later when the Senators reached Chicago.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lopez told him.

Says Wolff, with a chuckle: “So we ran the interview at 1 o’clock, and at 4 o’clock he was gone.”

In addition to the straight interviews, the DVD includes lengthy thematic segments like “Salute to the Umpires, “The Fine Art of Winning” and “Changes That Shaped Careers,” My favorite among these is an interview Wolff conducted with four Senators sharing a small apartment during the season. At one point, Wolff jokingly tells one of them, “You look awfully cute in your apron.” Imagine such a comment making it onto the air in this politically correct era.

One of the later interviews involves the customarily reclusive Eddie Murray, who played for the New York Mets in the early 1990s. When Murray told Wolff he couldn’t come on because he had to work out, Bob simply lay down next to the player and asked questions while he did sit-ups. Even Murray had to laugh at the incongruity of it all,

Other highlights include Early Wynn and Cal McLish of the Cleveland Indians demonstrating how they could pitch with either hand, Williams talking about hitting, lifetime nonsmoker Wolff pretending to enjoy a sponsor’s cigarillo while Griffith puffed away and talked about the old days in the Wild West and Wolff leading a group of players called “The Singing Senators” in a dawn appearance at the Washington Monument for NBC’s “Today” show.

In fact, nearly every interview is a highlight,

“There was a friendliness between players and the media that doesn’t exist today,” Wolff says. “These are conversations with friends more than interviews — I had no script, no notes in my hand, and I just asked questions that I was curious about. Could you do something like that today? Not a chance.”

But he should be proud, and we should be grateful, that he did it way back when.

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