- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This was in the long, long ago baseballwise, meaning the early 1950s, and catcher Clint Courtney of the Washington Senators was having trouble throwing the ball back to his pitchers accurately. One day he moaned and groaned about it to Bob Wolff, a young Senators broadcaster who frequently worked out with the team.

“Tell you what, Clint,” said Wolff, who had played baseball at Duke University. “Let’s you and me come out early every day and practice your throws.”

So they did, and pretty soon Courtney, a rock-rumped sort known as “Scrap Iron,” had no more problems returning pitches.

Can you imagine a major league player today asking a media wretch for help? Of course not, which is another indication of just how long Wolff has been around the sportscasting business after beginning his career with the Senators in 1946.

Now the Nationals will pay homage to Wolff before Saturday night’s game against the Mets when they dedicate the home-team television booth to him. Thus will Bob achieve local parity with late columnist Shirley Povich, for whom the press box was named last season.

“I’m thrilled, shocked and delighted,” said Wolff, who at age 88 still works doing live events, commentaries and documentaries for News 12 on Long Island. Did somebody say better late than never? Maybe somebody should.

Full disclosure: I’m hardly objective about Wolff because I worked as his executive assistant (read: go-fer) for two seasons in the 1950s, and the journalistic lessons I learned from him still linger. But it’s a good thing he was born in 1920 rather than, say, 1985, because he might have trouble reconciling himself to today’s more contentious sports scene.

Bob was a friend to many players who labored for that era’s usually woebegone Senators teams, yet once he was on the air, truth was the operative ethic no matter the consequences. As he frequently puts it in retrospect, “All you had to do was give the score - everybody assumed Washington was losing.”

That sounds all too familiar, right?

“I got to know the players as human beings and as good friends rather than as a reporter,” Wolff said. “I’ve always had a natural curiosity about people and I’m a natural story teller, so it helped me a great deal on the game broadcasts.”

Wolff also got on well with many opposing players, including perpetually prickly Ted Williams. In 1956, Bob approached him for an interview at Washington’s Griffith Stadium while Williams was taking a carload of media flak for thumbing his nose and spitting at the press box a few days earlier at Fenway Park.

“Ted, you’re my friend, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to go on with me, but if you do I’ll have to ask about the spitting incident because I’m a reporter,” Wolff said.

Replied Teddy Ballgame: “Ask anything you want. When do you want me there?”

“Nowadays, because of tell-all books like Jim Brosnan’s ‘The Long Season’ and Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four,’ plus coverage in the tabloids, players have become wary,” Wolff said. “But I don’t have any regrets about the way it used to be. I’d give a player like Mickey Mantle a ride back to the Shoreham Hotel after the Yankees played a game here, and neither of us thought anything was wrong with that.”

But with or without jocks as his pals, Wolff marches on as the nation’s “longest-running sportscaster,” as he puts it. And though he hasn’t worked steadily in Washington for nearly half a century, many of us older fans remember hiding radios under our pillows and listening to Wolff when the Senators played late games in the “West” - meaning Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis - in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Everything has changed since then - everything except Bob Wolff’s enthusiasm as he approaches his big day and night in the District.

“There isn’t a day when I don’t wake up and grab for a pen because I just had this great idea,” he said. “Washington was the key to my life and advancement. I was married there [to the ever-loyal Jane], my children were born there and it’s still my home base. It was my good fortune to work there.”

And ours.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide