[From the Daily News]
Bill Mazer died on Wednesday. When I saw the obituary online in the NYT, I was transported back to my days as a passionate fan of New York sporting teams, and to one of the great sports conversationalists. I’m not a listener of talk radio, but I suddenly remembered that I was once, thanks to Bill, a pioneer who deserved a wider platform for his intelligence.
From the NYT:
Bill Mazer, who was a voice and face of sports coverage in New York for decades, pioneering sports-talk radio and becoming a television fixture while earning the nickname the Amazin’ for his encyclopedic recall of sports facts and figures, died on Wednesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 92. …
When Mr. Mazer retired in 2009, he had spent more than 60 years in broadcasting — 20 of them as a nightly sports anchor and the host of the weekend roundup “Sports Extra” on WNEW-TV, Channel 5. Before then he had been a host of sports-talk radio when the very idea of the format was new.
He ranged beyond sports occasionally in radio interview programs with figures from all walks of life, but sports was his passion and had been since he was growing up in Brooklyn.
For a time, though, while attending a yeshiva, he envisioned becoming a rabbi.
But he also played punchball and made Ebbets Field his second home. Sports won out. As he put it long afterward, unearthing the memory of a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher of the 1930s with a terrific fastball and a musical name: “I was paying more attention to Van Lingle Mungo than I was to Moses.”
Mr. Mazer had been covering sports at radio and TV stations in Buffalo for 16 years when he was hired by WNBC-AM in March 1964. It was unveiling an innovative talk format.
“Here, Go Nag WNBC!” the station said in a March 1964 advertisement. “Listen to the Newest Sound in New York — your own voice and your neighbor’s — on WNBC Radio, 660 on the dial.”
The station invited listeners to pick up their phones and “talk sports with Bill Mazer from 4:30-6 p.m.”
Mr. Mazer held down the sports call-in spot while others, including Brad Crandall, Long John Nebel and Big Wilson, fielded calls on just about anything else.
He was born Morris Mazer on Nov. 2, 1920, in what is now Izyaslav, Ukraine, and moved with his family to Brooklyn when he was an infant. His father worked in a kosher poultry market. His mother took the boy and his friends to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers and occasionally to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants. But his father, like many new immigrants, regarded sports as a time-wasting frivolity.
As Mr. Mazer related it in “Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book” (1990), written with Stan and Shirley Fischler, “When I brought my baseball talk back home, my father invariably reacted as if I were discussing the manufacture of plutonium.”
And from Neil Best in Newsday:
Bill Mazer often lamented that he did not make it bigger, never quite breaking through as a nationally known figure rather than primarily as a New York-area sports broadcaster.
But he missed the point. Amazin’, who died Wednesday two weeks shy of turning 93, was the right guy at the right time in the right place, becoming in his own very New York way an important figure in sports media history.
Mazer was born in Ukraine but grew up in Depression-era New York, rooting for the Dodgers — especially pitcher Van Lingle Mungo — before settling after World War II in Buffalo, a job he landed through a guy he met in the South Pacific named Marty Glickman.
Sixteen years later, he was back where he belonged, on WNBC, where in 1964 he began a talk show — perhaps not the very first to host a sports call-in program but the first to use his kibitzing skills to popularize and perfect the art.
Naturally, Mazer claimed to be the very first, as would any self-respecting New York character with a healthy self-promotional streak,
Mazer’s legacy lacks the historical weight of his contemporary Glickman, a world-class athlete turned influential announcer who mentored a long list of broadcasting stars and who, by the way, preceded Mazer in talking sports on the radio.
But no matter. Mazer helped make and keep sports fun and connected in particular with a generation of teenage boys now turned men in their 60s with fond memories of calling WNBC on late afternoons and having their opinions taken seriously.
I never called in, but I was part of that generation.