“Sports and sporting events have a way of bringing people together,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said Friday, surveying the crowd of sports broadcasters and fans at the library’s celebration marking the acquisition of former Washington Senators play-by-play man Bob Wolff’s audio-visual recordings.
Appearing as part of a panel to discuss the recording with Wolff were Gene DeAnna, the library’s lead man on recorded sound, and current Nationals radio announcers Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler.
“That certainly seems like a good idea, having an archivist lead a discussion with a room full of sports broadcasters,” DeAnna deadpanned at the start. “I’m down with that.”
Wolff, who at 92 years old is still going strong for Channel 12 news in Long Island, N.Y., beamed as his colleagues and the government’s official archivists played back some of his most memorable interviews with baseball legends Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle and Lou Boudreau, and asked him to explain the circumstances behind the interviews.
“I do get very verbose,” Wolff said, eliciting laughs as he went into detail about interviews conducted as long as 60 years ago.
In two clips of conversations he had with the famously irascible Cobb, Wolff’s skill as an interviewer was on display.
In one clip, he asked Cobb about the knock on the Detroit Tiger being “mean” and sliding so that his spikes injured defensive players in the base-paths.
“Well I don’t know about being mean,” Cobb replies. “As far as the spiking business is concerned, I could show you plenty of spiking wounds ... [but] you never heard of me being spiked.”
Not one to let it go, Cobb returns again to the question of whether he tried to spike other players. “Well, getting back to this spiking business. You know, the base-path belongs to the runner,” Cobb says.
“And you always played within the rules,” Wolff replies.
“Most of the time,” Cobb returns.
Wolff’s career started in radio in 1939 and includes calling some of the most memorable sports contests in history, including pitcher Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game for the New York Yankees in 1956 and the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.
He was the voice of the Washington Senators for 15 years. “I played up the artistry of the game,” he said of the challenge of calling games for some truly wretched Senators teams.