Photo taken from video courtesy News 12 Long Island
With the Major League Baseball playoffs and quest for a World Series starting today, iconic sportscaster and Guinness World Records title-holder Bob Wolff recently sat down with me for a wide-ranging talk in our latest episode of “Mike Meets.” You can watch my conversation with the man who owns the longest sportscasting career (74+ years!) at the bottom of the page, where you'll see footage of Bob talking to everyone from the great Mickey Mantle to covering the Westminster dog show.
One story we didn’t have time for in the video, though, recounted how Bob got on the good side of the notoriously prickly baseball legend Ted Williams.
Williams, one of – if not the – best hitters of all time (nicknamed "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived" for a reason), was famous for his many feuds with the media throughout his playing career with the Boston Red Sox. Here, in his own words, Wolff shares his memories of “The Splendid Splinter.”
Not all ballplayers spoke well. Some spoke very well. But some I figured they were as temperamental as artists in other fields.
Ted Williams, for example: he didn’t like the media and they didn’t like him for a great part. And one of the reasons is that I don’t think most of them understood what he was like as a human being.
He was such a perfectionist and he had the reputation that he was the world’s greatest hitter. He was such a perfectionist that if he took batting practice – and everybody in the ballpark held their breath to watch “the master,” and both teams stopped what they were doing and stood on the dugout steps to watch, “Here’s how Ted Williams does it” – if he didn’t do well, he’d storm out of the batting cage. And no matter whom he was speaking to before then, he’d shove them out of the way, “Get out of here!” and so forth.
You could see the smoke coming out of his mouth there. In that case, I’d wait about 10-15 minutes while he cooled off and then he’d come around again.
One day I remember, he saw me coming toward him and I could see his mouth moving, muttering, cursing under his breath.
I said, “Ted, let me speak to you after the game.”
Then I said [after the game], “Ted, what were you doing making all these faces when I was coming at you?”
He said, “I just didn’t feel like being interviewed.”
I said, “I wasn’t going to ask you to be interviewed today. Tell you what, you tell me when you like to be interviewed. All the rest of the times that I come by, I’m your friend – just treat me as one.”
So we made a deal [for a future date] and if he had hit so many homers or his batting average was high enough, [he] said “I’ll go on air with you.”
Wolff receiving his Guinness World Records certificate in 2012
But before he got back to Griffin Stadium in Washington [Ed.’s note: Wolff was the play-by-play broadcaster for the Washington (D.C.) Senators at this time], up in Boston he got into another feud with the press. He had made a misplay in the outfield and was booed as he crossed home plate. He had thumbed his nose at the press box, spit on home plate and said, “I will never again do another interview with anybody ever.”
Now, he was due to go on with me so when he got to Washington, I said, “Ted, you’re due to come on with me according to our handshake. But if you don’t want to do it, tell me now. We’ll still be friends, just tell me you’re not available.”
So he said, “What time is the interview?” and I told him.
He said “I’ll be there” and I said, “Well, what about the questions?”
“Ask anything you want.”
Which I did!
And that interview got such acclaim that it became the basis for a series of interviews I did that year which I sold coast to coast.
All by pure chance, little things like that, because I’m being fair – trying to be – is what made the difference.