I was at a wedding last night with my parents. As a result of some bad traffic in New Jersey my mom turned on the radio in the car around 11 PM and as if just for me the story came on almost immediately. Bob Wolff had passed away at 96. I sat quietly in the back, shocked and saddened. I am only 25 years old, but I am truly lucky enough to consider Bob Wolff my friend.
I met Bob at the New York Professional Scouts Dinner when I was 13 or 14 years old. At the time, I was a bright-eyed kid with a fascination for baseball that couldn’t be satiated. When I was told that there was a Hall of Famer in the room I went in earnest over to Bob with a baseball, which he happily signed for me. For the next few years I would see him and always exchange pleasantries.
A few years later, I was invited to the Baseball Writers of America Dinner in New York, in the 1000 seat ballroom of the New York Hilton. I didn’t know a soul in the room. That is what I thought until 10 PM or so as I waited for my dad to arrive to pick me up from Manhattan after the night had ended. Sitting there was Bob in an almost empty room. I walked over and said hello, certain he wouldn’t remember me. Of course, I was wrong.
Bob did remember me, and certainly didn’t want me to wait alone. He and I spent the next 20 minutes talking about his life. He told me about his time in the Solomon Islands in the Navy during World War II. We talked about his wife Jane who was a Navy nurse for President Franklin Roosevelt’s grandson. They met while he was in training for the Navy in Virginia, and Jane agreed to wait for him if he made it through the war. By the time my dad arrived I was sad to go, but even a naïve teenager could appreciate that I had just gotten an uninterrupted chunk of time with a living legend.
I graduated college in 2013 and by November I had started a production company, Business Lunch Productions with my best friends. We began with a narrative feature film, Sandwich Girl, and decided that as people who always dreamed big, the thing that excited us the most as a next project was the possibility of a documentary on Bob.
Here was a man whose heyday was the 1950’s and 60’s. He called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, he called the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” he was one of two men inducted into both the National Baseball and National Basketball Halls of Fame, and almost no one I knew, outside of the people that knew Bob, knew Bob. To us young upstarts it seemed like the perfect crime.
And it was. From the day I called Bob at home to tell him about our company and our idea for the documentary which came to be called And Counting… through the countless times we went to his house, where we shared stories, laughs, sandwiches, and some incredible moments like when Bob, myself, and my friend Harrison harmonized to Al Jolson, we were swept away in the aura and mystique of a life well lived. Bob was a sweetheart and a gentleman.
Looking back at my notes from those sessions at his house, I have realized the incredible amount of lessons he taught me in our conversations on the phone and at his house. Bob always called himself “an average guy,” and was most proud of his family. Jane was chief among his proudest accomplishments.
And having started as the youngest man in sports casting back in the 1930’s and worked for over 80 years, still contributing to New 12 Long Island that he was a part of from the time it opened, Bob’s career spanned over 80 years. A world record.
He is immortalized by his own doing, through 1,400 recordings he graciously donated to the Smithsonian a few years back, which include conversation with everyone from Babe Ruth, and Jackie Robinson, to President Richard Nixon. The Smithsonian was in the process of building technology to play them, as they were that antiquated and that valuable as pieces of Americana.
With tears in my eyes, and a smile in my heart, I say that Bob will always be with me and with so many other sports fans for whom he went to work every day in the hopes of pleasing. He said that “perspiration was a big key to his success,” and though his journey of hard work may have come to an end, Bob will serve as a guiding light for everything I do for as long as I live.