Bob Wolff, who was behind the microphone for many of sports most iconic moments on radio and television, including Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series and the 1958 NFL Championship game heralded by many as the greatest football game ever played, died Saturday at his South Nyack home. He was 96.
The avuncular Wolff, who nearly became a member of the Mets original three-man broadcasting team in 1962, spent the final 38 years of his career working for News 12 Long Island, most recently offering sports commentaries.
His 77-year career, spanning nine decades, was recognized as the longest in sports broadcasting history, according to Guinness World Records, and Wolff and Curt Gowdy are the only broadcasters to be honored in both the baseball and basketball halls of fame.
Of all the awards he has won, including two Emmys, Wolff said none touched him more than his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in August 1995.
“That was an unbelievable thrill,’’ said Wolff who, after being inducted, took out his ukulele and sang, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’’
He also held the distinction of being the first broadcaster to handle play-by-play for championships in all four major professional sports — the World Series, the NFL Championship, the NBA Championship and the Stanley Cup finals.
Wolff, who had a nearly six-decade relationship with Madison Square Garden that began long before there was even a thought of an MSG Network, was the television play-by-play voice for the Knicks’ world championships in 1970 and ’73, broadcasting the Knicks for 27 years and the Rangers for 20. He also had a 33-year run as the voice of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
“Everything good in my life has come through a great break,” said Wolff, who was born Nov. 29, 1920 in New York City.
He wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, it was a broken ankle that helped give birth to his broadcasting career when Wolff, a freshman baseball player at Duke, was injured during a base-running drill. The members of the local CBS radio crew, which broadcast the Blue Devils’ games, asked Wolff to sit in during the team’s games that season, liked what he had to say, and asked him to come aboard permanently.
Enjoying his new profession but torn by his love of playing baseball, Wolff asked Duke coach Jack Coombs for advice.
“I’ve never seen an arm or leg outlast a voice,” Coombs said. “If you want the big leagues start talking.”
“The best advice I ever got,” Wolff said.
After graduating from Duke and attending Harvard Business School, Wolff was commissioned into the Navy and was with the Seabees in the Solomon Islands during World War II. His performance — as a supply officer he rewrote the policies and procedures to make them applicable for land as well as sea — earned him a transfer to Washington, D.C.
Upon leaving the Navy in 1946, he joined a local radio station as its sports director and the following year launched his television career at WTTG, one of only two commercial television stations in the country at the time, as the voice of the moribund Washington Senators. He would remain with the franchise for the next 15 seasons, even as it relocated to Minnesota and was reborn as the Twins in 1961.
The following year, Wolff was in line for one of the newborn Mets’ broadcasting jobs alongside Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner. But when the Mets dragged their feet, Wolff chose to join NBC as the play-by-play man on its Game of the Week telecasts. The Mets would hire Lindsey Nelson instead.
Wolff’s broadcast credits also included the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, the ECAC Holiday Festival, the Millrose Games, and the Gold Gloves. He was the play-by-play man for eight teams in five different sports — the Knicks, Rangers, Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League in the 1970s.
Wolff was also behind the microphone for the first sports telecast on what eventually became the MSG Network — a game between the Rangers and the Minnesota North Stars in October 1969.
“I think, if you added all the time up, I’ve spent about seven days of my life standing for the national anthem,’’ he once said.
In 2009, the home television booth at Nationals Park in Washington was named the Bob Wolff Broadcast Suite, a testament to all that he meant to baseball fans in the nation’s capital.
In 2013, Wollf donated about 1,400 audio and video recordings totaling some 1,500 hours, to the Library of Congress, much of it coming from an era when broadcasts were erased or not recorded at all. His interview subjects ranged from Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Connie Mack to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
In an interview with The Post in January, both Wolff and Jane, his wife of 72 years, said he had no plans to retire.
“That’s a dirty word around here,” said Jane who met Bob just before he shipped out with the Navy during World War II. She was also in the Navy, a nurse who would later work in the FDR White House.
Her husband said he still had more to do. This treasure, both to broadcasting and New York sports, said he even had an idea for another project — an entertainment show made up of clips from his earlier days when he hosted variety shows.
“That’s the show I want to leave with,” he said. “That’s how I’d like to go out. Not with retirement, but with another show.”
In addition to his wife, Wolff is survived by sons Robert and Rick, his daughter, Margy Clark, nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.