Bill Mazer, Sports Fixture in New York, Dies at 92
Published: October 23, 2013
New York Times
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.
His son, the actor Arnie Mazer, confirmed the death, at Danbury Hospital. The elder Mr. Mazer had lived in Scarsdale, N.Y., until moving to an assisted-living facility in Danbury two years ago.
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.
After several years at WNBC, Mr. Mazer had a general interview program on WOR-AM and provided color commentary for the CBS television network’s hockey game of the week. He also did commentary for the Knicks, the Nets, the Rangers and the Islanders. In 1971 he joined WNEW-TV, where he anchored the nightly sports coverage.
It was the news anchor John Roland who proclaimed Mr. Mazer the Amazin’ after Mr. Roland started tossing him arcane sports questions during the broadcasts, and Mr. Mazer almost invariably knew the answers.
Mr. Mazer was also the host of lunchtime interview shows from Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park South for WFAN for several years after it made its debut as an all-sports station in 1987.
“I never think of it as an interview,” he told Newsday in 1988. “I think of it as a conversation. I expose a part of myself, and I think that helps a guest open up.”
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.”
After attending Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan, Mr. Mazer graduated from the University of Michigan, where he played freshman basketball and wrote about sports for the student newspaper.
He worked briefly as a staff announcer at a radio station in Grand Rapids, Mich., before becoming an officer in the Army Air Forces transport command in World War II.
The sportscaster Marty Glickman, whom Mr. Mazer met while in military service, recommended him for his first major sports slot, at a Buffalo radio station in 1948.
Mr. Mazer often teamed with the former Jets football player John Dockery on WNEW’s “Sports Extra.” As co-hosts, they reviewed sports highlights but also got into debates, with Mr. Mazer supplying much of the passion.
“He gesticulates, he frowns, he tilts his head, he throws his hands up,” Gerald Eskenazi wrote in the TV Sports column in The New York Times in 1985. “Dockery, on the other hand, is the restrained, respectful pupil, often allowing an incredulous grin to cross his face when Mazer has gone too far.”
Mr. Mazer later had a morning radio show on WEVD for about 10 years, interviewing anyone who fascinated him. His first guest was New York’s governor, Mario M. Cuomo. After WEVD became an ESPN station, he moved on to WVOX Radio in New Rochelle, N.Y., and remained with it until his retirement.
Besides his son, Mr. Mazer is survived by his daughters, Francine Siegel and Beverly Mazer; a sister, Frances Zussman; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Dora, known as Dutch, died in 1996.
Mr. Mazer’s boyhood idol, Van Lingle Mungo, became the title of a song by the singer, pianist and songwriter Dave Frishberg, consisting entirely of old-time ballplayers’ names.Mungo, who died in 1985, won 120 games and lost 115 with the Dodgers and the Giants, and he led the National League in strikeouts with 238 in 1936. It’s a fair guess the Amazin’ would have known those statistics without having to look them up.