He interviewed Ruth, Cobb, Jackie: Long-time broadcaster donates collection to Library of Congress

Tyler Kepner in the New York Times has a terrific story on Bob Wolff. The 92-year old broadcaster is donating his collection of interviews to the Library of Congress.

And what a collection it is. Kempner writes:

Wolff has donated about 1,400 audio and video recordings, consisting of well more than 1,000 hours, to the Library of Congress, which will honor him in a ceremony next week.

Much of the material, DeAnna said, comes from an era when broadcasts were erased or not recorded at all. Wolff called some of the most memorable sports moments of the last century, including Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series and the Colts-Giants N.F.L. championship game in 1958. But the jewels of the collection are his interviews.

The subjects in Wolff’s trove range from Babe Ruth and Connie Mack to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, plus Vince Lombardi, Joe Louis, Jim Thorpe and nearly every other major sports celebrity to cross his path. He was a pioneer in the creation of pre- and postgame shows, which he syndicated to various teams for their local broadcasts.

“In the early days, the people doing interviews, for the most part, were former athletes,” Wolff said. “They were people who had spent their time answering questions because they were stars, and had never asked a question in their lives.”

Wolff’s encounter with Ted Williams:

Wolff said he always wanted the interview to be appealing to the audience and enjoyable for the athlete, but he was no pushover. He once approached Ted Williams for an interview, and Williams, noticing the microphone, scowled at Wolff and muttered to himself. Wolff later chastised Williams, who made him a deal: the next time they met, if Williams had a certain batting average, he would do the show.

Williams, indeed, had met his high standards when he next encountered Wolff. But he had also just sworn off all interviews in another of his famous feuds with the Boston news media.

“Ted, you told me this with a handshake, but I read about what happened in Boston, and if you live up to your deal with me, as a reporter, I’ve got to ask you if you have any remorse,” Wolff said he told Williams. “But you’re a friend of mine, and if you want to bow out, we’re still friends. But if you want to go on, I’ve got to ask you the questions.”

Wolff said Williams did not hesitate.

“What time’s the interview?” Williams said. “Ask anything you want.”

And the good news if you love history:

The Library of Congress is digitizing Wolff’s collection and making much of it available to the public online. The library shared several recordings with The New York Times last week, including interviews with Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson and Tris Speaker.

Robinson gives fielding tips — keep the glove low, brushing against the dirt — and, in a group interview after his groundbreaking rookie season, offers a rather benign comparison when asked about the abuse he took from Southern players.

“I went to U.C.L.A.,” Robinson says. “U.S.C. is our archrival across town. Suppose I suddenly had to go over and root for U.S.C. during a crucial game between U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. I mean, I think that’s the same way that these fellows felt when they came up out of the South. They have certain things instilled with them in the South, and they had to come up, all of a sudden, and were pushed in with me. At first they didn’t know just how to take it, but as the season progressed, there was certainly no feeling at all between us and we got along swell.”

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