BILL MAZER 1920-2013

Bill Mazer passed on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.  He was 92.

Mr. Mazer is the root of my more serious impulses of sports fandom.  Mr. Mazer was a pioneer on two fronts.  As the host of his WNBC-AM 66 sports talk show Mr. Mazer anticipated the absurd number of sports talk shows that have since populated radio, TV and the Internet.

Along with Lee Leonard Mr. Mazer’s WNEW Metromedia 5 Sunday evening SPORTS EXTRA was SPORTSCENTER before ESPN ever laid a cable.

Mr. Mazer was born in 1920 in the Ukraine when that territory was part of the Soviet Union.  He graduated from the University of Michigan before serving in the Pacific in WW II per Richard Goldstein 10/23/2012 www.nytimes.com

As was the case with so many sports broadcast journalists of that time, Marty Glickman provided assistance as Mr. Mazer landed his first media job at WGR Radio and TV in Buffalo, N.Y.  In 1964 Mr. Mazer made his way to New York and WNBC AM 66.

The first radio show I can remember deliberately tuning into was Mr. Mazer’s on WNBC AM 66. That show anticipated the absurd number of sports talk shows that now populate radio, TV and the Internet.

(Mom always liked Mr. Mazer for being “so nice” to the kids who called up the show).

The sports mediascape of that time consisted largely of empty platitudes.  With the civil rights era becoming more contentious and Muhammad Ali being stripped of his Heavyweight title Mr. Mazer’s incisive commentary informed his audience of a sports world that no longer existed in a cultural vacuum.

Mr. Mazer had a serious side equal to that of his contemporary Howard Cosell without Mr. Cosell’s needless rancor.

(Dad was the furthest thing from a baseball fan but I recall Dad and I listening to our gray Emerson AM radio while Mr. Mazer unraveled the complexity of Curt Flood’s fight against MLB’s reserve clause.  Dad remarked, “Mazer would make a good lawyer).

On any medium Mr. Mazer knew more than the score and frequently made references to “wheel plays”, “red dogging” and “safety defensemen” without making the audience feel as if they were being talked down to.  Unlike today’s psychoanalyzing pundits Mr. Mazer’s frame of reference was always what actually happened during a contest.

Trivia was always in the playbook.  Dad purchased Mazer’s SPORTS ANSWER BOOK, Grosset & Dunlap, 1966, for my Christmas gift of 1969 and its pages were well-thumbed.  Mr. Mazer’s knowledge of sports history went well beyond the days’ scores.  Mr. Mazer gave this 11 year-old a passing acquaintance with Man O’ War, Sonja Henje, Vasily Alekseyev and the historic dimensions of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Mr. Mazer’s knowledge of history lent a moral dimension to his work.  I vividly recall Mr. Mazer’s show following the murder of the Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Munich summer Games.  Mazer’s contrasting the 1972 atrocity with Jess Owens’ triumph over Nazism would be above the aspirations of most of the sports media and below the minds of the mainstream news media.

It is a talisman of Mr. Mazer’s moral authority that the thoughts provoked in that 14 year-old remain in this man’s mind.

SPORTS EXTRA was a precursor to ESPN’s SPORTSCENTER. Mazer, along with co-host Lee Leonard who was the very 1st. person to appear on ESPN, this weekend wrap-up show brought all of the New York market’s teams together with a lively mix of highlights and commentary.

(Mr. Mazer treated Rutgers’ basketball and the NBA New Jersey Nets as equals, which come to think of it, they were).

On occasion thoughtful guests such as Dick Schaap and NBC’s MLB statistician Allan Roth were guests for reasons other than self-promotion.  SPORTS EXTRA rose above the fodder of that time…and ours.

Mr. Mazer had a long career.  The sheer number of memories posted online attest to the large number and portions of brains claimed by Mr. Mazer.

Kind AND sharp, fun AND scholarly are the adjectives prompted by the passing of Mr. Mazer.

Bit by byte, childhood recedes.



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