My friend Phil Giubileo, over at the Play by Play blog took some time for some memories of Marty Glickman, the famed New York radio sportscaster who I came to know well during our undergraduate days at Fordham. He was invited by the acclaimed Bob Papa, now the voice of the NY Giants amongst other things, to become our broadcast coach at Fordham during our activity period. It was a rare chance for a bunch of young broadcasters to be tutored by the man known as the “Dean of Broadcasters.” Marty had invented much of sports radio play by play broadcasting and was one of the first “jock sportscasters” after being a track and football star at Syracuse and being named to the 1936 Olympic team only to be snubbed by anti-semitism.
Marty was a great guy and was a great mentor. You’d look forward to his praise but you’d invite his criticism as well. It only made you better and he was quick to make your mistakes obvious. If you fell behind a play he’d point it out. “I heard that whistle 3 whole seconds before you called that guy down!” When on the radio sometimes it’s easy to get lazy because you know nobody else is watching the action that you are–especially obscure teams that aren’t televised. You don’t have to “call the play” as closely on TV because the action is right there. But on radio, description is key and Marty gave you no slack in giving descriptions of ballgames.
Someone would say “That was a great play!” And Marty would scream, “That word doesn’t mean anything! It was a GREAT play–well, WHY THE HELL WAS IT GREAT?” You’d then sheepishly tell Marty that the player made a leaping one handed grab. And he’d say “NOW THAT’S a description. Have those words ready.”
I tried pretty hard to be a broadcaster and fell short of “the dream” of doing it full-time as a career with a major league team. The truth is that I just didn’t love it as much as some of my classmates and colleagues. I was always being pulled away by ministry. When I started to consider leaving broadcasting someone asked me why I got into the business in the first place and I was able to summon two reasons.
The first was that I wasn’t a great athlete in high school but loved playing and being around the team. I knew a lot about sports and we’d all sit on the sidelines and talk until we got into the game. So I had some natural talent that other guys would encourage in me. I kept score and knew the nuances of the game and I had a good speaking voice. I did PA announcing for the football and basketball games and would often call it play by play back then–not really understanding the difference between play by play and public address announcing, but it got me sharp. So I pursued that as a career in college.
The second came from Marty. And I tell this story in my book Loving Work. Marty was a master of description and so I asked him how I can improve this skill for myself. He said to me, “You know what challenges me? Each year I do a circus on the “radio for the blind”. Man that’s tough. I mean how do you describe an Elephant to someone who can’t see what it is?” Marty had invited us college guys weeks later to a dinner held in his honor for a Syracuse University Scholarship named for him. It was at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center and I was seated next to a man who was blind. Marty developed a friendship with him for many years and it was that night that I asked him how he knew Marty and he simply said, “Well, Marty’s been my eyes for over 50 years.”
I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Everything else didn’t matter. I vowed to keep people like this guy in mind every time I was on the air. Description was paramount. Beth Kelly was no longer just a Sophomore forward, she was an apple cheeked Irish colleen that stood 5’8″ tall. Damon Lopez was a barrel-chested 6’8″, 240. Even names were described well. Mark Blazejewski was pronounced BLAH-JA-EFF-SKI. All stuff that Marty taught us. Uniforms–what were the colors. Michael Kay on Yankeee games talks about the interlocking “NY” on Yankee hats–where do you think he learned that? Of course, at Fordham, from Marty.
But it was my altruism that was exciting me, not the thrill of being on the air, or in sports. And I could feel Marty whispering in my ear that it was OK to leave and to follow what you were clearly more called to do.
Often Marty’s best advice was stuff that he taught us outside of broadcasting: Stay fit, eat well, always wear a hat, but never indoors to stay warm in the winter and to take care of one another. When asked what his greatest achievement was, Marty never hesitated: “Marrying my wife.” Marge Glickman was a wonderful woman and Marty had married well. He recalled that when he got his first sponsor, he took that money and Marge and him “got married on that money.” Then the sponsor dumped them. “But we stayed married!” he quipped. “For better, or for worse, for richer, for poorer. And all that stuff. We learned that early.”
Marty was a champion of seeking out higher values. Besides his experience in the 1936 Olympics, Marty was decisively anti-gambling. If you mentioned a point spread, Marty would get all over you. “You don’t need to contribute to gamblers!” he’d yell. He once told us that his father lost the family business gambling and so he had made a decision that he was not going to support gambling in any way. He hated the environment around boxing and told us to be careful around that element if we got involved with broadcasting boxing.
I wonder what he’d think of broadcasters today. He hated Dick Vitale’s style on College Basketball and the entertainment value of broadcasting is now much more paramount than the journalistic value at times. I often think he’d understand that, but hate it at the same time. I do think he’d love the internet and would encourage us to develop our own shows without the bureaucrats running the airwaves. Something about the democracy of the internet would appeal to his sensibilities I think.
A final story: I had a deja vu experience of Marty when I had graduated from Graduate School at Fordham. As many of you know, my father is an Irish immigrant. He never went to high school, never mind college. He worked hard to send me to school and I was able to make it to the next level with some help from Fordham and from the Paulist Fathers. He was very proud of me that day.
After the ceremony the Dean came over and met my mom and dad and sister and he already knew Marion, my wife. He said to my father, “Michael is one of our best students, we’re very proud to say that he’s a graduate of our school today and to have your family with us today.”
My father beamed. And then I remembered Marty telling nearly the same story about his mother and a Syracuse professor who came and said “I must meet the mother of one of my favorite students.” His mother could only afford to come to graduation from the city and Marty welled up…”My immigrant mother could never imagine that such a learned man would say anything like that to her! That’s why Syracuse is so special to me.”
And Fordham to me. Not only because of that one story.
But also, because it was there that I met Marty Glickman.