PHOTO INDEX: BILL WALSH, PHIL "THE SCOOTER" RIZZUTO AT THE 1980 YANKEES OLD TIMER'S DAY FROM A PHOTO I TOOK THAT DAY, TOM SYNDER, MERV GRIFFIN WITH GUEST JEAN SHEPHERD AND FORMER PHIL, MET AND YANK BILL ROBINSON.
Bill Walsh, the imaginative and charismatic coach who took over a downtrodden 49ers team and built one of the greatest franchises in NFL history, died at the age of 75, after a three-year struggle with leukemia.
A master of using short, precisely timed passes to control the ball in what became known as the West Coast offense, he guided the team to three Super Bowl championships and six NFC West division titles in his 10 years as coach.
It took far more than an innovative offense for Walsh to become one of the most revered figures in Bay Area sports. He handled NFL drafts adeptly and polished his management style by studying the leadership of Civil War and World War II generals. When it came to cutting veteran players whom he thought were on the way downhill, he could be ruthless.
The 49ers had been wrecked by mismanagement and unwise personnel decisions under former general manager Joe Thomas when owner Ed DeBartolo Jr. cleaned house in 1979. Walsh, who had led Stanford to two bowl victories in two seasons as head coach, took a 49ers team that had finished 2-14 in 1978 and built a Super Bowl champion in three years. It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds in professional sports history.
His teams would win two more Super Bowls (following the 1984 and 1988 seasons) before he turned the team over to George Seifert, who directed the 49ers to two more championships ('89 and '94). Walsh set the foundation for an unprecedented streak in the NFL of 16 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.
Walsh also was responsible for 8 other Super Bowls won by coaches he mentored through the “Walsh Tree”. People like Mike Holgrem, Steve Marinucci and Mike Shanahan benefited from his tutelage.
Bill Robinson, who played on Pittsburgh's 1979 World Series championship team and was working as the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league hitting coordinator, died recently. He was 64.
Robinson was in Las Vegas to visit the Dodgers' minor league team and was supposed to meet De Jon Watson, Dodger director of player development, to drive to the ballpark together.
But Robinson failed to show up at the appointed time and he was found dead in his hotel room, Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said. The official cause of death was pending, he said.
Robinson was in his second season with the Dodgers after spending four years on the Florida Marlins' coaching staff, where he served as hitting coach for the 2003 world champions.
He was hitting coach for the New York Mets from 1984-89, including their 1986 World Series title.
Robinson played in the majors from 1966-83, with 1,127 hits, 166 home runs and 641 RBI as an outfielder for Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He batted .264 with 24 homers and 75 RBIs for the Pirates in '79.
Robinson also served as a minor league hitting coach for the Yankees and was a minor league coach and manager in Philadelphia's farm system. He managed in the Venezuelan League and was an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" in 1990-91. I had the opportunity to meet Robinson when he was playing for the Phillies. Always a gentleman, straight forward in his answers to the media and very loyal to the organization and team he was representing.
Tom Snyder, the late-night talk show host whose free-form program and intimate interviewing style influenced a generation of broadcasters, died in his Tiburon home nearly two years after he announced he had chronic lymphatic leukemia.
Snyder, who was 71, died from complications from leukemia.
Best known for his 1973-82 stint as host of NBC's "The Tomorrow Show," which aired after Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," Snyder showed that the wee hours of weeknight mornings didn't have to ceded to B-grade movies and reruns. There he showed how conversation -- be it goofy, serious, provocative and occasionally edgy -- could be compelling on its own.
With the camera pulled in tight on his face, the screen filled with the cigarette smoke from the host and often his guests, Snyder created a living-room atmosphere that allowed conversation partners such as John Lennon or Howard Stern to relax in ways they didn't on other programs.
Born in Milwaukee, Wis., Snyder began his career as a radio reporter there in the 1960s before anchoring local television news broadcasts in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In 1973, long before the advent of 24-hour news channels and cable television, Snyder began "Tomorrow," and late night was never the same.
Working live without a script and talking directly into the camera, Snyder created an arresting image for the late-night audience on "The Tomorrow Show." Conversations would veer from Snyder offering his personal opinions to hard-hitting questions, to him displaying photographs from a July Fourth barbecue he attended.
Through the years, he hosted a parade of guests -- including Charles Manson -- that few prime-time programmers would touch. Several of his legendary interviews -- with the makeup-wearing band Kiss and the punk rockers the Plasmatics, who once blew up a car on his show -- live on the video-sharing site YouTube.com. There fans can still see Snyder, wearing a tie tucked under a V-neck sweater, smoking and laughing and jousting with the provocateurs of the era.
Over the years, Snyder's mannerisms -- from his chain-smoking, to his staccatoed form of questioning, to his booming guffaw of a laugh, which surfaced frequently at his own jokes -- became part of the cultural conversation, thanks to Dan Aykroyd's spot-on Snyder impersonation on "Saturday Night Live" in the mid-1970s. "Tom got a kick out of it," said his longtime lawyer and agent Ed Hookstratten.
Snyder's NBC show left the air in 1982, and his spot was taken by another late-night ground-breaker, David Letterman. After stints as a newscaster in New York, a nationally syndicated radio program and his own program on CNBC, Snyder returned to network television, thanks to a man who long idolized him: Letterman.
In 1995, after Letterman moved to CBS and was given control to create what would appear in the time slot after his, he invited Snyder to host "The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder." It ran for three years on CBS.
Since WBRE TV did not carry Snyder’s show when I was in college, signing off at 1AM after The Tonight Show, I’d sometimes stay down at King’s College in the Student Center to catch a Snyder feed from Channel 3 in Philadelphia. There were no VCRs then, but the drive back home was worth it to see Snyder in his prime.
Merv Griffin, the big band-era crooner turned impresario who parlayed his “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” game shows into a multimillion-dollar empire, died at the age of 82.
Griffin died of prostate cancer, according to a statement from his family that was released by Marcia Newberger, spokeswoman for The Griffin Group/Merv Griffin Entertainment.
From his beginning as a $100-a-week San Francisco radio singer, Griffin moved on as vocalist for Freddy Martin’s band, sometime film actor in films and TV game and talk show host, and made Forbes’ list of richest Americans several times.
His “The Merv Griffin Show” lasted more than 20 years, and Griffin’s said his capacity to listen contributed to his success. The Griffin show was a staple in my household growing up. His guests included show biz types but also political people like Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King. Griffin had his show in New York city and my cousin’s grandmother, Lena Petrilla got an opportunity to see the show live and even got on camera during the opening segment. I remember us in the family living room at my cousin Robert Yonki’s home seeing his “grandma” live on Merv. Griffin also came to the Wyoming Valley making an appearance for the United Fund (now the United Way of Wyoming Valley) at one of their fundraising events. He also owned at one time WBAX Radio hiring Jim Ward as his GM. Griffin made frequent visits to the area when he owned the radio outlet. Merv moved his show to California in the mid 60s and did it with a prime time special that Westinghouse offered to local stations. WDAU ran the program and Griffin ended the show singing the song “Softly As I Leave You” with a montage of New York city landscapes featured. I vaguely remember the early game shows but one of my first recordings that I owned was a Decca single by Merv of an obscure Irving Berlin tune, “I Keep Running Away From You”. I preserved it by getting it burned on CD and play it often much to Mrs. LuLac’s chagrin. “Irving Berlin had a few clunkers” she’d say when I crank Merv up. Here’s a link from YOU TUBE of Griffin on the Freddy Martin Show doing his signature tune, "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Cocanuts”.
"Holy cow!" made Phil Rizzuto famous.
Popular as a player and beloved as a broadcaster, the Yanks shortstop during their dynasty years of the 1940s and 1950s died Monday night. "The Scooter" was 89.
Rizzuto had pneumonia and died in his sleep at a nursing home in West Orange, N.J., daughter Patricia Rizzuto said Tuesday. He had been in declining health for several years.
"I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He epitomized the Yankee spirit -- gritty and hard charging -- and he wore the pinstripes proudly."
Rizzuto was the oldest living Hall of Famer and his Cooperstown plaque noted how he "overcame diminutive size." At 5-foot-6, he played over his head, winning seven World Series titles and an AL MVP award and becoming a five-time All-Star.
"When I first came up to the Yankees, he was like a big -- actually, small -- brother to me," said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who frequently visited Rizzuto in his later years.
Rizzuto's No. 10 was retired by baseball's most storied team, and the club will wear his number on its left sleeves for the rest of the season.
The flags at Yankee Stadium were lowered to half-staff before Tuesday night's game against Baltimore and a bouquet was placed by Rizzuto's plaque at Monument Park. The team planned a moment of silence and a video tribute.
Yet it was after he moved into the broadcast booth that Rizzuto reached a new level celebrity with another generation of Yankees fans.
Rizzuto delighted TV and radio listeners for four decades, his voice dripping with his native Brooklyn. He loved his favorite catch-phrase -- exclaiming "Holy cow!" when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run -- and often shouted "What a huckleberry!"
In an age of broadcasters who spout statistics, Rizzuto was a storyteller. He liked to talk about things such as his fear of lightning, the style of an umpire's shoes or even the prospect of outfielder Dave Winfield as a candidate for president.
"He didn't try to act like an announcer," Hall of Fame teammate Whitey Ford said. "He just said what he thought. It added fun to the game."
Rizzuto liked to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, read notes from fans, talk about his favorite place to get a cannoli and send messages to old cronies. Once he noticed old teammate Bobby Brown -- then the American League president -- sitting in a box seat and hollered down, trying to get his attention.
"He would keep getting in trouble with WPIX for announcing birthdays and anniversaries," Patricia Rizzuto recalled.
In the last year of my father’s life, we watched a lot of baseball. My favorite Rizzuto moment was when he did a promo for the Three Stooges which followed the game on WPIX at that time. He yammered on and said, “You know I like that Curly, he’s always getting hit but he bounces back, Oh Bill White, was that a home run, did I miss a home run, well Holy Cow! I better stop talking about those Stooges." In 1980, I met Rizzuto at the Old Timer’s game at the Stadium and took the photo you see in the Index. He was pumped up that day, being with his old friends once more on a ball field. With the latest flap over interest rates going on in America, check out this commercial he did for The Money Store.