Usually when I write posts for this blog, I’ve recently read, watched, or listened to whatever I am writing about; however, I haven’t done my homework this time, choosing instead to set aside the movie I was going to write about and take a few hundred words to talk about Bill Mazer, who passed away earlier today.
Mazer, if you are unfamiliar with him, was a longtime New York sports journalist and commentator, one of the early guard of sports radio hosts, and was a mainstay on WNEW (Channel 5, now WNYW, the New York City Fox affiliate) during the 1980s, kind of the same way that George Michael was a Washington, D.C. mainstay with his “Sports Machine” highlights. The New York Times has an excellent obituary of Mazer that I highly recommend reading, as I was struck by the extent and longevity of his career.
To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with Mazer or his career, as I was too young to watch him on television and have only had a passing interest in sports radio (and only then it’s to listen to the occasional game). But for the last twenty-three years I have had a signed copy of Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book on my bookshelf, and when I saw the obituary in the Times, I immediately pulled it off the bookshelf and will be reading it again for the first time since my Uncle Michael and Aunt Clare gave it to me for my thirteenth birthday.
The title page of my copy of Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book, signed by the author for my thirteenth birthday.
As noted in my post about the 1988 Mets, when I was in the latter part of elementary school and through most of junior high school, I was a rabid baseball fan. I’m still a huge Mets fan, but this was a time in my life when I was the encyclopedic sort of fan, the type of kid who read or watched everything about baseball that he could get his hands on and who enjoyed the most minute, trivial details about the history of the game (ironically, however, I found Ken Burns’s Baseball boring but I may give that a re-watch at some point). Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book was the perfect gift, as it is both a memoir of his life and career in relation to the game along with page upon page of facts and stories about the history of the game itself. The facts are presented in Q&A format with all sorts of tidbits, such as:
WHICH FORMER LOS ANGELES DODGER PITCHER APPEARED IN SUCH TELEVISION SHOWS AS THE LAWMAN AND THE BRADY BUNCH?
It was questions like these (and their answers) that had me flipping back and forth through the book and poring over every page with my friend Tom in the back of his mom’s Ford Taurus on the way to Shea Stadium, and I think what’s always drawn me to shows and books about sports history, especially baseball history, even if my interest in the subject has waned from time to time, replaced with film, comic books, or whatever other part of popular culture I was obsessing over. Mazer himself, in the introduction to his book, talks about being a fact-o-phile, a proto-Schwab, the type of guy who could rarely, if ever, be stumped. In fact, the Times obituary sums it up perfectly:
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 that the Amazin’ would have known those statistics without having to look them up.
I’m a fan of experts like that, guys who have extensive knowledge and are experts on topics. I have always liked having an answer to almost every question and even though it’s becoming a bit passe for people in my field to want to be considered “experts” on anything, I still enjoy just knowing stuff. I’m sure my fellow sports fans and comics podcasters know exactly how I feel.
But as interesting as all of the facts, figures, and stories contained in Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book are, his passing also reminds me of how many of those in his generation are passing away. Mazer grew up in Brooklyn during the golden age of the Dodgers’ tenure at Ebbets Field, an era that I’ve only read about in books or heard about in stories that older relatives, like uncles and grandfathers would tell years ago at family functions. For my money, if I could go back to any era of baseball, it would be the late 1960s so I could see the 1969 Mets, but I remember sitting at many an extended family barbecue listening to Grandpa Panarese talk to my Uncle Brian about the Giants, the Yankees, and whatever other sports stories they had.
While I think it’s out of print, you can find used copies of Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book on Amazon and I recommend picking it up. It’s truly a trip back in time, one that I’m looking forward to taking again.