Bill Mazer knew his stuff

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Bill Mazer, the legendary sports broadcaster, died Wednesday at the age of 92.

The tributes being posted on Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else people gather now to talk sports, all have a common theme: Bill was happy to talk to you, and he seemed to have all the answers.

Those who draw a line between Mazer's career, which included a call-in sports talk radio show on that now-familiar 660 AM (back when it was known as WNBC), and the current format of WFAN, are mostly right. An entire industry rose up in the wake of Mazer's success, talking sports on the air and interacting with callers, 25 years before Mike and the Mad Dog even began teaming up.

But two elements often missing from today's shows were a constant presence whenever Mazer was on the air. He was glad to talk to you. And his knowledge was unparalleled.

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This never changed, even as Mazer broadcasted into his late 80s, hosting a daily program on WVOX-AM in New Rochelle. I had the privilege of serving as an invited guest on that program, and it was like few other experiences I've had on the radio.

Hanging over our conversation, at all times, was the enormous gulf in our experience. Sure, I'd been to Yankee Stadium to see Derek Jeter play that week, or heard what Willie Randolph had to say in person about a managerial choice. But Mazer had seen Jeter, and he'd seen Randolph as a player, and he'd seen so many before that. He'd seen Babe Ruth play, and Miller Huggins manage. 

But Mazer never pulled rank. He was legitimately curious about what I thought, or any of his guests, or his callers. He became known for having answers to the arcane trivia questions thrown at him by people like John Roland on WNEW-TV. But Mazer didn't just have the arcane memorized, he could contextualize all of it. It was analysis, not just facts, that Mazer traveled in.

He didn't need the bluster of a Mike Francesa. Mazer's knowledge was his gravitas. He'd been through so many moments in New York sports history, and he seemed to recall every one of them.

In one of our discussions, Mazer described a conversation he'd had with Yankees manager Joe Girardi. The topic was the 1934 All Star Game, a famous one, in which Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants struck out five consecutive batters. Mazer noted something I hadn't known, nor had Girardi, that prior to this famous run of strikeouts, Hubbell had allowed the first two batters to reach base. Girardi asked who the two players were, and, naturally, Mazer knew they were Heinie Manush and Charlie Gehringer. Girardi asked Mazer how he knew that.

"Because I was at the game," Mazer replied.

But Mazer's show, as I experienced it, was never trapped in the past. He'd have me on to discuss the Johan Santana acquisition by the Mets, or Jeter's potential replacements. Once, we even detoured to a half-hour on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, just because his curiosity ran in that direction. He asked me about where I went to school, and when I told him Bard College, he not only knew a great deal about it, he wanted to know more about the athletic program. He always wanted to know more.

That's the way someone gets to be Mazer, I guess. Being constantly open to new information is the only path to having so much to offer his listeners, his callers, and his guests.

So I went back to listen to a few of the segments I'd recorded, having kept them because I knew such an opportunity wouldn't come along for me very often. And Mazer said this to me, back in 2008:

"I did an interview yesterday, for a television program. And the guy said to me at the end of it, 'What would you like people to say about you, after you've gone out of the field?' I said: 'He knew his stuff.'"

No one who spent any time with Bill Mazer would dispute it.