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Bill Stern (July 1, 1907 - November 19, 1971) was a U.S. actor and sportscaster who announced the nation's first remote sports broadcast and the first telecast of a Major League Baseball game. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame (1988) and has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Contents

Career

Born in Rochester, New York, Stern began doing radio play-by-play commentary in 1925, when he was hired by a local station, WHAM, to cover football games. Shortly after that, he enrolled at Pennsylvania Military College, graduating in 1930.[1]

Stern was hired by NBC in 1937 to host The Colgate Sports Newsreel as well as Friday night boxing on radio. Stern was also one of the first men to do commentary on televised boxing bouts.

Stern broadcast the first televised sporting event, the second game of a baseball double header between Princeton and Columbia at Columbia's Baker Field on May 17, 1939.[2]

During his most successful years, Stern engaged in a fierce rivalry with Ted Husing of the CBS Radio Network. They competed not only for broadcast position during sports and news events, but also for the rights to cover events themselves. Both Stern and Husing served for many years as their networks' sports directors as well as on-air stars.

According to the book Sports on New York Radio[3] by sportscaster and Westwood One executive David J. Halberstam, Stern's remarkable career flourished despite a physical handicap. In 1935, while Stern was in a car riding home from a football game in Texas, the auto got into an accident, injuring Stern badly enough that his left leg had to be amputated just above the knee.

Many observers consider Stern's style to have provided a blueprint in the 1940s for the career of Paul Harvey, the ABC Entertainment Network social commentator. Fellow ABC newcaster Paul Harvey adopted both Stern's newscasting Reel One (to Page One) and Stern's stories about the famous and odd to Harvey's Rest Of The Story, though it should be noted that Stern made no effort to authenticate his stories and introduced that segment of his show by saying that they "might be actual, may be mythical, but definitely interesting." [4] Paul Harvey, on the other hand, states he only tells stories that he has authenticated in some way.

Motion pictures

Stern occasionally appeared in feature films as himself. Two of his more familiar credits are Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper, and Here Come the Co-Eds, starring Abbott and Costello. Stern also narrated a long-running series of 10-minute short subjects for Columbia Pictures, "Bill Stern's World of Sports."

Controversies

Bill Stern caused controversy on September 15, 1944, when he reported that a Chicago newspaper had broken word of an arrangement that would enable the St. Louis Browns of baseball's American League to lose the World Series that year. Stern later expressed regret about writing the article; the Browns nevertheless did lose the World Series that year, 4 games to 2, to their hometown rivals, St. Louis Cardinals.

One day, while doing radio play-by-play for a football game, as a player broke away towards a long run for a touchdown, Stern misidentified the runner several times as he proceeded towards the score. Noticing the error just before the runner crossed the goal line, Stern announced he had lateraled the ball to the correct player, who then scored. Sometime later, Clem McCarthy, that era's most prominent announcer for horse racing, described the wrong horse as having won a race. The verbose Stern chided him for this error, and McCarthy replied, "You can't lateral a horse, Bill."

Stern also waded into "The Great Curveball Debate" about who invented the curveball in the 19th century, Candy Cummings or Fred Goldsmith? In his 1949 book, Bill Stern's Favorite Baseball Stories, Stern came down solidly in Goldsmith's corner.

Bill Stern on the curveball

Stern waded into the debate in 1949 with a "favorite story" crediting Fred Goldsmith as the inventor of the curveball:

Some 80 years ago, an obscure kid pitcher on the Connecticut sandlots made a discovery that revolutionized baseball. He discovered that he could perform an amazing trick. He could actually pitch a baseball in such a way as to make it curve! In 1870, before a large but skeptical crowd, Freddy Goldsmith gave a demonstration of his new invention. The test was made by drawing a chalk line along the ground for 45 feet. Poles were set upright at each end of the line, and another was placed midway between these two. Freddy Goldsmith stood at the first pole and his catcher at the end other end. To the amazement of the crowd, Freddy demonstrated that he could throw a baseball so that it went on the outside of the center pole and the inside of the others, in a curve. Thus the baseball world came to know of Freddy Goldsmith and his invention -- "the curve ball." Freddy Goldsmith became nationally famous. Big league clubs fought for his pitching services. He became a star with the Chicago White Stockings. With his "curve ball," pitcher Goldsmith was soon the most talked-about ballplayer in America! But there is a curious ending to this story. For years, long after his days of baseball glory were over, Freddy Goldsmith lived happily in the knowledge that posterity would always know him as the inventor of the curve ball. However, another pitcher named Arthur Cummings popped up, claiming to be the inventor, and quite a few baseball men believed him. When Freddy Goldsmith heard about this, it broke him up completely. Ill and bed-ridden at the time, he died a broken-hearted man, pathetically maintaining to the end that he, and only he, was the original inventor of "the curve ball."[5]

Later years

After many years with NBC, he joined ABC, where he lasted until 1956. While at ABC, Stern was a regular panelist on the game show The Name's the Same. Most of the program was played for laughs but Stern, with his reporter training, could always be counted on to ask shrewd, probing questions that speeded the show along.

According to the Halberstam book, Stern's tenures at both networks were cut short due to health problems caused by his addiction to painkillers, which dated back to the period after his leg was amputated.

After retiring from television broadcasting, Stern did radio sports reports and commentaries for the Mutual Broadcasting System in the late 1950s and 1960s. During this period, he settled in Rye, New York, where he spent his last 15 years.

References

  1. ^ Patterson, Ted; Curt Gowdy (2002). The Golden Voices of Baseball. Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 1582614989.  
  2. ^ Baker Field:Birthplace of Sports Television
  3. ^ Halberstam, David J. Sports on New York Radio. McGraw-Hill, (1999). ISBN 1570281971 ISBN 978-1570281976
  4. ^ Bill Stern at old-time.com]
  5. ^ Stern, Bill. Bill Stern's Favorite Baseball Stories. Garden City, New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1949.

External links

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