Dick Schaap, a pioneering journalist and sports broadcaster who was a thoughtful and prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects in an even wider variety of mediums, died Friday in a New York hospital following complications from hip replacement surgery in September. He was 67.
At the time of his death, Schaap was active on all fronts, including hosting "The Sports Reporters" show every Sunday on ESPN and national weekly radio and TV shows on ESPN with his son Jeremy, and promoting his memoir, "Flashing Before My Eyes," which was published last year.
Schaap was a noted raconteur, an entertaining speaker and a man who must have set a record for name-dropping -- 531 -- in a single volume when he published his critically acclaimed autobiography. Still, every name he dropped probably had once shared a story, a meal, a bar stool or a place around a dinner party table some time during his rich life.
He once labeled in print his native New York "Fun City," which became its oft-repeated moniker many years before anyone thought of it as the Big Apple. He interviewed presidents and princes of sport, not to mention all those grunts in the trenches, and counted Muhammad Ali as a good friend.
He covered more than sports, however. His riveting interview with comedian Sid Caesar recounting his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction won an Emmy in 1983 for cultural reporting. That aired on ABC's "20/20."
His last show on "Sports Reporters" -- a format that featured Schaap as host trying to control three yapping sportswriters discussing the week's events -- came five days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
"For that show, I asked all of the panelists for a final word on when they felt the most like being an American," said Joe Valerio, founder and executive producer of the show. "At first, he did not want to go down that road. He was a guy who didn't like revealing a lot about himself. I told him 'Trust me on this.'
"Then we started talking about it, and I asked him about how he felt when John Kennedy was shot. He said, I think I can work with that.' Then he produced a typical masterful parting shot. It was his last one. It might have been his best one."
Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser has been a frequent panelist on the show and is a friend of Schaap's dating to the early 1970s.
"He made it possible for all the people like me who wanted to be more than just a writer, who wanted to do radio and television and continue to write," Kornheiser said. "You could hold your head up high and point to Dick and say, 'He was one of us.' ... He's just the most generous guy I ever met in our business."
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, said in a statement, "He lived each day to the fullest, and during the course of an amazing life, encountered almost every major figure that impacted our culture over the last 50 years."
Schaap, a native of Brooklyn, graduated from Cornell University in 1955 and attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism on a Grantland Rice Memorial Fellowship. He began his professional career at Newsweek, where he worked from 1959 to 1963, and worked from 1964 to 1966 for the New York Herald Tribune, first as city editor and later as a columnist. He was on staff at the Tribune with columnist Jimmy Breslin, his longtime friend, and author Tom Wolfe.
"When I started getting interested in writing in high school (in Westfield, N.J.), I'd go down the driveway of my house every morning, and there was Dick Schaap, Breslin and Wolfe," Valerio said. "Not a bad lineup. We became very close, and when I started 'Sports Reporters' in 1989, he was the obvious choice to be the host.
"I never knew anyone who loved every minute of every day the way Dick did. He was always upbeat and always looking forward to something."
Schaap moved into broadcasting with NBC from 1971 to 1980, serving as a correspondent for the "NBC Nightly News" and the "Today" show and as editor and frequent contributor to Sport magazine.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.