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Blind Sportscaster Bob Greenberg Remembered

Jul 14, 2012
Originally published on July 15, 2012 12:38 pm

Bob Greenberg died this week at the age of 67. He was a sportscaster who happened to be blind. When I've told people he's one of the most extraordinary people I've ever worked with, there's usually polite incomprehension: A blind sportscaster?

Bob worked for WBEZ in Chicago, and he could be cranky, blustery and loud. But it was a marvel to watch him work.

A helper would read box scores to him every day, and Bob would pound a Braille keyboard to punch them into cards. If a football player caught a pass, Bob would rifle through his cards like a riverboat gambler, find the dots and stats he wanted and announce, "That's the third fourth-down pass Baschnagel has caught this year!"

In the early 1980s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could be a little sullen with reporters. After a hard game on a cold night, the press cornered him in the locker room, barking questions. He turned with a cold stare, and saw Bob Greenberg, dressed in rumpled, ill-buttoned clothes, holding a white cane and a microphone.

"How'd you get here?" Kareem asked.

"Not hard," said Bob, who then explained how he knew the exact number of steps to bring him to the Lake Street "L" station; how he felt for the right combination of coins to put in the turnstile; and then the number of steps to take along West Madison to Chicago Stadium.

"Maybe that's why I can remember so many stats about the game," Bob said.

Abdul-Jabbar paused to take that in and finally replied, "Ask your question, sir." Athletes often disdain reporters as snoops and second-guessers who couldn't catch a ball that's laid in their lap. But Kareem saw Bob Greenberg and seemed to think, "You've worked hard to get here, too."

I don't recall Bob saying there was anything he couldn't figure out how to do because he was blind. But I came to feel that having to count and calculate most every step, every day of your life, could make any man a little cranky.

Bob told me once that over the years, he had painted in his mind's eye what most every play in sports — indeed, what most every item on Earth, from beetles to roses to whales — looked like. But he said he couldn't quite "see" home runs. They had a distinct sound: the single stroke of the bat, the crowd's hopes and cheers rising as the ball sailed into the stands, or just fell into a long, dismaying out.

"I sure wish I could see that," Bob said.

Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs hit a home run out of Wrigley Field yesterday. I like to think Bob saw it.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bob Greenberg died this week, at the age of 67. He was a sportscaster who happened to be blind, and when I've told people he's one of the most extraordinary people I've ever worked with, there's usually polite incomprehension. A blind sportscaster?

Bob worked for WBEZ in Chicago, and he could be cranky, blustery and loud. But it was a marvel to watch him work. A helper would read box scores to him every day and Bob would pound a Braille keyboard to punch them into cards. If a football player caught a pass, Bob would rifle through his cards like a riverboat gambler, find the dots and stats he wanted, and announce: That's the third fourth-down pass Baschnagel has caught this year.

In the early 1980s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could be little sullen with reporters. After a hard game on a cold night, the press cornered him in the locker room, barking questions. He turned with a cold stare and saw Bob Greenberg, dressed in rumpled, ill-buttoned clothes, holding a white cane and a microphone.

How'd you get here? Kareem asked. Not hard, said Bob, who then explained how he knew the exact number of steps to bring him to the Lake Street L Station; how he felt for the right combination of coins to put in the turnstile; and then the number of steps to take along West Madison to Chicago Stadium.

Maybe that's why I can remember so many stats about the game, Bob said. Abdul-Jabbar paused to take that in and finally replied: Ask your question, sir.

Athletes often disdain reporters as snoops and second-guessers who couldn't catch a ball that's laid in their lap. But Kareem saw Bob Greenberg and seemed to think, you've worked hard to get here, too.

I don't recall Bob saying there was anything he couldn't figure out how to do because he was blind. But I came to feel that that having to count and calculate most every step, every day of your life, could make any man a little cranky.

Bob told me once that over the years, he had painted in his mind's eye what most every play in sports, indeed, what most every item on Earth - from beetles to roses to whales - looked like. But he said he couldn't quite see home runs. They had a distinct sound: the single stroke of the bat, the crowd's hopes and cheers rising as the ball sailed into the stands, or just fell into a long, dismaying out. I sure wish I could see that, Bob said.

Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs hit a home run out of Wrigley Field yesterday. I like to think Bob saw it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Soriano crushes one way out of here onto Waveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, BASEBALL BOOGIE)

MABEL SCOTT: (Singing) If I pitch, can you catch? Will you hold the ball? When you step to the plate, will you swing and fall? If you play, got to know how it's done. Can you catch? Can you hold a hard one? I mean, baby, do you know the game? I mean, baby, do you know the game

SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.