The Obit Bob Broeg

Hall of Fame sportswriter Bob Broeg dies

By John M. McGuire

Former Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg, whose quirky and insightful accounts of the legends of sport made him one of the early inductees into the writers' wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, died Friday (Oct. 28, 2005) at age 87.

His death from infirmities at St. John's Mercy Medical Center came just a couple of days after the end of the 2005 baseball season, and little more than a week after the Cardinals' march to the Fall Classic fell short on a crisp fall night at Busch Stadium - the stadium's last game.

Mr. Broeg saw most of the Cardinals' World Series games either as a youthful fan or as a chronicler of the sport for the Post-Dispatch.

Baseball was Mr. Broeg's favorite sport, the Cardinals his favorite team and Stan Musial his favorite player. It was Broeg who gave Musial the sobriquet "The Man."

The nickname was typically apt and yet uncommonly succinct for Broeg, whose writing style was once described as "so thickly layered with anecdotes and names and finite details that at times it's like trying to take notes from someone reciting personal experiences on the scale of 'War and Peace.'"

A difficult debut
Robert William Patrick Broeg was born in St. Louis on March 18, 1918, on the kitchen table at the family's second-floor apartment at Virginia Avenue and Pulaski Street, in an area called Dutchtown. He was the first child of Robert M. Broeg, a bread-truck driver, and Alice Wiley Broeg.

It was an inauspicious debut, as he recalled in his autobiography. The person who delivered him "used her forceps like ice tongs, grabbing me fore and aft, rather than left to right," he wrote. "The forceps scarred the left eye, blurring it permanently because they didn't have corneal transplants then. The other half dug into my cranium.

"When I was born, the doctor said that if I lived, I'd be crazy. Now that's a helluva fine sendoff, isn't it?"

Mr. Broeg, of German-Irish extraction, said his name in German would have been pronounced "Broog." But instead, it's "Broeg as in plague," something that always made him laugh.

His passion for sports can be traced back to Memorial Day, 1927. That was when an uncle took the 9-year-old to his first baseball game at old Sportsman's Park. Four years later, Mary Culver, a grade school teacher at Mount Pleasant, took her prolific teenage writer to meet J. Roy Stockton, sports editor of the Post-Dispatch. Stockton became Mr. Broeg's mentor.

Mr. Broeg graduated from Cleveland High School in January 1936 and entered the University of Missouri that fall. In the summer of 1941, he worked briefly for The Associated Press in Boston, then three months with the old St. Louis Star-Times, then a hitch in the service. He finally landed at his beloved newspaper in 1945 a month before the end of World War II. His byline would run in the Post-Dispatch for nearly 60 years. His last one appeared on June 20, 2004.

He began by covering the old St. Louis Browns and was shifted to the Cardinals in 1946. He covered the Redbirds, a team he fell deeply in love with, until being named sports editor in 1958.

His columns and game coverage filled the sports pages of the Post-Dispatch. One of the newspaper's former managing editors, David Lipman, whom Mr. Broeg hired to work in sports in October 1960, has claimed that B.B. - as he was called by his colleagues - might have written more words for this newspaper than any other staffer in the paper's history.

"He was one of the most effective reporters and columnists in the history of the newspaper," Lipman said. "I've lost track of the number of books he produced (at least 20). We have a really large bookshelf, and one of the corners is all Bob Broeg."

Mr. Broeg also could be heard on radio and television and from the speaker's stands at sports fans' assemblies. Several of them were events that he helped create, such as the annual celebrity-filled baseball writers dinner and the annual Post-Dispatch Scholar-Athlete gathering, honoring high school students for their exceptional grades and athletic ability. His alma mater, the University of Missouri at Columbia, has two Bob Broeg scholarships.

His pal Garagiola
Many fans and friends will remember Mr. Broeg best for his trademark bowties and his booming laughter.

"His laughter ran from the tip of his toes through his entire body," said Joe Garagiola, a native of The Hill, former major league catcher and NBC broadcaster whom Mr. Broeg called "Pal Joey."

The sports-world lives of Joseph Henry Garagiola and Bob Broeg ran parallel, with "Pal Joey" joining the Cardinals for their pennant-winning 1946 season. Mr. Broeg covered that World Series as the Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox.

"Bob always had a passion for what he was doing, particularly Cardinals baseball and Mizzou football," Garagiola said. "He always wanted to know the people. I considered him first a friend and then a writer. I felt free to talk to him.

"That's the kind of rapport he had, but he could get his dander up, too. Broeg confronted Eddie Dyer, manager the year when we won the World Series in '46, because Dyer just wanted to talk to the Eastern press. He also punched out a drunk on an elevator." Mr. Broeg also got mad once and threw his typewriter across the sports department floor - a story told and retold in the newsroom.

"One of his great stories, and he wrote so many of them, was what happened during a railroad strike in 1946," Garagiola recalled. "Some of the Cardinals flew from Philadelphia to Cincinnati. When they arrived at the airport, they had to take cabs, and the cab that Stan Musial was in, the hood kept flying up. So Musial got out and was lying on the top of the hood, and Broeg wrote about it."

Tim McCarver, another former Cardinals catcher and current Fox Sports baseball broadcaster, has similar feelings about Mr. Broeg. McCarver came to the Cardinals in 1959, the year after Mr. Broeg became sports editor. "When I think about Broeg, I smile, because he was very honest and knew his stuff and would stand up for his writing. Bob would go toe-to-toe with you, and players admired that. He was a remarkable source, a real font of correct information. I loved Bob Broeg."

Another case in point was what the late Hall of Famer Ted Williams once said: "You know what I'd like more than a couple of hours talking baseball with Bob Broeg? A couple of days."

Remarkable recollections
Mr. Broeg was renowned for his amazing memory. In 1985, when the Cardinals played the Kansas City Royals in the Redbirds' 14th World Series, the writer of this obituary approached Mr. Broeg to ask him about his memories of previous Series games. With little hesitation, he rolled out highly detailed recollections as if he were a computer humming away, going all the way back to 1926, the Cardinals' first World Series.

Jack Buck, the late Hall of Fame broadcaster who met Mr. Broeg in 1954, the year Buck moved here, once said, "The stuff just spews out of him. I'll tell you, a session you'd want to sit in on is with Broeg and Whitey Herzog (former Cardinals manager), who's the same."

Herzog said he always admired Mr. Broeg. "Of all the people, Bob Broeg and Gene Autry loved baseball more than anybody else," said the manager they called "the White Rat."

"Another thing about him, he really loved Frankie Frisch," Herzog said. "But when Broeg said I was the best manager the Cardinals ever had, even better than Frisch, I thought that was a hell of a compliment, being picked over the great player, the 'Fordham Flash.'"

Eternally boyish
In September 1985, after undergoing bypass surgery that summer, Mr. Broeg was given an official retirement notice, although he never really retired. "There's never been a retirement story because I told them I'm not going to quit," he said. Sure enough, he continued to write books and Sunday columns.

Though he was in his own right a sports legend, Mr. Broeg was always approachable, a bit eccentric and chatty. It seemed as if he always had time to reminisce.

"The distinguishing thing about him was his quality of eternal boyishness," said national broadcaster Bob Costas. He's known Mr. Broeg since Costas arrived to work at KMOX in 1974, starting as a basketball play-by-play announcer. Costas was 22 at the time and had left Syracuse University during his last semester.

"When B.B. did his long, running commentaries for KMOX, he wrote for broadcast the same way he did for print - reading his own multiclause sentences," Costas said. "He was so bizarrely entertaining, and I say this with affection. I thought a mistake was made when they grouped him with (the late) Bob Burnes (of the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat), who was more of a strait-laced man and didn't have the feistiness that Mr. Broeg had.

"Bob had a very quirky personality and was a guy who marveled at ships in a bottle and electric trains, the kind of stuff that kids would have loved to find under the Christmas tree. But he got a kick out of this in his 80s. There was always a high-spiritedness about this guy."

His love of nicknames included his former sports department staffers, such as Bob "Killer Mac" McCoy and Dave "Doorman" Dorr. But this nickname passion covered the sports landscape: "Der Bingle" is what he called former Cardinals general manager Bing Devine. It was also singer-actor Bing Crosby's nickname. And, of course, "Pal Joey" Garagiola.

As far as a nickname for Costas, "He couldn't really come up with one," Costas said. "He always called me 'Rob.' And he always called Buck 'John Francis.'"

"You say 'Yogi' and everyone knows who it is," Garagiola said of his friend and neighbor on The Hill, New York Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. "But Broeg would write and call him 'Lawrence Peter.'

"He also called Musial 'banjo hitter' and (former Mizzou football coach) Dan Devine 'Dano,' and, of course, Frankie Frisch 'the Fordham Flash.'"

Man behind "the Man"
Perhaps Musial is the most legendary sports star Mr. Broeg dealt with on a longterm basis.

"He traveled with us for 25 years, and he was a great personal friend and a great writer," said Musial, speaking from his office at Stan the Man Inc. "He was sort of responsible for keeping me posted on my records, including when I got my 3,000th hit at Wrigley Field (in 1958)."

That record-setting day, Mr. Broeg was the one who said that Musial's return to St. Louis on the team train was like riding on a presidential campaign, "stopping in all those towns in Illinois, Springfield, Clinton," with crowds gathered. "And I did tell the kids at Union Station, 'No school tomorrow,'" Musial said.

Mr. Broeg popularized "the Man" after being told by the Cardinals' traveling secretary, Leo Ward, that "here comes the man" was the murmuring he heard in 1946 at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field every time Musial came to bat.

Gibby and Gaedel
Mr. Broeg once said his favorite moment in 20th century sports was Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson's record-setting 17 strikeouts in Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series. Mr. Broeg felt that way even though the Cardinals lost the Series.

Mr. Broeg's most bizarre baseball sighting came on Aug. 19, 1951, an event that produced a photograph seen around the world. The night before the St. Louis Browns played a Sunday doubleheader against Detroit, Mr. Broeg went out for beer with the Browns' amazing owner, showman Bill Veeck.

After a few beers, Veeck told Mr. Broeg something that was hard to believe. In Veeck-like fashion, he was going to have a midget named Edward C. Gaedel pinch-hit sometime in Sunday's games. It was Mr. Broeg who made sure that the late Post-Dispatch photographer Jack January stayed at Sportsman's Park until Eddie Gaedel, 3 feet 7 and 65 pounds, came to bat against Tigers pitcher Bob Cain, with catcher Bob Swift kneeling, as if he were praying.

As word of Mr. Broeg's death got out Friday, eulogies and memories came pouring in. But Mr. Broeg had long said that he always wanted this be his epitaph - "He was fair, as in just, not as in mediocre."

Survivors include his wife, Lynette Anton Broeg of Frontenac; a stepson, Gregory Emmenegger of Eureka; and a stepdaughter, Lisa Emmenegger Weilbacher of Glendale. Mr. Broeg's visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kriegshauser Mortuary, 9450 Olive Boulevard, Olivette. A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 106 North Meramec Avenue, Clayton, with burial in the Sunset Memorial Park & Mausoleum, 10180 Gravois Road, Affton.