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Journalist, author Dick Schaap dead at 67
Schaap: Billy, The Greatest and me
ESPN's Sports Reporters remembers its host and good friend Dick Schaap.
Sunday, December 23, 2001
Writers remember Dick Schaap
Friends and collegues have paid tribute to Dick Schaap in columns across the country. Here is a collection of some of the best:
We lost our heart a few hours ago. It stopped beating in a New York City hospital on the Upper East Side. Dick liked the neighborhood but hated the room. Beds with handles were not for him.
He should have been traveling to some game, flying to host some charity banquet, having dinner with somebody famous, somebody colorful, a night the subject might forget but Dick would remember a month from now, a year from now, maybe forever.
Dick was like that. Some people collect cards. Some collect hats. Dick collected stories. He didn't meet people; he absorbed them. He was put on this earth to remind us of the sheer joy of company.
Dick was the happiest, most generous, most optimistic man I ever knew. He never had a down day. On any night you could have dinner and drinks with Dick -- rich and full with hope and laughs -- and great stories that would last into the wee, small hours of the morning, and you'd have to leave for fear of falling asleep at the table. Then you'd awaken bleary-eyed the next morning to find Dick had already played two sets of tennis, written three chapters of a book and interviewed a movie star and a batting champion! All of Dick's friends are having trouble dealing with the news that he died yesterday. Because none of us can imagine him not working.
Dick Schaap was my great friend, and my mentor. I'm in this business because of him as much as anyone. He gave me freelance work when I was 22 years old; he gave me encouragement at 22, 32, 42 and still at 52. He was a sweet and funny man who had the gift of gab, and the greater gift of putting everyone around him at ease -- my God, the man could tell a dirty joke in mixed company and get away with it! He was a natural host, at parties and on TV. He could take the temperature of a room better than anyone I've ever known. He looked equally great in a tuxedo and in blue jeans. It's a shame they don't use the word "debonair" any more, because Dick was debonair. And he knew everybody! And he told everybody he knew everybody! Dick Schaap was the biggest name-dropper in the world. My friend David Israel, who feels the same way about Dick that I do, said yesterday, "Dick dropped so many names, his toes were swollen. How'd he ever get his shoes on?"
Mr. 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 bar stool or a place around a dining table some time during his rich life.
A native New Yorker, Mr. Schaap once labeled it "Fun City," which became its moniker for 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 he counted Muhammad Ali as a good friend.
For the last 12 years I sat next to him every Sunday on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters." It was only the best seat on television, because of him. Every Sunday morning, I saw how fast he was, how he moved the conversation along, the skill with which he got us started and then found a way to shut everybody up. Mostly I saw his generosity. He was the smartest one in the room, always, and he let the show be about everybody else. He never had to prove anything to anybody.
We used to always kid him that if name-dropping were an Olympic event he would have won all the medals. But he was never just dropping names. He was telling stories about his friends. He had the most talent, and the most friends. He leaves the kind of hole in my life and their lives you don't even think about patching. You just let it be. It is the place in the world where Dick Schaap was.
Truth be told, he was no longer passionate about sports, but he was a very quick study and he knew what he needed to know. He took sport off the shelf each Sunday morning and then put it back when we were done. He had a vast historical perspective, and everything was filtered through his wry wit. He didn't care who won the games. He loved the people and their stories, because, above all, he was a reporter.
The one exception was his undying love and admiration for all things Packer. He numbered Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, and Paul Hornung among his A-level friends and he never seemed to need much of an excuse to hop on a plane and head to Green Bay to attend a function or golf outing. The little boy that still lurked in him had two favorite colors: green and gold.
Above all, Schaap was the absolute quintessential New Yorker. He lived half a block from Central Park on the Upper West Side. He had a regular Monday night table for four at Rao's, the legendary East Harlem restaurant. He attended all the requisite First Nights. The New York Times used the word "ubiquitous" to describe him, and that pretty much sums it up.
I want to be like Dick Schaap -- respected and loved, friend to presidents and barmaids, comic and analyst, honest and sincere. One of the best things I can say about Dick Schaap is that he was the same in the work environment as he was in a personal setting.
Schaap shot the breeze with sportswriter/novelist Mike Lupica the same way he chatted up a group of his Lawrence friends while stuffing his face at Don's Steakhouse. Schaap never big-timed anyone. He treated the producer of my radio show with the same respect he treated best-selling author Mitch Albom.
I want to live life the way Dick Schaap lived it. He tried everything. He never passed up an opportunity. He wrote for great magazines, was host of a radio show on ESPN, served as editor of a newspaper.
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