New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: W

Bob Wolff

Bob Wolff (Sportscaster.  Born, New York, NY, Nov. 29, 1920.)  Acknowledged as the longest-running sportscaster in television history, Robert A. Wolff has been on the New York sports scene since 1954.  Wolff began in Washington, D.C., in 1946 with the old DuMont Network.  He became the Knicks television voice in 1954, beginning an association with Madison Square Garden that lasted 36 years.  Wolff was the lead announcer on the Knicks through 1975 and continued to fill in for another five years.  He also called Rangers games for 20 years, the E.C.A.C. Holiday Festival tournament for 29, the National Horse Show for 32, and the Westminster Kennel Club dog show for 33.  Wolff began doing Washington Senators baseball in 1947 and followed the team to Minnesota in 1961.  He never covered a New York baseball team regularly, but did call three Yankees World Series on radio:  1956 for Mutual, and 1958 and 1961 for NBC.  Wolff’s call of the ninth inning of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 Series (“A no-hitter!  A perfect game for Don Larsen!”) is one of the game’s classic moments.  He also did some Mets games in 1995 for SportsChannel.  Wolff has done N.F.L. championship games, the Stanley Cup final, and the N.B.A. championship series, as well as the World Series.  Wolff began, in 1986, to deliver twice-nightly sportscasts for News 12 Long Island.  He was also a long-time professor at St. John’s and Pace universities.  A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke (where he played baseball), Wolff was a Navy officer during World War II.

Alex Wojciechowicz

Alex Wojciechowicz (College Football.  Born, South River, NJ, Aug. 12, 1915; died, South River, NJ, July 13, 1992.)  Among the legendary names of New York college football, Alex Wojciechowicz is one of the greatest. He was the center and middle linebacker around whom the fabled second version of the “Seven Blocks of Granite” were built from 1935 to 1937.  During those seasons, his Fordham teams were a combined 18-2-5.  Wojciechowicz was a consensus All-America in both 1936 and 1937 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1937 after being tenth in 1936.  Fordham nearly earned its first Bowl bid in 1936 but lost the final game to arch rival N.Y.U. 7-6 at Yankee Stadium on Thanksgiving. In 1937, Fordham turned in a superior performance but got no Bowl bid, despite the New York writers line of “Rose Hill to the Rose Bowl.”  During the 1937 season, the Rams had five shutouts and allowed only 16 points while scoring 182.  Among those shutouts was the third straight scoreless tie with the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Polo Grounds.  Vince Lombardi was one of the “Seven Blocks” along with Leo Paquin, Johnny Druze, Al Babartsky, Nat Pierce and Ed Franco.  Lombardi later became a celebrated coach for the Green Bay Packers, but at the time, Wojciechowicz was the biggest name of the fabled group. He was the No. 1 draft choice of the Detroit Lions for whom he played from 1938 to 1946 before finishing his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He retired in 1950.

John Witkowski

John Witkowski (College football.  Born, Flushing, Queens, June 18, 1962.)  As ringmaster of an aerial circus at Columbia for three years (1981-83), John Joseph Witkowski passed for 7,849 yards with 613 completions and 56 touchdowns in 30 games.  With a 1-9 team in 1982, Witkowski was chosen Ivy League Player of the Year.  Despite his assault on the record book, his Lions teams were just 3-25-2 in three years.  Witkowski’s performances were nonetheless outstanding.  Combining primarily with wide receivers Don Lewis and Bill Reggio, Witkowski threw for five touchdowns in a game (at Dartmouth, Nov. 6, 1982), in which he passed for 466 yards in a 56-41 loss.  Earlier that same year, Witkowski became the first Columbia passer with a 400-yard game (406 versus Bucknell, Oct. 23).  He threw for 3,050 yards (29 touchdowns) in 1982 and 3,152 (23 touchdowns) in 1983.  In his senior season, the Lions played no home games, as the new Wien Stadium at Baker Field was under construction.  They played twice at Giants Stadium and once at Hofstra for “home” dates.  Witkowski was drafted (sixth round) by Detroit in 1984 and eventually played five games there (three in 1984 and two in 1988).

Harry Wismer

Harry Wismer (Sportscaster and club owner.  Born, Port Huron, MI, June 30, 1913; died, New York, NY, Dec. 4, 1967.)  From his start at WJR in Detroit in 1935, Harry Wismer was one of America’s leading sportscasters.  In 1941, Wismer became the sports director and lead announcer for NBC’s second radio network (“Blue”), which shortly became ABC.  He continued in that position as ABC moved into the television era.  But it was as a football announcer that Wismer gained his greatest broadcasting fame.  He started as the play-by-play voice of the Lions in the 1930s and then shifted to the Washington Redskins.  Before World War II, Wismer handled Big 10 games for WJR.  For 16 seasons (1944-59), he was the radio voice of Notre Dame football.  He also did a nightly sports show on the Mutual Network (MBS) and a 15-minute radio show after Brooklyn Dodgers home games during the mid-1950s.  In 1957, Wismer called play-by-play for NBC on the N.F.L. championship game, the Sugar Bowl, the East-West Shrine game, the Pro Bowl, the North-South game, the Masters, and U.S. Open golf, while still doing Notre Dame and the Redskins.  A small, hard-drinking, and often combative man, Wismer was unpopular with many sportswriters and, sometimes, even his own partners.  He was, however, a part-owner of both Detroit and Washington in the N.F.L. (the only man ever to hold an interest in two N.F.L. clubs simultaneously) and a formative figure in the founding of the American Football League.  When the A.F.L. was officially formed in Chicago on Aug. 14, 1959, Wismer became the owner of the New York franchise that he later called Titans (“larger than Giants,” he said).  He negotiated the original network television contract for the A.F.L. with ABC (1960-64), spreading the revenue on a league-wide cooperative basis, unlike other leagues.  Wismer, through his friendship with general manager Mims Thomason and sports editor Leo Peterson of  U.P.I., assured the A.F.L. from its inception of parity in wire service coverage with the 40-year-old N.F.L.  His ownership of the Titans, he later said, cost him $2 million, and he was forced out after the team went bankrupt midway through the 1962 season.  Playing in the old Polo Grounds, the Titans were 7-7 in each of their first two seasons and fell to 5-9 in 1962.  A consortium fronted by Sonny Werblin bought the team out of bankruptcy in early 1963 and renamed the team the Jets.   As the Jets, the franchise became a box office success when it moved into the newly-opened Shea Stadium 1964.  It is doubtful, however, that the A.F.L. would have survived its early years without Wismer.  The team he founded was sold for $635 million in 2000.

Dave Winfield

Dave Winfield (Baseball.  Born, St. Paul, MN, Oct. 3, 1951.)  After an elaborate mating dance that he began by chasing off other suitors, David Mark Winfield signed what was then the richest contract in baseball history to join the Yankees.  On Dec. 15, 1980, Winfield signed for 10 years with a deal estimated to be worth $21 to $23 million.  Over time, the contract itself was to be the subject of dispute, accusation, and recrimination revolving around contributions to the Winfield Foundation.  But at the start, at least, Winfield was a great outfielder who hit .294 as the 1981 Yankees won the East Division title (in the first half of a strike-split season) and advanced to the World Series.  It was perhaps that Series loss to Los Angeles that began to fray the relationship between Winfield and Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner (who eventually called Winfield “Mr. May,” in contrast to Series hero Reggie Jackson, who was known as “Mr. October”).  Winfield hit only .045 (with one hit, a single) in the six-game Series.  His two most productive seasons followed as Winfield hit a career-high 37 homers  in 1982 (with 106 r.b.i.) and 34 more (with 116 r.b.i.) in 1983.  But the Yankees didn’t win.  Winfield drove in 100 or more runs six times in seven years (1982-88) but the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in any of those seasons.  Rickey Henderson’s arrival in 1985 caused Winfield to be moved from left to right field but the move made no appreciable difference in Winfield’s performance or the Yankees’ fortunes.  He missed the entire 1989 season due to injury and, on May 11, 1990, was traded to California for pitcher Mike Witt.  Winfield hit .290 during his Yankees career with 205 homers and 818 r.b.i.  He eventually completed a 22-year career with Cleveland in 1995, having amassed 3,110 hits.  One of a very exclusive group to be drafted by baseball, the N.F.L., and the N.B.A., Winfield began his career in 1973 with San Diego without ever playing in the minors.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson (College football.  Born, Staunton, VA., Dec. 28, 1856; died, Washington, DC, Feb. 3, 1924.)  While some sources suggest that Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the head coach of the Princeton football team in 1878, during his senior year there, this is a gross extension of the facts.  Wilson was knowledgeable about the game, which was then in a molten state.  In 1878, his friend Earl Dodge, Princeton’s 1877 captain, and Wilson offered significant advice to the team regarding the placement of players on the field.  In 1880, when the number of players was reduced from 15 to 11, the placement concepts enumerated by Wilson and Dodge became prevalent.  His interest in the game remained unabated throughout his life and he was also a fan of baseball, which he had played.  Wilson returned to Princeton as a faculty member in 1890 and frequently spent such time as was available at football practice.  How much advice he offered in the days before full-time coaching professionals is not really known, but of his interest there is no question.  Wilson served as president of Princeton (1902-10), governor of New Jersey (1911-13), and president of the United States (1913-21).

Mookie Wilson

Mookie Wilson (Baseball.  Born, Bamberg, SC, Feb. 9, 1956.)  Coming to the Mets late in the 1980 season, William Hayward Wilson almost immediately became a fan favorite.  In his first full season (the strike-shortened 1981 campaign), Wilson established himself as a more-or-less regular centerfielder, hitting .271 with 24 stolen bases in 92 games.  He set a club record for steals (58) the following year.  But certainly the instant for which Mets fans will most clearly remember the switch-hitting Wilson is the grounder to first base in the 10th inning of the sixth game of the 1986 World Series.  It was Wilson’s ball that eluded Boston first baseman Bill Buckner for an error as the winning run scored in the 6-5 game.  Earlier in the same at-bat, Wilson had fought off several Bob Stanley pitches before a wild pitch enabled the tying run to score.  The Mets won the Series in the seventh game.  Often used as a leadoff man because of his speed, Wilson twice scored from second base on infield grounders by George Foster (1984).  He was traded to Toronto in 1989 and played with the Blue Jays through 1991.  Wilson is the Mets career leader in triples (62) and stolen bases (281).  He was a career .274 hitter.  Wilson served two terms as Mets first base coach, for five years ending in 2002 and then again in 2011.

Fred Wilpon

Fred Wilpon (Executive.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 22, 1936.) A graduate of the University of Michigan, Fred Wilpon entered the real estate field as vice president of Hanover Equities in 1959 and a decade later moved to Peter Sharp & Co. Since 1971, he has been chairman of Sterling Equities and owner of extensive real estate holdings. Wilpon played baseball with future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax at Brooklyn’s Lafayette H.S. His lifelong interest in baseball led him to join the syndicate that purchased the Mets in January 1980 from the heirs of the original owner, Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson (the former Joan Whitney). Since 1980, he has served as president of the Mets and has been active both in the resuscitation of the team (which won the World Series in 1986, the N.L. pennant in 2000, and the N.L. East Division championship in 2006) and the construction of a new stadium (Citi Field, which opened next door to the demolished Shea Stadium in 2009). Wilpon brought pro baseball back to Brooklyn in 2001 when the Mets’ Class-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League moved there and became the Cyclones. On Aug. 13, 2002, Wilpon became the principal owner of the Mets when his purchase of Nelson Doubleday’s half-interest for a reported $200 million was announced.  Wilpon and his family were major victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, revealed in 2008, and the Wilpons’ potential liability to other victims led to questions as to whether Wilpon would be forced to sell the Mets to satisfy those losses.  Indeed, in 2011, an agreement was announced whereby hedge fund investor David Einhorn would purchase an interest in the Mets.  However, court rulings appeared to cap the Wilpons’ exposure to other Madoff victims and the family’s need to sell a portion of the team evaporated.  Shortly thereafter, so did the putative Wilpon-Einhorn deal.

Barry Wilner

Barry Wilner (Sportswriter.  Born, Far Rockaway, NY, Apr. 5, 1951.)  An Associated Press sportswriter since 1978, Barry Stuart Wilner has covered a wide range of sports.  Wilner was a tennis writer (1978-79), hockey writer (1980-85) and television sports writer (1985-86) before assuming the Jets beat in 1986.  He is also the A.P. figure skating writer, a beat he went on in 1985 as well as one that sends him to the Olympics and other international skating events.

Harry Wills

Harry Wills (Boxing.  Born, New Orleans, LA, May 15, 1889; died, New York, NY, Dec. 21, 1958.)  It could reasonably be argued that Harry Wills might have won the world heavyweight boxing champion had Jack Johnson not held the title from 1908-15.  Johnson so incited popular racist elements that boxing authorities vowed not to allow another black fighter to contend for the heavyweight championship.  Wills began his pro career in 1910.  A strapping 6’4”, 220 pounds, he slowly matured as a fighter and by 1918 was one of the world’s best.  After breaking his arm in a two-round knockout loss to Jim Johnson in St. Louis, Mo., in early 1917, Wills went nearly five years (34 bouts) without a defeat.  From 1921-23, he scored 15 knockouts in 20 fights.  Wills (supported by some members of the boxing community and the press) began loudly pressing champion Jack Dempsey for a bout.  Dempsey’s manager Jack (Doc) Kearns and promoter Tex Rickard appeared to agree on several occasions, but Wills never got into the ring in Dempsey.  Rickard did try to salve Wills’ pride by matching him with some big payday bouts against contenders.  The best of these was a 12-round no-decision with Luis Angel Firpo at Boyle’s 30 Acres in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 1, 1924.  Although his career in the ring extended to 1932, Wills long before began investing in Manhattan real estate, where he was to become a successful owner and manager.  His career shows 102 bouts, 22 of them against Sam Langford and five with Joe Jeanette.  Wills lost only eight times (three on fouls, including once to Jack Sharkey in Brooklyn in 1926).  He scored 45 knockouts.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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