Glickman, Martin Irving ("Marty")

views updated

GLICKMAN, Martin Irving ("Marty")

(b. 14 August 1917 in New York City; d. 3 January 2001 in New York City), collegiate sports star at Syracuse University and a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team who became the voice of New York City sports for half a century as a play-by-play radio commentator.

Born in the Bronx to Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents, Harry and Molly Glickman, Marty Glickman became a track star at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, where he held national prep titles in both the indoor and the outdoor 100-yard dashes. The pervasive anti-Semitism of American amateur sports in the 1930s, however, stood in the way of the many athletic scholarships he might otherwise have been offered. He was, however, able to enroll at Syracuse University in 1935 due to the efforts of a group of Jewish alumni who, wanting to bring a Jewish athlete to the upstate New York campus, offered to pay his tuition.

Glickman excelled as a running back for the Orangemen football team as well as a short-distance sprinter on the track team. He capped off a brilliant freshman year by winning a berth in the 400-meter relay event on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. The 1936 games, however, were held in Nazi Berlin, and when Adolph Hitler let it be known that he was displeased by the presence of a Jewish athlete, the American coaches, though under no obligation to do so, benched Glickman and a Jewish teammate, Sam Stoller. Sixty-two years later the U.S. Olympic Committee honored Glickman with its first General Douglas MacArthur Award for "service to the Olympic cause," an event widely interpreted as an acknowledgment of the wrong that had been done to him.

Glickman's career as a sportscaster began while he was still a student. Following a two-touchdown performance in Syracuse's 1937 upset of nationally ranked Cornell University, the owner of a local men's clothing store offered Glickman $15 per show to write and host a weekly sports roundup on the radio station WSYR. Upon graduation with a B.A. degree in history in 1939, Glickman returned to New York City, intent on making a career in sports radio. He worked at a clothing store and played minor league football for the Jersey City Giants on weekends to support himself while volunteering to work as an all-purpose gopher at the radio station WHN. "I worked there for one solid year without getting paid a dime. It was the Depression, and that's what you did in those days to get a foothold," he wrote in his autobiography.

After Glickman was hired full-time by WHN in 1940, his duties at the station included play-by-play announcing for New York City's two National Hockey League (NHL) teams, the Rangers and the Americans, and hosting his own daily program, Baseball Today, during which he used wire service copy as a framework for dramatic verbal recreations of the day's big league baseball highlights. In 1943 he called the play-by-play of the first-known broadcast of a basketball game, an all-star benefit for the American Red Cross at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Previously, the industry wisdom had been that basketball was too difficult a game for radio listeners to follow.) Later that year, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in the Marshall Islands during World War II as an air traffic controller. He was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant in 1946.

After the war, Glickman returned to WHN as sports director and continued to pioneer basketball broadcasting. College competition dominated the sport, and he was at the microphone for dozens of games between the national powers that played in Madison Square Garden doubleheaders. At the same time, unlike many of his contemporaries, he saw the possibilities of professional basketball and secured radio rights for WHN to carry the newly formed New York Knicks when they commenced play in 1946.

"Unlike football and baseball," he told an interviewer, "basketball is a fluid game and there's constant change. I spread the terminology of the city game: the top of the key, the elbow of the foul line, one-handed jump, two-handed set, and so on. I spoke in the vox populi. I developed a technique—the style of 'following the ball.' I could always speak rapidly and I knew the game. It was easy for me and I enjoyed doing it." Sportscaster Bob Costas, a Glickman protégé, credits Glickman with "laying out the geography of the court."

As in all mass communication, technical knowledge needs to be packaged in showmanship, and here too Glickman excelled. When a basket was scored, he would call out, "Good!" and, pausing a breath, add, "like Nedick's," a reference to the chain of New York City hot dog and orange-drink stands that sponsored the Knicks for many years. This became a household phrase in New York City. Another Glickman original was the call of "Swishhhhhhhhhhh …" when a ball went through the hoop without touching the rim or backboard. He chalked up another milestone in 1949 when he called the first televised basketball game.

College football, which had a long radio history, had a spectacular breakout into popularity as a professional game during the 1950s, and Marty Glickman was a part of this development as well. In 1948 he began a twenty-three-year run as the play-by-play voice of the New York Giants on the radio station WNEW. When the National Football League (NFL) began appearing on television in the mid-1950s, the league maintained a policy of local television blackouts for games that were not sold out. Not only did hundreds of thousands of New York City fans depend on Glickman's radio broadcasts for blacked-out games, but many chose to turn off the sound when games were televised, preferring to tune their radios in to Glickman and partner Al DeRogatis. "When I broadcast a game," Glickman said, "I want people to be able to see the game. You paint a word-picture. What I try to do is not only have them see the game, but I try to have listeners feel the game. That was the important thing."

Though clearly a favorite of New York fans, Glickman was never offered a national network television contract for NBA basketball or NFL football. It is generally believed that network executives feared that his distinctive accent—alternately described as "too New York," "too Jewish," and "too lower class"—would simply not play throughout the country. However, this did not prevent NBC, ESPN, and other television sports operations from hiring Glickman to coach their announcers.

In 1971, despite a long record of quality work and fan loyalty, Glickman was unceremoniously let go from the Giants broadcast team in favor of a younger man. After sitting out a season, he bounced back, as was his character, and took over play-by-play duties for the rival New York Jets. When the Jets' radio rights changed hands in 1979, Glickman again found himself without a professional football job. In 1988 yet another station bought the broadcast rights. It surprised no one and delighted many when seventy-one-year-old Glickman returned as the voice of the New York Jets for another five years. George Vecsey of the New York Times greeted the return, writing, "The master will be on WCBS radio with that crisp sidewalk-flavored cadence that always put you alongside the 50-yard line. For some of us, the game of football was never as perfect in person as when Glickman was describing it for our ears."

Glickman's list of sportscasting firsts extended into the cable era. When HBO went on line on 8 November 1972, its premier cablecast was a New York Rangers–Vancouver Canucks hockey game from Madison Square Garden with Glickman calling the action. He served as sports adviser to the fledgling operation during the 1970s and was instrumental in establishing HBO as a primary venue for professional boxing.

The dean of New York City sportscasters died of complications from heart bypass surgery at age eighty-three. He was survived by Marjorie Dorman, his wife of sixty years, and their four children. His remains were cremated.

Although a series of slights had peppered his career as athlete and broadcaster, Glickman repeatedly brushed these off and moved on to new achievements. A generation of sportscasters, including stars of the profession such as Bob Costas, Len Berman, Dick Enberg, and Marv Albert, readily acknowledge him as mentor and teacher. Over the years, Glickman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, all of which memorialize his life and accomplishments.

An autobiography written with Stan Isaacs, The Fastest Kid on the Block, was published in 1996. An audiotape and transcription of a two-hour interview recorded in 1999 are among the oral history holdings of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. Obituaries are in the New York Times and New York Newsday (both 4 Jan. 2001) and in the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times (both 5 Jan. 2001).

David Marc