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Legendary Sportscaster Bob Costas Remembers His Long Island Childhood

Gail Burton
NBC sportscaster Bob Costas appears before an NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore in 2016.

Bob Costas is a sports broadcaster who has seen the world. Costas was the prime time host of 11 Olympic Games during his time with NBC Sports. He was also the network’s face and voice for boxing, golf, baseball, basketball and hockey for nearly 40 years. He now does play-by-play and hosts an interview show on the MLB Network. Costas was in his hometown of Smithtown, Long Island, last week. The 1970 Commack High School graduate is the latest to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame.

Bob Costas, thank you for speaking with All Things Considered.

Thanks, Bill.

What do you remember about growing up on Long Island?

Well, it was pretty sports-centric for me and most of my friends, and it was typical stuff. Late ‘50s through the ‘60s, collecting baseball cards, listening to the Yankees, and then later when they came into existence the Mets on the radio, watching them on television, making trips to Yankee Stadium, and later Shea Stadium, the New York World’s Fair of the mid-1960s, friendships made in junior high school and high school, many of them now far flung, not too many of them still residing on Long Island, but good memories for sure.

As a teenager did you play in an organized sport?

Well, I tried to. I was the last man cut from both the basketball and baseball teams at Commack High School. And I don’t know if they kept me around because I was marginal enough to almost make the team, or because they found me amusing. I was easily the most knowledgeable person about baseball, both the game itself and its history, and basketball as well. But I was perhaps physically limited. I remember when the baseball coach cut me – he was also a math teacher – and he had pitched in the Pittsburgh Pirates chain in the early 1950s in the minor leagues. And he said to me, ‘You know, I think I'm gonna have to cut you loose, because I don’t think you can hit your weight, and I doubt that you weigh 130.’ Which might have been true at that time in high school, but he then asked, and this is truth, he said, ‘Have you ever considered broadcasting?’ and I was 16-years-old, I said, ‘Yeah that’s pretty much all I think about.’ He said, ‘Good, concentrate on that. Your future is in the booth, not on the field.’ So, he was a fairly perceptive guy.

So, that’s interesting, you were already thinking about broadcasting...how old were you when you realized the broadcasting booth may be better than the batter’s box?

Well, I think I was pretty well aware of that from the time that I was 9- or 10-years-old, that if I was ever going to get into Yankee Stadium without paying for a ticket, it would be to sit where Mel Allen and Red Barber sat, not to stand where Mickey Mantle was standing. But that didn’t preclude the possibility of making my high school team. It just turned out that I wasn’t good enough to do that. And of course you’re never sure your dream may be one thing when you're 12-, 14-, 16-years-old, and in reality may turn out to be something else, and luckily for me what I dreamt of doing did become my lifetime’s work.

How has doing your job as a sports broadcaster changed over the years since you got into the business?

Well, attention spans are shorter. That’s true in general and that’s even true in sports. You used to be able to sit down and do an interview of 10-12 minutes length. Now that’s an eternity in network television. Everything is formatted more quickly and tighter. I think there’s less room to spin a yarn then there used to be. There’s a lot more production, some of it for the better. It’s amazing the beauty of some of the shots that they can get, the replay angles, and the information that can be provided graphically. But sometimes I think that’s overdone to the point where the production and the technology supersede the storyteller. And I think that a good broadcaster, a sports broadcaster, should be a dramatist, should be in a story and a conversationalist, someone with a sense of humor if he has that, and forge a relationship with the audience...not just be simply a dispenser of information in and around the bells and whistles of the production truck. I think there ought to be a happy medium there.

Sports broadcaster Bob Costas joins other previous inductees of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, such as retired Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason and retired Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski. Congratulations to you, Bob, and thanks for joining us today.

Thank you, Bill, very much.