Hank Goldberg, Betting Maven and Sports Radio Star, Dies at 82

Hank Goldberg, a prickly, bombastic and witty sports talk radio and television personality in Miami who became nationally known for handicapping horse races and N.F.L. games on ESPN, died on Monday, his 82nd birthday, at his home in Las Vegas.

The cause was complications of chronic kidney disease, which required dialysis treatments and caused the amputation of his right leg below the knee last year, said his sister and only immediate survivor, Liz Goldberg.

For more than 50 years, sports and gambling were inseparable spheres to Mr. Goldberg. A habitué of racetracks and casino sports books, he ghostwrote for the celebrated oddsmaker Jimmy Snyder, known as Jimmy the Greek, in the 1970s. He was an analyst for Miami Dolphins football games on radio, hosted sports talk shows on two Miami radio stations, and reported and anchored sports for a local TV station.

As a major sports figure in Miami, he counted the Dolphins’ former head coach Don Shula and former quarterback Bob Griese among the friends with whom he bet on horses at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. He imbibed the privileges of celebrity, including being treated like a king at the famous Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant in Miami Beach.

“I own this town,” he said while driving around Miami, captured in archival video that ESPN used in a tribute to him after his death.

Starting in the early 1990s, Mr. Goldberg found a broader audience as ESPN’s betting maven, dishing out his takes on favorites, underdogs and point spreads before Sunday’s N.F.L. games and the odds before Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup horse races.

ESPN reported that Mr. Goldberg had a .500 record or better in 15 of the 17 seasons that he handicapped N.F.L. games for the network.

Mr. Goldberg’s outsize personality emerged most fully on radio, where he started in 1978, at WIOD-AM in Miami. He would argue with callers and sometimes hang up on them in disgust.

Joe Zagacki, one of Mr. Goldberg’s producers at WIOD, recalled in a phone interview an instance when Mr. Goldberg “had one of his volcanic explosions” with a caller. “And I said: ‘My goodness, you just hammered that guy. You’re ‘Hammering Hank Goldberg.’”

The nickname stuck. After he started at ESPN in 1993, Mr. Goldberg began banging a mallet on a studio desk to express his disagreement with a colleague or his disdain for a sports figure. He referred to himself as “Hammer.”

He initially appeared on ESPN2, which was new at the time and attempting to reach a younger audience with anchors who dressed in a cool, casual style. Not Mr. Goldberg, who was definitely not cool but brought a quirky, brassy personality to the network — although it was more congenial than his in-your-face radio demeanor.

“Hank could fit into any genre,” said Suzy Kolber, a longtime anchor and reporter at ESPN who worked with Mr. Goldberg on ESPN2 and in Florida. She added, “Plug him into the horse-racing crowd or the ESPN2 bunch, he fit right in.”

Henry Edward Goldberg was born on July 4, 1940, in Newark and grew up in South Orange, N.J. His father, Hy, was a sports columnist for The Newark Evening News; his mother, Sadie (Abben) Goldberg, was a homemaker. Hy Goldberg frequently took his wife and children to the Yankees’ spring training in Florida, where young Hank became friendly with Joe DiMaggio, who called him Henry, Liz Goldberg said in an interview.

Hank was 17 when he went to the racetrack for the first time — Monmouth Park in New Jersey — winning $450 when he hit the daily double. When he brought his winnings home, he recalled, his father told him, “Oh, you’re in trouble now.”

“He knew I’d never get over my love for the races,” Mr. Goldberg said of his father in an interview this year with The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

After attending Duke University, he transferred to New York University and graduated in 1962. He started his career as an account executive for the advertising agency Benton & Bowles. He moved to Miami in 1966 and continued to work in advertising.

He also found work in the broadcast booth of the Orange Bowl in Miami for network telecasts of Dolphins’ games, employed as a spotter — helping the play-by-play announcer by identifying which player caught a pass or made a tackle. There he befriended the NBC play-by-play announcer Curt Gowdy and developed relationships in the local sports world.

Those contacts led him to meet Mike Pearl, who wrote and produced Jimmy Snyder’s radio show and ghostwrote his syndicated newspaper column. Mr. Pearl introduced Mr. Goldberg to Mr. Snyder, Liz Goldberg said, and when Mr. Pearl left for CBS Sports, where he would produce “The NFL Today,” Mr. Snyder asked Mr. Goldberg to take over the column.

WIOD hired him to host a sports talk show and offer commentary on Dolphins games in 1978, replacing Larry King. He added work as a sports reporter and anchor on the Miami TV station WTVJ in 1983. He also continued to work in advertising; from 1977 to 1992, he was an executive with the Beber Silverstein agency.

Despite his success on WIOD, Mr. Goldberg was suspended several times over the years and fired in September 1992, following a dispute with the program director over the content of his show.

“The biggest radio name in South Florida sports is a loudmouth who loves to drop names — often like dirt — and who upon announcing the Dolphins’ fantastic finish Monday Night didn’t know it was his own, too,” wrote Dave Hyde, a columnist for The Sun-Sentinel, a South Florida newspaper. Mr. Hyde suggested that all the station should have done was “wash out his mouth.”

Mr. Goldberg was quickly hired by another local station, WQAM-AM, where he was again successful. But he left in 2007, believing he had been lowballed in contract negotiations.

By then he was well into his two-decade run at ESPN. It ended around 2014, but he returned for the “Daily Wager” show in 2019, a year after he moved to Las Vegas. He was also a prognosticator for CBS Sports HQ, a sports streaming service, and Sportsline, an online CBS sports network.

Asked what motivated her brother, Ms. Goldberg gave a simple answer: “He loved the microphone.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/09/sports/football/hank-goldberg-dead.html