SABR

Sid Loberfeld: Brooklyn’s Early Radio Baseball Broadcaster

By Rob Edelman

This article was published in the Spring 2011 Baseball Research Journal.

In the history of New York baseball broadcasting, Sid Loberfeld is as far removed from Red Barber and Mel Allen as Crash Davis is from Babe Ruth.

He was a downtown Brooklyn lawyer, and his place in baseball circles came through his decades-long contacts with local sports stars.

But Sid holds a distinction that he was reluctant to discuss. Back in the early 1930s, when barely out of his teens, he was—ever so briefly—a radio play-by-play man for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I got to know Sid in the mid-1970s, when I was the arts and sports editor at Courier-Life, a weekly Brooklyn newspaper chain. I had heard stories about Sid’s link to baseball broadcasting, and would pepper him with questions. Unsurprisingly, his responses were purposefully vague. Sid was a modest gentleman who seemed more comfortable organizing charitable events or hyping the recently-deceased Gil Hodges, his longtime friend, to whom he had been legal counsel. To savvy Brooklyn baseball fans, Hodges was a sacred figure, first as the Dodgers first sacker during the “Boys of Summer” years and, later, as the manager who guided the New York Mets to their first world championship.

Sid passed away in 2002 at age 92. Recently I decided to research his early career. In 1930, when he was 20 years old, Sid was a budding radio personality. During that summer, he regularly appeared on the radio in various guises. A schedule for WPCH, then a popular (albeit short-lived) New York station, was printed in the July 26 New York Times “Today on the Radio” program guide. Sid was one of the headliners on “Sid Loberfeld and Miriam Ray, Songs,” listed for the 2:15 P.M.–3:00 P.M. time slot. On August 9, also at 2:15 P.M., WPCH presented a program titled “Sports Talk—Sid Loberfeld.”

By the following year, Sid had moved to WMCA, which later broadcast New York Giants games. He is listed on the October 31, 1931 “Talk of the Radio” schedule as the host of “Baseball—Sid Loberfeld,” which commenced at 3:00 P.M. and ran fifteen minutes.

It was Sid’s modest popularity that positioned his destiny as a footnote in the history of New York-area radio play-by-play. On April 12, 1932, the Times printed the following announcement:

Both of today’s opening major league baseball games in the metropolitan district will be on the air. Ted Husing will give a play-by-play description of the Phillies-Giants game at the Polo Grounds over Station WABC of the Columbia Broadcasting network.

This game will also be broadcast by Graham McNamee over the National Broadcasting Company’s WEAF network. Both broadcasts will begin at 3 P.M.

The Robins-Boston Braves game at Ebbets Field will be broadcast over two stations. At 2:45 P.M. Ford Frick will start a description of the preliminary ceremonies over station WOR. Sid Loberfeld also will announce the game over WCGU, the United States Broadcasting station in Brooklyn.

So there was Sid, in the heady company of two radio broadcasting legends and one future baseball commissioner.

In his capacity as budding media personality, Sid mingled with the era’s baseball stars. One photo, found on the web site for Fraser’s Autographs, a British memorabilia dealer, features Babe Ruth in uniform shaking hands with a young man garbed in a double-breasted suit and pale fedora hat. The inscription reads: “To Sid Loberfeld(’s) Mother, the Mother of a swell boy—Sincerely Babe Ruth.”

A second still, on Artfact, an online auction database service, is not pictured, but is described as a “classic image of Babe Ruth holding his bat, taken on the field at Yankee Stadium. Ruth is posing in front of the stands with the friends to whom he has inscribed the photo: ‘To Sid Loberfeld and his beautiful wife—Sid my favorite radio baseball announcer—Sincerely Babe Ruth’.”

Sid, of course, was not the first radio play-by-play man. That honor goes to Harold Arlin, a Westinghouse foreman who broadcast a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies over Pittsburgh’s KDKA on August 5, 1921. Nor was he the first to host a baseball chat show. On June 10, 1922, Dan Daniel broadcast baseball commentary on WEAF in New York. But Sid was, in his own modest way, a pioneer. In the early 1930s radio play-by-play still was new and not all ball clubs allowed their games to be broadcast.

As Red Barber recalled in The Broadcasters, “...usually one announcer comprised the entire broadcasting crew—working with one engineer.” He added, “... around 1930 Fred Hoey did the games in Boston, Ty Tyson in Detroit, Franz Laux in St. Louis, Harry Hartman in Cincinnati, Tom Manning in Cleveland ... and in Chicago were Hal Totten, Johnny O’Hara, Pat Flanagan, Quin Ryan, and Bob Elson.” Barber was referring to Sid and his sort when he noted, “The other fellows who did games were on mostly spotty schedules—like ships that passed in the night, they came and went. There are no footprints in the air.”

In 1978, in a New York Times profile, Sid briefly recalled his time on the air. The paper reported that Sid “remembers ‘selling a bill of goods’ to the Dodgers and winning the right to broadcast play-by-play.” He explained, “In the old days, we’d announce the games from the back of the Dodger dugout, and the fans and players would slip us notes telling how the game was going.”

Sid offered baseball commentary on WMCA through 1934. In the March 6 “Today on the Radio” schedule, he is listed as the host of “Baseball Forecasts—Sid Loberfeld,” starting at 7:00 P.M. and running for fifteen minutes.

By then, Sid no longer had the opportunity to pursue a career as a play-by-play man and remain in New York. It was around this time that the three New York major league clubs agreed to prohibit radio broadcasts of their games for a five-year period. The ban, scheduled to expire at the end of the 1938 season, was instituted because the clubs feared that fans would choose to listen to games free rather than pay to sit in the stands.

Larry MacPhail, who became the Dodgers general manager in 1938, fervently believed that the opposite held true: radio broadcasts would promote the game, and increase attendance. MacPhail boldly announced that he was going to bring the ban to a close and promptly hired Red Barber (who previously had broadcast games for MacPhail in Cincinnati).

The Ole Redhead eventually became the Voice of the Dodgers, as recognizable a figure in Brooklyn as Oisk and The Duke of Flatbush, Hilda Chester, and Happy Felton. But before Red Barber, there was Sid Loberfeld.

By the time Barber came on the scene, Sid had opted for a law career. Had this been several decades in the future, he might have become a successful players’ agent. Sid remained a great fan of and spokesperson for the game, and frequently organized charitable baseball-related events. Occasionally, Sid even returned to his baseball roots. In August 1978, he and Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy did the play-by-play of a softball game at Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges Field between the Joe Torre All-Stars and Gil Hodges All-Stars (the teams consisted of Mets players’ wives) to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Starting in the early 1950s, Sid began escorting youngsters to major league baseball games. In his “Young Ideas” column, published in The Sporting News on May 21, 1977, Dick Young wrote, “It takes special unacclaimed people to make things work, men like Sid Loberfeld, a New York attorney, who enters his 26th year of chaperoning Little Leaguers to big league ballparks.”

Often, these forays were connected to Hodges. Young noted, in his May 19, 1973 column, “On June 9, some 1,500 boys from Gil Hodges’ Little League in Brooklyn will pass up their regular Saturday games to attend a Shea Stadium tribute to their benefactor. Gil’s lifetime friend, Sid Loberfeld, is coordinating the kids’ arrangement with Arthur Richman, promotions director for the Mets.”

Hodges had died suddenly the previous year in West Palm Beach, Florida, near the end of spring training. By mid-decade, Sid had become a prime mover in lobbying for his friend’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On May 29, 1976, the “unofficial kickoff” of a campaign to get Hodges enshrined took place at Loberfeld’s Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, home. Present were then-New York Mets players Joe Torre, Jerry Koosman, Ed Kranepool, and Bud Harrelson, coach Joe Pignatano, and Gil Hodges, Jr. With the exception of Pignatano and Torre, all the Mets had played for Hodges, while Piggy played with and coached for him.

I wrote a report of the event that appeared in the June 7 issue of Flatbush Life. “The sooner Gil is in the Hall of Fame, the better it will be for the kids,” Sid told me. “He was a great humanitarian, and he stands for truthfulness and honor. After the Watergate scandal, kids certainly need as many heroes as possible to look up to.

“A couple of years before Gil died, a Met ballplayer was scheduled to appear at a temple here in Brooklyn for a fee,” Sid continued. “But at the last minute, he called up to cancel out. Hy Schwartz [a philanthropic leader in the Manhattan Beach community] went to Gil’s house on Bedford Avenue, told him of the situation, and that night Gil showed up with his wife, Joan. He refused to accept the fee, and insisted that the money go to charity. This was the kind of man Gil was.”

Sid even roped me into the Gil-for-Cooperstown campaign. It was through him that I ghostwrote an article, credited to Frances J. Mugavero, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, titled “One Vote for Gil Hodges: A Man of Integrity.” The piece ran in the New York Times on December 25, 1977.

By this time, Sid was regularly purchasing box seats at both of New York’s major league ball yards. Through his generosity, my paper sponsored a series of contests in which young readers were encouraged to pen essays on various baseball-related subjects. The first was on why Gil Hodges merited election to Cooperstown. The winners got to spend a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium. They visited the home team’s dugout during batting practice, met ballplayers and got their autographs, and sat in Sid’s box during the game. I would savor these afternoons, because I chaperoned the youngsters.

On one of these trips, to Shea Stadium, Sid escorted me, the kids in my charge, and a number of other youngsters to a small room in the bowels of the ballpark. One by one, various Mets ballplayers entered and signed autographs. There must have been a dozen kids in the room; most were garbed in their Little League jerseys, and were carrying gloves.

Each Met who came in was instantly recognized by the group, which gave out a collective cheer. The final one may no longer have been an active player, but he was the most famous face of all—and received the loudest cheer. That was Willie Mays.

For an instant, Willie looked directly into my eyes, maybe because I was the lone adult in the room. He then smiled broadly, as if to say, “Isn’t this great. What a great day to be in a ballpark!”

Had destiny been different—had Sid Loberfeld not exchanged his microphone for a law book—he might have gone on to use these very words to describe, to his listeners, hundreds of sunny summer afternoons at Ebbets Field.

ROB EDELMAN is the author of "Great Baseball Films" and "Baseball on the Web" and is a frequent contributor to John Thorn’s "Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game." His film/television-related books include "Meet the Mertzes"—a double biography of "I Love Lucy’s" Vivian Vance and fabled baseball fan William Frawley—and "Matthau: A Life", both co-authored with Audrey Kupferberg. He is a film commentator on WAMC (Northeast) Public Radio and a Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s "Movie Guide". His byline has appeared in "Baseball and American Culture", "Total Baseball", "Baseball in the Classroom", and dozens of other books. He authored an essay on early baseball films for the DVD "Reel Baseball", has been a juror at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual film festival, and is an interviewee on several extras on the director’s cut DVD of "The Natural". He teaches film history courses at the University at Albany.

REFERENCES

  • Barber, Red. The Broadcasters. New York: The Dial Press, 1970.
  • Edelman, Rob. “Kick Off Gil Hodges Hall of Fame Campaign.” Flatbush Life. 7 June 1976.
  • Mugavero, Francis J. “One Vote for Gil Hodges: A Man of Integrity.” New York Times. 25 December 1977.
  • Tuite, James. “Sports World Specials.” New York Times. 7 August 1978.
  • Young, Dick. “Young Ideas.” The Sporting News. 19 May 1973.
  • Young, Dick. “Young Ideas.” The Sporting News. 21 May 1977.
  • “Games at Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field To Be Described Today in Radio Broadcasts.” New York Times. 12 April 1932.
  • “Today on the Radio.” New York Times. 26 July 1930.
  • “Today on the Radio.” New York Times. 9 August 1930.
  • “Today on the Radio.” New York Times. 13 October 1931.
  • “Today on the Radio.” New York Times. 6 March 1934.
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