Dick Schaap was the quintessential New Yorker. In his 45 years in journalism, he wrote 33 books, covered sports stories on three networks, and dropped names of all the celebrities who graced his path.
Born in Brooklyn, Schaap started as an amateur journalist while in high school. During these formative days on the Nassau Daily Star, Schaap befriended another legendary sportswriter, Jimmy Breslin.
Schaap said his childhood ended at 17 when he heard the famous radio call of Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World" that gave the Giants the National League pennant. His initial thought was, if Thomson showed up that night in his presence, he'd kill him. Instead, Thomson and Ralph Branca, the hard-luck Dodger pitcher, were to become among Schaap's closest friends.
Schaap went to college at Cornell University, where, playing for his lacrosse team, he had a dismal time against Syracuse multi-sport star Jim Brown. When Schaap first joined the professional sportswriters' fraternity in 1956, he voted for Jim Brown in that year's Heisman Trophy balloting. To Schaap's disgust, the Heisman went to Paul Hornung, quarterback of a losing Notre Dame team. Schaap swore he would never take part in another Heisman vote (he broke the vow in 1981, when he named Marcus Allen).
After a stint at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Schaap turned professional, taking a post at Newsweek. He said one of his fondest memories with Newsweek was taking comedian Lenny Bruce, then doing stand-up in Pittsburgh, to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. It was Bruce's first and last baseball game because, according to Schaap, anything after that Bill Mazeroski home run would have been anticlimactic.
By 1964, Schaap reunited with Breslin on the New York Herald Tribune, an old-school paper on its last legs. Schaap's curious nature led him to the epicenter of the Watts riots in Los Angeles. At that moment, the U.S. was fighting more against itself than against Vietnam.
The Herald Tribune folded in a newspaper strike in 1966. Dick Schaap kept busy with contributions to Playboy and the defunct Sport magazine, but his venue was starting to change.
Schaap, the quintessential New Yorker, had become friends with the hippest New York athlete of the time: Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Following New York's win of Super Bowl III, Schaap and Namath co-hosted a loose-structured talk show featuring only people that they knew. The Joe Namath Show was shot during the 1969 AFL season, yielding 15 episodes.
That baptism in television helped Schaap land his first major sportscasting role. He joined NBC as a correspondent, doing scenes not just for the network's owned-and-operated station in New York, but also for The Today Show and NBC Nightly News. ABC News president Roone Arledge hired Schaap away in 1980. Once again, the combination couldn't miss. His segments for 20/20 would prove unforgettable.
In 1989, Schaap began hosting The Sports Reporters for ESPN. It effectively pioneered reporters at a roundtable discussing the sports world. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News and Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post were among the favorites. Schaap kept up his ESPN duties for the rest of his life.
While with ESPN, Schaap also hosted a half-hour talk show called Schaap One on One for the network that would become ESPN Classic. Once again, the guests were people that he knew (and whose names he had dropped), reflecting on their lives and the world of sports.
The closest of Schaap's friends would get to see him at his most intimate at Raos, an exclusive restaurant in New York, on Monday evenings at 7:30. Television viewers got to see the restaurant in the August 2001 ESPN Classic special Dick Schaap: Flashing Before My Eyes. That special, and its companion book, were essentially the last brush strokes in the masterpiece portrait.
It proved eerily fitting that late in 2001, the year now universally regarded as The World's Worst Prediction, New York would lose its quintessential citizen. Schaap died of complications from hip replacement surgery four days before Christmas.