Local author makes sports history come alive

Bill Schaefer

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — For Bill Schaefer, sports has always been an important part of his life, particularly commentating on sporting events. He has spent much of his life talking about sports and doing play-by-play commentary as a freelance broadcaster at local high school games. So perhaps it was inevitable that Shaefer, now in his 80s, would release a book that would capture some of his favorite experiences throughout his career and life.

“This book is a compilation of 30 of the essays I wrote for ‘Baseball History Comes Alive!’,” said Schaefer in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, July 28. “The book is called ‘Some Catch! Thirty Baseball Gems Capturing the Humor and Drama of the Game.’ The essays cover some of my experiences with my dad at the parks. Some are based on my interviews with Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Don Mattingly, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges and Bobby Thomson.”

“When the pandemic hit, I got hooked up to a website called ‘Baseball History Comes Alive!’ and I started commenting on the articles,” he continued. “Its founder, Gary Livacari, liked what I was writing, so I wrote about the ‘51 Giants and I kept turning them out, as well as times with my dad.”

Livacari wrote an introduction to the book, in which he says, “Bill is multi-talented with an extensive media background. At various times in his career, he’s been a broadcaster, a sports director, a voice-over announcer, and a talk-show host. He had interviewed celebrities from the worlds of sports, politics, and entertainment. I like to think I played a role in helping Bill discover another talent of which he may have been unaware: that of a skilled baseball essayist.”

Schaefer, who lived in Westfield for a number or years before moving to Springfield with his wife, Susan, where they have lived for the last 30 years, said he has been a resident of New Jersey his entire life. Becoming a sports broadcaster was a long process for him, but one he insists left him with countless stories and anecdotes to share.

“Starting in 1963, at WCRV in Washington, New Jersey, I did local news and also baseball play by play,” Schaefer said. “In the mid-’60s, after WCRV, I was working for an audiovisual company in Plainfield and, through that, I hooked up with a guy who had a connection in Willingboro at Rancocas Valley Regional High School. I did high school football play-by-play. I saw Franco Harris as a high school senior. From there, I did a brief stint at WERA in Plainfield, also doing football play-by-play.”

“In 1968, I went through trade publications and was one of the original staff at 92.7 FM, WOBM in Ocean County,” he said. “I worked with them for two years. Then, in 1970, a new station, WELA opened up in Elizabeth. I was also on the original staff. So I was on the original staff of two radio stations in two years. They changed their name to WJDM, after the owners, Jim, Dominic, and Mario, I think. I did football play-by-play and also baseball play-by-play. I was also a record personality, talk show host, and sports director and program director. I stayed there for a long time.”

He continued his broadcasting career into the ’80s, going back and forth between AM and FM, all the while staying in the Garden State.

“I got a job at WVNJ in Livingston, which had AM and FM, from 1979 to ’83,” Schaefer said. “When the station was sold, the AM became all Spanish and the FM became Z100 and Scott Shanon took over. While I was with WVNJ, I was signed to International Creative Management (now ICM Partners) and I became an on-camera spokesman for various ads and commercials, including one featured in a Super Bowl.

“Right after that, I worked for the Wall Street Journal and NJ Law Journal in the 1990s.”

Schaefer’s career continued into the new millennium, with him now writing copy for others.

“Around 2005 or so, I was with Goen Technologies, Inc. (in Whippany) and I wrote copy for them,” he said. “I also did the radio commercials for them for TrimSpa, which had Anna Nicole Smith advertising that she used it. While I was with them, they wanted to do a knock-off product as TrimSpa, but less expensive, so I came up with Reductin and it sold pretty good, although it was relatively short-lived.”

When Schaefer started writing essays for ‘Baseball History Comes Alive!’, he said he began to reflect on all of the experiences he had, going back to experiences he had as a youth with his father at major league stadiums. He says he can still recall struggling for a foul ball with one of the ball boys back in 1947. But some of his favorite stories were undoubtedly his interviews.

“The Thomson interview came about when I took a correspondence course called Career Academy,” Schaefer said. “One of the projects was to interview a local celebrity, and Bobby Thomson lives in Watchung, so I called him up and I went over to his house and interviewed him. He was really proud of his swing. He said to look at the pictures of his follow-through.

“He talked about the hit he had on Oct. 3, 1951, the third game of the National League pennant between the New York Giants, whom he played for, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants had come from behind 4-1 in the ninth inning. After the Giants scored one run, Thomson hit a walkoff three-run home run off of Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca to win the game.”

“Roy Campanella, the all-star Dodgers catcher, was injured, and Rube Walker was catching,” continued Schaefer, as if reliving the moment. “And it was a strange thing that he would call for two fastballs on the inside of the plate. Why would they throw that? Thomson was getting around so fast on the plate for inside pitches. In the first playoff game, Thomson also hit a home run off Branca in Ebbets Field that won the game.”

Following this home run, Giant’s play-by-play announcer Russ Hodge famously repeated, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” This hit became known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and the baseball bat is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“During this time, the Giants admitted they had a sign stealing thing rigged up in the clubhouse,” Schaefer said. “Everybody says they stole the pennant, but they didn’t. They were just playing hot. They were 20-3 at home and 18-4 away. So it’s a lot of nonsense to say they stole the pennant.”

“Leo Durocher was the manager,” he added. “When he was at his best, he was probably the greatest motivator ever.”

Baseball History Comes Alive” is the publisher and the book came out in mid-July, explained Schaefer.

“We hope it does well on Amazon. It’s $10.99 and the ebook edition is $4.99. I tried to make the essays fast reads. I’m proud of it. You never know how the public is going to react. We did one essay that got 10,000 likes.”

Photo Courtesy of Bill Schaefer