Sports Desk: A sportswriter’s farewell

Photos were snapped Friday evening at the 23rd Empire Challenge senior all-star football game. Not all of them, however, were focused on the action on the field at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

Some of the focus was on Bob Herzog, the Newsday sportswriter who was there to chronicle the game. It was a special occasion, being the final high school game Bob has covered for the paper. Bob, 68, is retiring after 42 years at Newsday. His last day on the job will be July 2. He and his wife of 45 years, Bonnie, will move from their Holbrook home to South Kingstown, R.I., next month in order to be closer to their children, Jamey and Allison, and two grandchildren, Julia and Leo. Julia will be 3 next week and Leo will turn 2 in September.

“Closing one chapter and starting another one,” Bob said. “It was a great run and the people made it great.”

As a sportswriter, Bob is as good as they come. Any story with a Bob Herzog byline is a must-read.

After majoring in newspaper journalism at Syracuse University, Bob had four jobs in four years before coming to Newsday in 1976 as a sports copy editor. In 1980 he was promoted to Sunday sports editor before serving as a features editor from 1988-98.

He returned to writing again on a regular basis in 1998, first handling the St. John’s men’s basketball beat. Two years later, he became the primary backup writer for coverage of the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets.

Bob has covered five World Series, five NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours and 10 NCAA men’s lacrosse Final Fours, but he may be best known for the outstanding work he has done covering high school sports since 2008. Football, boys basketball and boys lacrosse have been his high school beats.

Over the years, countless scrapbooks have been filled with Bob’s stories.

“The most rewarding 10 years of my career at Newsday were those 10 years because the kids that you were writing about, I always approached it that that might be the only times they get their names in the paper,” said Bob, who was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. “When you go to a high school game, that could be the chance of a lifetime for that boy or girl. That’s always been very rewarding.”

In his entire career, Bob has never missed a deadline, continuously turning out copy with flair.

Bob learned to work on tight deadlines as a Syracuse student writing for The Daily Orange. He clacked away at a courtside typewriter during night basketball games and called in running updates to the paper. “I got to be pretty fast,” he said. “That taught me the importance of being fast, thinking on your feet and being quick … so deadlines never really scared me.”

He is also creative on deadlines. That creativity is something afforded to sportswriters moreso, say, than news reporters dealing strictly with hard news. “You have your own imprint that you can bring to the story,” he said. “I believe that finding a good angle was always crucial and then focusing on the angle.”

An exceptionally gifted writer, Bob is a wordsmith with a snappy style. He is the master of the pun and can spice up a story with a delightful play on words. In one of five stories he had in Sunday’s paper, Bob described a late touchdown pass off a flea flicker in Friday night’s game as “a little deception before the reception.”

Bob covered David Cone’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Montreal Expos in 1999. As Bob recalls, the words he wrote that day were: “You can’t improve on perfection, so David Cone did the next best thing, he duplicated it. For one day he turned the Bronx into Coney island.”

Great stuff.

The first time I met Bob was on a late-summer morning in 1984. I was a nervous 21-year-old, sitting across a desk from him on a job interview. Bob hired me that day as a part-timer for the Newsday Sports Department. A little over five years later, I left Newsday and lost contact with Bob until one night several years ago when I was in the Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School press box for a football game. Looking down at the sideline, who do I see, but Bob. The lede to his story about that game between Wyandanch and Mercy, two small schools that both had small squads, was perfect: “It was Friday night light.”

Call it the Herzogian touch.

And so Zog, as he is prone to refer to himself on Facebook posts, is about to set off on the next chapter in his life. Bob’s passion for writing is still strong, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a smart Rhode Island newspaper quickly snapped him up.

Well, let’s let the writer himself come up with a succinct way to sum things up. Bob said, “I guess you could say I’m giving up something that I love for some people that I love even more.”

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Photo caption: Bob Herzog on the sideline Friday evening at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium, covering his final game for Newsday. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)