Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press/File
Dick Enberg, the sportscaster known for his warm voice and signature expression, “Oh, my!” when beholding a game-winning home run or a brilliant volley at Wimbledon, died on Thursday at his home in the San Diego enclave of La Jolla. He was 82.
His lawyer, Dennis Coleman, said Mr. Enberg had been scheduled to fly to Boston on Thursday to meet his new grandson. His body was found after family members could not reach him and contacted someone they knew in the San Diego area to check on him, Coleman said.
Few sportscasters were as versatile or as educated as Mr. Enberg, who earned a doctorate in health science at Indiana University. Working, in succession, for NBC, CBS, and ESPN, he called Super Bowls, baseball and basketball games, Olympic events, golf and tennis tournaments, and boxing matches.
He also hosted game shows and delivered heartfelt essays during sportscasts about athletes overcoming physical and emotional challenges. And he worked with partners as diverse as the erudite Bud Collins on tennis and the eccentric Al McGuire on college basketball.
By 2015, he had winnowed his once-frenetic network schedule to calling only San Diego Padres games, an apt final chapter for someone who had once imagined himself playing right field for the Detroit Tigers.
“On one hand, I don’t want to give it up,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune near the end of his next-to-last season with the Padres. “My dream was to die in a booth. I’d like to keep going until my head hits the table and I say, ‘The Padres win the World Series.’ And then, on the other hand, it’s an old cliché, but the guy on the deathbed has never said, ‘I wished I’d worked more in my life,’ and it kept resonating with me.”
Mr. Enberg was a local sportscaster in Los Angeles calling UCLA men’s basketball games when he was catapulted onto the national stage. Under John Wooden, the Bruins were in the midst of an extraordinary period in which they won nine NCAA men’s championships in 10 seasons, and Mr. Enberg called eight of them.
In what he called his most memorable game, No. 1-ranked UCLA, led by the center Lew Alcindor (later to be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), faced the No. 2 University of Houston, with its star, Elvin Hayes, at the Houston Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968.
He had been chosen for that game — a ballyhooed regular-season prime-time clash of unbeaten teams — by Eddie Einhorn, who ran a television syndicator called TVS, at UCLA’s insistence.
As millions watched on TV, Houston broke UCLA’s 47-game winning streak with a 71-69 victory.
Hayes scored 39 points; Alcindor, who was struggling with an injured eye, had only 15.
“It changed the course of college basketball,” Mr. Enberg told the archive. “It was the launching pad. Never before had a game been shown in prime time that wasn’t a playoff game. It proved that this was a great product, and it has grown ever since.”
It proved to be his launching pad as well. While Mr. Enberg continued to broadcast UCLA games for several more years, he was heading toward a long run as a network sports star when NBC hired him in 1975.
The network assigned him to college basketball, eventually uniting him in a three-man announcing team with McGuire and Billy Packer. Mr. Enberg played the welcoming and well-prepared ringmaster to two distinct, opinionated and stubborn personalities: McGuire, a former coach at Marquette University, was given to flights of verbal fancy. Packer, a former college player and assistant coach, was a more traditional analyst who could parse X’s and O’s and happily engaged in vigorous debate.
“We’re so different personally,” Mr. Enberg told The Chicago Tribune in 2000. “If you go from 1 to 100, I’m at one extreme, Al is at the other, and Billy is in the middle. That’s one of the reasons why it worked.”
Richard Alan Enberg was born on Jan. 9, 1935, in Mount Clemens, Mich. His father, Arnie, was a farmer and factory worker, and his mother, the former Belle Elizabeth Weiss, was a homemaker.
The family moved to Bridgeport, Conn., when Dick was 2 years old, and to Los Angeles when he was 5. He played baseball, sometimes alone, on a dirt field, swatting a tennis ball with a bat, imagining that he was taking part in a game between two local minor league teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.
He recalled in interviews how he would rush in from his solo baseball reveries to gobble down his dinner, only to be asked by his mother why he was in such a hurry.
“I’m trying to get in a doubleheader," he would tell her.
After World War II, he and his family returned to Michigan, where his father bought a fruit farm in Armada that had no indoor plumbing. Young Dick also got his first glimpse of a major league ballpark — Briggs Stadium in Detroit — and listened to storied radio announcers like Red Barber call the World Series.
He took a circuitous route to call baseball — or sports at all. While attending Central Michigan University, he sought a job as a custodian at the campus radio station. During the job interview, the station manager noticed that Mr. Enberg had a good voice and hired him to be a disc jockey. Several weeks later, he was the sports director. And later, while earning a master’s degree and then a doctorate in health science at Indiana University, he began calling the Hoosiers’ football and basketball games.
But when he did not get, as he had expected, an offer to teach full time at Indiana, he accepted a teaching position at San Fernando State College (now California State University, Northridge), where he also became an assistant baseball coach.
To supplement his $4,200 annual salary, he found work in radio, moving from disc jockey to calling water polo, boxing, and horse racing. Then the bigger assignments came, all during the mid-to-late 1960s: UCLA on television, the Los Angeles Rams on radio, and the California Angels on TV.
The game show he hosted, in the 1970s, was the nationally syndicated “Sports Challenge,” which pitted two teams of three celebrity athletes against each other in a trivia quiz.
Mr. Enberg began using his signature expression, “Oh, my” — borrowed from his mother — during the broadcast of an Indiana basketball game when he was a student
“One night when the Hoosiers were on an up-tempo roll, it just came out of my mouth in one loud burst — ‘OOOOOOOHHHHHH MY!,'” he wrote, with Jim Perry, in his autobiography, appropriately titled “Oh My!” (2004). “It felt like it capped an exciting moment. The next day some of my friends on campus greeted me with ‘Hi, Dick . . . Oh, my!'”
The phrase went with him as he moved from NBC to CBS and then to ESPN.
But Don Ohlmeyer, the former executive producer at NBC Sports who died this year, said that Mr. Enberg did more than pepper his play-by-play with his trademark expression.
“He’s fantastic at being able to put an event in its historical context,” Ohlmeyer told the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame’s website. “For an event like Wimbledon, there was always that air of respect in his voice without in any way being obsequious, and that’s a tough thing to pull off.”
As he turned 75 in 2010, Mr. Enberg found himself back in the baseball booth, for the Padres.
“Every day is exciting, no matter how bad your team is playing and how bad the loss was last night and how worn out you are,” he told the television archive. “The new day arrives and someone may pitch a no-hitter.”
In his seven seasons with the Padres, the team had only one winning season — his first.
Mr. Enberg is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Almori; his daughters, Nicole Enberg Vaz and Emily Packer; his sons, Alex, Andrew, and Ted; and three grandchildren. A previous marriage, to the former Jeri Suer, ended in divorce. Another daughter, Jennifer Enberg, died in 2015.
During Mr. Enberg’s next-to-last season with the Padres, he received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Standing onstage at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York, in July 2015, he told a crowd why baseball retained its hold on him.
“I loved acknowledging the subtle arrogance of Hall of Famer Rod Carew’s drag bunt,” he said. “The sleight-of-hand of Brooks Robinson magically reducing doubles into 5-3 putouts. The towering arc of a Ted Williams mortar shot deposited in the bleachers high. The classic confrontation of the best hitter against the best pitcher and the immaculately executed ballet of a double play.”
He added, “I love the double play.”
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