HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, OCTOBER 25, 2021 – Bob Neumeier, who passed away too soon at 70 on Saturday evening, had the kind of career that most aspiring sports journalists and broadcasters can only dream about.
One often hears the cliché that a particular person was a notable talent but a better person. Clichés are what they are: truths that encapsulate the essence of things.
This particular chestnut is especially appropriate when describing Bob Neumeier, the man.
We’ve been lucky enough to have had several cups of coffee with the NBC family: grabbing sound bites in the early days when Breeders’ Cup made highlight reels, replete with voiceover from very popular actor and racing fan, John Forsythe.
And for a few years we did research for Breeders’ Cup telecasts hosted by Tom Hammond, did a little writing in the early days of MSNBC Sports, and am currently a racing analyst for WNYT in Albany, New York during the Saratoga Thoroughbred season.
I first met “Neumy” at a Breeders’ Cup event when he worked as a reporter and handicapper for ESPN and saw him subsequently at every soiree thrown by the “Voice of the Breeders’ Cup,” Tom Durkin, an annual tradition following every Championships event.
I knew Neumeier pretty well, lamentably not well enough as I was about to discover after learning of his passing in a Sunday morning Tweet. I wish I had spent much more time with such an engaging and gifted man.
My favorite memories are of racing days at Gulfstream Park where he spent many winters betting on the races between gigs. And he was good at it, too, once winning a handicapping contest at Caesars Palace– something I’ve never done–and more than his share of Pick Sixes.
We’d often meet by chance on race days and exchanged “who-do-you-likes” before and between races before settling into our daily racetrack routines.
The easy-going, knowledgeable reporter sports fans saw or heard on national broadcasts was a natural–Roy Hobbs with a microphone.
I admit to a tad of jealousy because Bob could do something I couldn’t achieve no matter how much time I might have devoted to it: calling play-by-play for a sports team as Bob did first for the New England [Hartford] Whalers and later on radio for the Boston Bruins.
As Goodfella Tommy DeVito might say, I’d “crack under pressure.”
All great performers have pre-event jitters. If Neumy was nervous, it never showed. If you saw him work as a weekend sports anchor, a reporter for WBZ-TV Boston, a Patriots’ pre-game co-host and post-game panelist, you know it, too.
Making broadcasting look easy is hard and Neumeier was good at that, whether it were Olympics gymnastics, track-and-field or, quite naturally, equestrian events.
Neumeier also appeared on ‘Football Night in America’, hosted NHL network overage and co-hosted a Sunday morning baseball show on WEEI, the WFAN of Boston.
But this audience knows him because of his Breeders’ Cup work as a roving reporter, a lead reporter conducting winners’ circle interviews, but mostly as a handicapper teamed up with Churchill Downs linemaker and Kentucky race caller Mike Battaglia.
And once NBC secured the contract to broadcast the Triple Crown, Neumy reprised has handicapping role each spring from Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.
Fatefully, however, it was at the Derby in 2009 when Neumeier collapsed off set, missed the roses run but returned in time for the Preakness two weeks later.
Conversely, five years after that, in the Fall of 2014, Neumeier suffered a stroke, missed the Breeders’ Cup and the following year’s Derby but again returned in time for the Preakness. It was then that he learned he had developed congestive heart failure and heart disease.
I never saw Neumy express anger or bad will towards anyone. Perhaps had I spent more time around him I might have but somehow, I doubt it.
Back in the day, in my old Queens neighborhood, we had an expression for guys like Neumeier: a real sweetheart. To have known him, however briefly or incompletely, was to love him.