Updated July 4, 2022 - 1:46 pm
Hank Goldberg, a longtime horse racing analyst and NFL reporter and prognosticator for ESPN, died on his birthday Monday at his home in Las Vegas, where he had lived since 2018. He was 82.
His sister, Liz Goldberg, said her brother’s death was caused by complications from a yearslong battle with chronic kidney disease.
For decades, starting in the 1970s, the colorful Goldberg ruled the sports talk radio market in Miami, where he earned the nicknames “The Hammer” and “Hammerin’ Hank” for slamming down a gavel on the desk when he disagreed with his co-host or a caller.
He was the Miami Dolphins’ radio color analyst from 1978 to 1992 and close friends with legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula and quarterback Bob Griese, among many other prominent sports figures.
Goldberg learned the finer points of sports handicapping from oddsmaker and “The NFL Today” contributor Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Goldberg used to ghostwrite Snyder’s syndicated column, which ran in more than 200 newspapers. He also helped prepare material for Snyder’s “The NFL Today” TV segment.
When Snyder died in 1996, longtime CBS Sports director Bob Fishman said he, Goldberg and “The NFL Today” producer Mike Pearl gave him a special send-off.
“Hank, Mike and I were pallbearers at Jimmy the Greek’s funeral, and we had this plan to send the Greek out a winner. I believe it was Hank’s idea,” Fishman said. “We got a winning ticket from Gulfstream racetrack in Florida, and we dropped it in his coffin at the service so we could send him out a winner.”
Fishman was close friends with Goldberg since working with him on “The NFL Today” in the 1970s.
“We were kind of like brothers,” he said. “He was one of those guys who was larger than life. Hank was the kind of guy who would walk into the room, no matter what city he was in, and everybody would know who he was. And this was even before he was on ESPN.”
When ESPN2 launched in 1993, Goldberg embarked on a 21-year run at the network, where he appeared on ESPN’s “NFL Countdown” and made NFL picks. He also analyzed Triple Crown horse races on “SportsCenter.”
During his heyday at ESPN, Goldberg was feted at Caesars Palace like Julius Caesar himself. Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito, the Caesars sportsbook assistant vice president at the time, recalls the scene.
“Hank used to come out for every Super Bowl and started doing his Super Bowl segment (for ESPN) live from the sportsbook at Caesars Palace,” Esposito said. “We had the centurion guards carry him in on a big chair like Caesar would be carried in on, and they put him down in the book. We had Cleopatra girls fanning him with the big palms and feeding him grapes, and I said, ‘Hammer, what’s your Super Bowl pick?’
“That’s how big he was when it came to his handicapping and prognostication and hearing what he had to say when he broke down a big game or horse race.”
Goldberg also was larger than life to his younger sister, Liz, a longtime TV executive.
“He had a huge life with friends all across the country,” she said. “He would go to Los Angeles and walk into Dan Tana’s (Italian restaurant), and the doors literally opened for him. Everybody was always happy to see him.
“He was very loyal and treated his friends from all walks of life like family.”
Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president of production and remote events, became close friends with Goldberg when ESPN2 launched.
“There’s nobody out there who didn’t love Hank Goldberg,” Gross said. “He would do anything for you, and he’d share any story you’d want to know about the Dolphins or Miami.
“He was a special, one-of-a-kind, sweetheart of a guy. It really is the end of an era. There’s just nobody like him.”
Gross still marvels at how Goldberg could get a table at Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant in Miami when nobody else could.
“Every day, there’s a two- or three-hour wait. It doesn’t matter who you are. You’re waiting,” he said. “We’d get there, and it’s a mob scene. We’re going to be there forever. Then Hank gets there and gets out of his car and walks right to the host stand. Within 30 seconds, they’d announce his name, and we’d walk in behind him and we’d sit down and have dinner.”
Goldberg was born on the Fourth of July — a birthday he shared and celebrated with late Raiders owner Al Davis, one of his main sources — in 1940 in Newark, New Jersey. He was introduced to sports by his father, Hy Goldberg, a longtime sports columnist for the Newark Evening News.
In the late 1940s, Hank would accompany his father each year to spring training with the New York Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio took a liking to “Henry,” as he called Hank. The two would play catch and remained friends for the rest of DiMaggio’s life, often golfing together.
Goldberg grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, where he worked as a sports stringer for the South Orange Maplewood News-Record. He also worked as a stringer for The New York Times when he attended New York University.
When he was 17, he fell in love with horse racing. The first time he went to the racetrack, he hit the daily double for $450 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
“I came home and gave my father the money and said, ‘I want to buy a car with this.’ He said, ‘Where’d you get that?’ I said, ‘At Monmouth. I hit the double,’” Goldberg told the Review-Journal this year. “He said, ‘Oh, you’re in trouble now.’
“He knew I’d never get over my love for the races. He was right. I just fell in love with racing, and it paid off for me, of course. I wound up covering the Triple Crown for ABC.”
Former ESPN host Kenny Mayne said Goldberg always loved action. About 90 seconds before they went on the air on ESPN at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby week, they got a tip on a horse at some obscure track from broadcaster Joe Tessitore.
“We’re all just sprinting out of the room to go to the windows at Churchill,” Mayne said. “My ankle was really bad in those years, and Hank beat me. I literally could not catch Hank. He wanted to bet so badly. And the horse won.”
Goldberg attended Duke and graduated from NYU. He began working in advertising in Manhattan during the “Mad Men” era and served in the Army Reserve.
He moved to Miami to sell advertising, but soon started to work, in his words, as “The Greek’s Ghost.” He got his first job as a sports talk show host at radio station WIOD in 1978 after a recommendation from legendary talk show host Larry King.
Goldberg also worked as a sports anchor at CBS affiliate WTVJ and was a longtime sports talk radio show host at WQAM in Miami.
He moved to Las Vegas in 2018, where he appeared on ESPN’s “Daily Wager” sports betting show and worked for CBS Sports HQ and SportsLine.com. He was still working in June, when he analyzed the Belmont Stakes.
“He loved all of his careers, but he was happiest with a microphone in front of him,” Liz Goldberg said. “Nothing made him happier than that microphone.”
Goldberg also competed in the Review-Journal’s NFL Challenge handicapping contest and won it in his first season in 2017 with a 50-29-6 ATS record (63.2 percent).
Goldberg is survived by his sister. Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.