Blum, 91, itching to ditch hospital, return to 51s post

I don’t care much for hospitals, mostly because every time I go to one, it’s to see a friend who’s not feeling well.  

(I reserve the right to change my mind in the event it’s me who’s not feeling well.)

I saw Bob Blum, the former Las Vegas 51s broadcaster and longtime – make that longest time – 51s special assistant to the general manager and most iconic of Las Vegas sports icons, in the hospital on Monday. Bob is 91, and on April 6 he fell at home and broke one of his two artificial hips.

So he’s not feeling well.

They’re keeping him – against his wishes of course, because the 51s have returned home and the weather is nice – at the St. Rose Dominican Hospital Rose De Lima campus in the old part of Henderson. The only thing he complained about during our visit is that the lousy radio reception in Room 402 would preclude him from listening to Monday night’s ballgame.

Bob remembers leaving the second game of the 51s’ season on April 6 in the fourth inning, because the weather was awful. When he got home, he lost his balance while bending over to plug in his cellphone.

When you’ve fallen and can’t get up, it’s always a good idea to have your cellphone in hand, and so Bob called the bullpen for an ambulance, and he was operated on the next day.

He has been laying low ever since, really struggling, but was in good spirits Monday. It had been a good day. But there’s still a lot of baseball to be played before they let him go home.

"It’s one thing for a 30-year-old athlete to come back from an injury with a little rehab, quite another thing to watch a 91-year-old car drive up a 25 percent incline," he said, sounding and looking pretty much like himself, save for the oxygen and pain medication tubes that make it difficult for him to talk for very long.  

This health setback comes as a bigger surprise than a 51s winning streak because Bob Blum doesn’t have health setbacks. I had seen him three times recently, and he never looked better.

OK, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, because Bob is 91, and I’m sure he looked better in one of those decades when he was 31, 41, 51 or 61. But when I met him in 1987 he was 66, and he really hasn’t changed all that much.

He recently had seen a story I wrote about a watering hole in Henderson where Kansas fans gathered during the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament run, and one of the patrons I had interviewed was a former Lady Rebels player whose games he had called on radio. This would have been after the peach baskets, but before the shot clock.

And so the next time Kansas played, Bob drove over to this bar to see her, and apparently he had such a good time that he called me a couple of hours before Kansas was to play Ohio State during the Final Four to ask if I was going back to that bar, and would I save him a seat?

By the time I arrived, Bob was already there and had saved about six seats.

During one of the early TV timeouts, I asked him about growing up with Knute Rockne’s son in South Bend, Ind., and surviving the Depression and riding the South Shore electric train to Chicago and serving as a flight instructor during World War II – things that had little to do with sports.

And this spawned other conversations about things that had little do with sports. And just like that, the game was over, and somebody said Kansas had won.

And when I saw Bob on 51s media day at Cashman Field, he gave me a couple of photos of an official Spalding J5-V American Football League game ball from 1966, when his pal Al Davis was commissioner, that he had been keeping in a plastic bag just down the hall from where he would fall two days later.

Davis’ signature was stamped on the ball, and Bob figured it might be worth something to a collector or somebody like that, now that Al Davis is gone.

Anyway, I hope Bob is feeling better and gets back to his booth at the Club Level restaurant at Cashman Field real soon, because I forgot to ask him about when gas was 18 cents a gallon and Bob Feller threw smoke and how those Studebakers handled. And lots of other things.       

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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