The Library of Congress announced Jan. 9 it has acquired 10,000 radio interviews of sports greats including Dale Earnhardt, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Evel Knievel, Billie Jean King, and Kristi Yamaguchi.
Mantle discusses his alcoholism. Hank Aaron describes preparing for "trouble" about breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. Willie Mays says "nobody could beat me doing anything." And Bill Russell, voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All Time, talks poignantly about his friendship with his supposed enemy Wilt Chamberlain.
Those are just a few highlights among the 15 years of recorded interviews from the pioneering national network radio program "Sports Byline USA", hosted by Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Ron Barr between 1988 and 2003. Additional interviews from 2004-2014 will be added later.
The 1988-2003 interviews will be available in the next several weeks at the Library's Recorded Sound Reference Center in its James Madison Building on Capitol Hill, a Library spokeswoman told me.
Other sports stars in this collection include Charles Barkley, another of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players; speed skater Bonnie Blair, one of the most decorated Olympic athletes in history; Bill Bradley, who went from the N.Y. Knicks to U.S. Senator from N.J., serving for almost 20 years; Jim Brown, named best pro football player ever by "Sporting News"; Cuban-born baseballer Jose Canseco; Olympic gold medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci; tennis champ Chris Evert; Olympic gold medal skaters Dorothy Hamill and Tara Lapinski; Harlem Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon, "Crown Prince of Basketball"; John McEnroe; Wilma Rudolph, the first woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics; among many others.
A few interview excerpts:
Mickey Mantle, relating his father's reaction when his struggling son said he doubted he could make it in baseball: "'I thought I raised a man. You’re nothing but a coward.' He had tears in his eyes. He really let me have it. I thought he was going to come up, pat me on the shoulder and say, 'Hang in there, kid.'"
Willie Mays: "I didn’t think anybody could beat me doing anything when I came into the league. I was just a little cocky 20-year-old kid coming along...I wasn’t supposed to throw runners out like I did, hit home runs. I just didn’t feel nobody could beat me doing anything."
Oscar Robertson -- whom the NBA describes as the "'Big O', the player against whom all others labeled 'all-around' are judged, and he may remain the standard forever" -- describes himself like this: "A lot of people don’t know me...I haven’t been caught using drugs. I'm not an alcoholic, and I don't do a lot of other things. This is what, usually, gets you a lot of attention."
These interviews will give sports greats a lot of attention they deserve, and will provide fascinating insights in their own words.
The Sports Byline collection will join other famed sports recordings in the Library’s holdings, including Clem McCarthy’s classic calls of the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rematch, and the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.
The Library of Congress holds the world's largest collection of audio recordings, preserving historically, culturally, and aesthetically significant sound recordings in all genres, dating back about 90 years.
For more info: Library of Congress, Recorded Sound Reference Center, www.loc.gov/rr/record, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., James Madison Building, Performing Arts Reading Room, Washington, D.C. Listeners are advised to contact the Recorded Sound Reference Center two weeks prior to visiting. The collections are now stored offsite and patrons must make listening appointments, www.loc.gov/rr/record/appointments.html. Recordings do not circulate.