Jack Rosenberg wasn’t seen on Cubs broadcasts, but he was heard in countless ways

Rosenberg, who died Sunday at 94, was the last link for generations of fans to a golden age of broadcasting. At WGN, he helped pioneer an industry and turn a local team into a national phenomenon.

SHARE Jack Rosenberg wasn’t seen on Cubs broadcasts, but he was heard in countless ways
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Jack Rosenberg was the sports editor for WGN-TV and radio. “Rosey” was hired by Jack Brickhouse in 1954, and he retired in 1994. But he left an enduring legacy.

Stephen Green

If you’re a WGN-TV or radio patron of a certain age, you’ve heard the name Jack Rosenberg. He was the sports editor for both, and his name appeared in the credits after Cubs TV broadcasts.

But when you think of a sports editor, a newspaper probably pops into your head before any kind of a broadcast. What were Rosenberg’s responsibilities?

‘‘Everything,’’ said Bob Vorwald, the director of production at WGN-TV and an apprentice of Rosenberg’s. ‘‘He was George Bailey, Damon Runyon and Vin Scully all rolled into one.’’

Rosenberg, who died Sunday at 94, was the last link for generations of Cubs fans to a golden age of broadcasting. With announcing legends such as Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau, Vince Lloyd and Jack Quinlan, ‘‘Rosey’’ helped pioneer an industry and turn a local team into a national phenomenon.

At his core, Rosenberg was, in fact, a newspaper man. He grew up in Pekin, Illinois, and was the sports editor for the Pekin Daily Times — as a high school student. After serving in the Navy in 1944-46, he became an award-winning reporter for the Peoria Journal-Transcript.

In 1954, Rosenberg was close to landing his dream job, interviewing with famed Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward. But Rosenberg was looking for more than Ward’s offer of $100 a week because he was supporting his mother, so he declined.

A couple of weeks later, Brickhouse, a fellow downstater from Peoria, offered Rosenberg a job at WGN for $15 a week less. But Brickhouse persuaded Rosenberg to put his newspaper skills into broadcasting, selling him on the future of the field.

‘‘They’re making up TV at this point, right?’’ Vorwald said. ‘‘Some days Brick is going between teams [he called Bears, Cubs and White Sox games], and he wanted somebody that was reliable and could help him from an information standpoint and a story standpoint. He wanted a levelheaded guy who knows sports and he trusts.’’

Rosenberg also worked overnights at WGN radio when he first arrived, writing newscasts to make more money and help his mother move to Chicago. If Rosenberg sounds like a mensch, it’s because he was, though his generosity wasn’t exclusive to his family. Everyone liked ‘‘Rosey’’ — even those who seemed incapable of liking others.

‘‘When [manager] Leo Durocher came to town in ’66, he hated two people, Brickhouse and Ernie Banks, because Leo had to be the No. 1 guy,’’ Vorwald said. ‘‘He would badmouth them and rip them, but he would do anything for Rosey. And so Rosey spent six or seven years being the buffer between Brick and Leo. And that’s just a perfect example of the kind of guy he was.’’

Rosenberg befriended baseball greats. Jackie Robinson often would appear on WGN-TV’s ‘‘The Leadoff Man’’ or ‘‘The 10th Inning’’ shows. Roberto Clemente made sure to give one of his bats to Rosenberg for his collection.

‘‘Rosey’’ was agreeable and easygoing. He was excellent at his job, whether it was writing, lining up guests or providing the announcers with stats, anecdotes and all kinds of information during broadcasts. His colleagues trusted him because he made them look good. He never posed a threat or sought the spotlight, preferring to work behind the scenes, though his typewriter betrayed his stealth on the air.

When Harry Caray returned to the booth in May 1987 after suffering a stroke, he insisted that Rosenberg return, too, after he had left to start the Cubs Radio Network with Lloyd in 1985. Rosenberg was at Caray’s side for the rest of the season, easing him back as he had eased him into the job when Caray replaced Brickhouse in 1982.

While Caray was recovering from his stroke at the start of the ’87 season, Rosenberg lined up an A-list of 32 celebrity fill-ins, ranging from sportscasters to former athletes to comedians. It became must-see TV. (Bill Murray’s performance was by far the most memorable.)

Rosenberg left his mark on the writing world, too, penning Brickhouse’s Hall of Fame induction speech in 1983 and helping him with his autobiography, ‘‘Thanks for Listening,’’ which was published in 1986. Brickhouse trusted Rosenberg implicitly, once saying, ‘‘If I ever said anything funny, it’s probably because Rosenberg wrote it.’’

Rosenberg also hired half of the beloved ‘‘Pat & Ron Show,’’ making Ron Santo a radio analyst in 1990, six years before Pat Hughes would join him. Given the task of having to choose between Santo and Bob Brenly, Rosenberg suggested the Cubs hire both. Santo didn’t have a good audition, but Rosenberg saw potential. He figured the polished Brenly could provide balance for the raw but revered Santo.

Rosenberg retired in 1994. Four years later, Brickhouse and Caray died. That same year, WGN-TV began losing games to cable. Renowned producer/director Arne Harris, who had been with WGN since 1964, died in 2001. More games moved to cable.

For WGN, Rosenberg was the last vestige of a bygone era, and Vorwald made a point to celebrate him as much as he could.

‘‘For our station identity and for Cub fans, he’s the last link of a group of people that helped us fall in love with baseball,’’ Vorwald said. ‘‘I could never thank him enough for it. He was just this font of goodness, and we should all be so lucky to touch as many lives as he did.’’

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