Eli Gold’s fifty-year romance with the world of sport has left him with no regrets…and a lifetime of memories.
The wrecking ball swung.
On February 23, 1960, the residents of Flatbush, NY, said farewell to their beloved Ebbets Field in grand fashion. Men wearing overcoats and fedoras oversaw the ceremonial smashing, as a wrecking ball painted like a baseball collapsed the pillar of the community and the longtime home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. That day, a father took his six-year-old son to witness the last chapter of Ebbets’ long tale in the pages of history. That six-year-old boy was Eli Gold.
The 1950s in America was a time of heroes, and young Eli quickly became fascinated with the world of sport. “I remember watching baseball on an old grainy black-and-white TV,” recounts Gold. “My dad and I would take the subway from Brooklyn to the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan and wait for autographs from the opposing teams.”
Gold’s first Yankees game would eternally solidify this love. “I was four or five and the Yankees were playing the Indians,” Gold says. “The Yankees won 10-2 and Rocky Colavito hit a home run for the Indians. I remember walking through the portal and seeing the green grass, the dirt, and the colors on the scoreboard. From then on, I was hooked.”
Academics, though, were another matter. Though his mother, a VP at Chase Manhattan Bank, and his father, the executive director at a local community center, raised Gold, he wasn’t a big fan of the books. “I had no interest in the classroom,” he says. “I basically didn’t even go to high school.”
For the rogue student, the real classroom met at nearby Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks, Rangers, and acts such as the “Royal Lippizan Stallions” replaced math, science, and grammar. Gold landed a job running peanuts up and down the aisles and got free passes into the games. From time to time he brought a tape recorder with him, imagining he was Bob Wolff, the voice of the Knicks, who was only a few feet away. “Every so often, Wolff would take a couple of minutes and listen to the tape and critique,” says Gold. Gold also worked as a runner in the MSG office during the day. Unbeknownst to him, he was making contacts that would eventually lead to his first break: announcing minor league hockey. (It should be noted that Gold did receive his high school diploma and spent a semester at Boston University before returning to New York and its grandiose sporting cosmos—with the Knicks, Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, and Rangers all within the jurisdiction of a taxicab.)
One day, Gold overheard the zooms of a stockcar race on his transistor radio and figured that he could expand his repertoire. “I thought ‘I can do that’ so I contacted NASCAR,” he says. “Things were way different in 1974. People weren’t clamoring for jobs.”
Gold submitted a hockey tape to the car aficionados but mysteriously couldn’t find his racing tape (there was none). He was hired anyway.
That brought the full-blooded New Yorker to the South in 1976. Gold insists that he knew little about Alabama football at the time, and didn’t understand the allure of the college game due to his New York/pro sports myopia. “I wouldn’t have known a Razorback from a Hokie,” he confesses. “When I moved to the South, shortly after I got there, I went to an Alabama-Miami game at Legion Field. I thought, ‘Why would you want to watch kids when you can watch the pros the next day?’”
But the South, for Gold, became a breath of fresh air. He was out of the self-described “sardine can” of the city. The people. The traffic. No more vacationing in other big towns. Gold smelled the South and its prairies and thickets and never looked back.
He quickly made a name for himself in Southern sports. Over the course of ten years, Gold announced for the Birmingham Bulls, the St. Louis Blues, NASCAR, and the Birmingham Barons. And when Gene Bartow needed a voice for his UAB basketball team, Gold did that, too. He literally became the utility man for announcing in the state of Alabama, on the road for 200-plus days a year.
In 1987, Gold found the job that would carry him through the remainder of his career. He was hired as the radio announcer for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team. Since that time, Gold’s perennial voice has resounded through boomboxes and stereos from Mulga to Jackson’s Gap to Cordova. His effusive and often metaphorical vernacular—describing certain running backs as a ‘whirling dervish’–has cemented his reputation as a radio wordsmith, a painter of gridiron portraits for those who prefer to listen.
Gold accomplishes this, in part, by being a self-proclaimed voracious reader. He even admits to reading the Kleenex box. “I read constantly,” he says. “And I’m a news nut, a news hound.” All the rest is God-given.
To be so adept at multisport announcing, Gold must also have a good handle on his audience. “If I’m announcing an Alabama game or any college game, I never jump on a kid who’s made a mistake. What right do I have to criticize a kid who is giving it his all? I’m not a crazy homer, but I might say something like, ‘The good guys are up 6 to nothing.’ But I know my audience. If I am announcing the NFL, I can be a bit more critical. When I’m announcing NASCAR, I don’t give a rip who ends up in victory lane because I’m friends with all 43 of the drivers. And I’m the broadcaster for every one of them.”
His most difficult moments as an announcer, in no particular order: 1) announcing the Alabama/Loyola Marymount basketball game after Hank Gathers died; 2) announcing the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt was killed; 3) announcing the game when ‘Bama WR Tyrone Prothro sustained a career-ending leg fracture.
The Top Moment: announcing four national championships for the Alabama Crimson Tide. “When I was hired for the job, I never thought that would happen,” Gold says. “Here I was, this New York kid, with no ties to the university and I’ve had the opportunity to announce four national championship games. That’s four more than most get a chance to.”
His bucket list? Two things: broadcast the Super Bowl and announce a game at Yankee Stadium. “That’ll probably never happen,” Gold admits, dropping his head. But he has no regrets.
“I’ve been magnificently blessed,” he says. “Lord willin’ and the Creek don’t rise, I’ll go from the broadcast booth straight to the cemetery. I love this too much.” 78
This article was originally published in 78 Magazine in 2014. Follow Hall & Arena by liking us on Facebook, following us on Instagram or Twitter: @hallandarena.
Photos by Gary Clark www.thegaryclark.com