ZANESVILLE – For nearly half a century it was a rarity when Bob Wolfe wasn’t at Gant Municipal Stadium.
Whether it’s Babe Ruth games, Central Ohio League clashes, or All-American Amateur Baseball Association events, hardly a day went by without Wolfe being involved in baseball.
And now he’s gone.
Wolfe, 89, died Friday at Genesis Morrison House after a prolonged illness. He has left an impressive legacy of helping develop the sport locally and beyond through the Muskingum Valley Old-Timers Association and AAABA.
He also owned and operated part of the Linden Sports Center, where he sold sporting goods and equipment to local teams and served as the announcer for football and basketball games at Maysville High School, before being followed by the legendary Greg Gibson.
He also served as Treasurer of the Frontier League and as referee at the 1983 Pan American Games, which took place after serving as a scout for the New York Mets.
Wolfe remained active in the AAABA and Old-Timers until his 80s before his health deteriorated. He was Treasurer of Classic Cars, former President of AAABA and Chairman of the National Tournament, along with close friend Jim Wright on the Rules Committee for three decades.
He is also in the AAABA Hall of Fame.
“He really was the backbone of AAABA for many years,” Wright said. “Zanesville was highly regarded in Johnstown.”
Wright, who met Wolfe in 1970, called him “a great friend” who was “total baseball.” They spent 10 days together each year at the AAABA National Tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where they worked from an office in Point Stadium. This allowed them to get to know each other well.
“It was very detailed and highly regarded in the baseball world and the AAABA,” said Wright. “He knew the rules of baseball as well as anyone I knew. He knew how to solve tournament problems.”
Wolfe was an idealist too, Wright said. Many of the fundraising drives for the classic cars, including the Save the Stadium project in 1991 that helped renovate a derelict Gant Municipal Stadium.
“He always had a new idea,” said Wright. “Usually he knew what he was talking about. I argued with him and said ‘this is not going to work’ and he was usually right. We had this Century Club (drawing) for years and it made a lot of money for the classic cars. “
The late Tom Checkush, one of the original icons of old-timers with Olin Taylor in 1955, once told the Times Recorder that getting Wolfe on board to help support the organization was probably the most impactful decision.
“He was an ‘idea man,'” said Checkush. “It was his idea to organize bowling tournaments and the gold medal basketball tournament to help us raise money.”
It was his time as president in 1961 when he sponsored the education of Babe Ruth Baseball and later brought the state tournament to Zanesville. It was still there 50 years later, and the old-timers still run the Muskingum Valley Junior High League from ages 13-15.
“It was always one of his ideas that he had,” Wright said, adding that he always had an effective sales pitch. “He comes back with them over and over again.”
He was also patient, which Wright admitted wasn’t always a quality he shared with his friend. His time on the AAABA rules committee and years of running the Division II baseball tournament at Gant Stadium were among the times when there were disputes with managers and players.
Wolfe often spread it.
“He got into discussions with someone who was unhappy and he could talk to them for 45 minutes to an hour,” Wright said.
Randy Bonifant, who served twice as Old Timers president, said it was Wolfe who led him to get involved with the organization while serving his son Jay as a 12-year-old in the Y-City Midget League trained. Jay is now training the Junior Pioneers.
“He invited me to come with Babe Ruth as a 13-year-old coach,” said Randy. “That was 32 years ago. I became president for my third year. Bob came with me, taught me some coaching points, and got me on the (Babe Ruth) All-Star teams.”
Randy said Wolfe was naturally meek.
“You really had to get on the bad side of Bob to piss him off,” he said. “I don’t think I can remember many times he was in a bad mood unless we were trying to prepare the field for a game and someone went out and wiped the water off with a broom. We would to try it.” Soak up the water with the sweeper. That always got him going. “
He added that while Wolfe may have been naturally jovial, he had his sticking points.
“Bob obeyed the rules,” said Wolfe. “Often, when Bob scheduled Father’s Day or Mother’s Day and July 4th games and people got upset, Bob would say, ‘We’re going to play baseball this summer.’ He stuck to that. “
Wolfe also had a keen eye for talent.
Wright, who saw many of the same star players in Johnstown as Wolfe, including Red’s Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and Zanesville’s own Jay Payton, said one of Bob’s claims to fame was to be one of the first scouts to endorse Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson .
Wolfe was looking for the Mets.
“Bob said when he watched him play there was just a glow around him,” said Wright. “He just stood out. If they got a name back then and he got the first pick, he got a $ 10,000 bonus. Bob was big on it. He gave Reggie Jackson off. They took a catcher instead, and he didn’t get it. He was probably the first guy ever to have dibs on Reggie Jackson. We’ve seen a lot of good ball players over the years. It was amazing. “