He called it “corrupt” and “zany” and his speech was provocative but never mean or sarcastic. An insider who lived to speak his mind — about baseball, about Washington, and about politics. Richard Buckley Jr. died Friday in his sleep. He was 89.
Buckley was a Nationals official, television commentator and radio and television broadcaster from 1967 until he retired in the late 1990s. A four-time Emmy Award winner, Buckley wrote his own book about “Baseball’s Emerald City,” the nickname of Washington, and made countless appearances in baseball circles, including serving as a White House envoy, ambassador to the Dominican Republic and ambassador to the United Nations.
“He knew everybody and everybody knew him,” his son Chris Buckley said. “He was a spokesman for the city of Washington. He knew politicians. He was a great athlete. He was a friend to many presidents, including Eisenhower, Kennedy and Eisenhower again. I can’t think of anybody I did not know or know of somebody who wasn’t in the service in some capacity.”
Buckley won amateur-team championships at Georgetown and in the Negro Leagues. After graduating from College of St. Rose, Buckley and his half-brother William Hartman moved to D.C. in the 1930s, where they played baseball and basketball at Virginia Park.
Buckley and his brother entered law school and soon were attending night classes and working three jobs at a time. But in the early 1950s, a chance meeting with Nick Kralevich led to a career in television. They held a sweepstakes for contestants in which they could try to win a Mercedes.
Buckley hired Kralevich as a producer at WBAL, a station that pioneered “must see” television for sports. Kralevich lured Buckley from Baltimore in 1960, saying, “If you can train a kid in Baltimore and get him to do sports in D.C., you’re going to get this job.”
Buckley’s advice to athletes was to “get some intelligent people around you — a coach, a manager, whoever. And if you can’t see the market, go into media.” Buckley worked at WBAL and then WRC and at WRC became the lead anchor and studio guest and was considered the sports talk show host “with the big personality.”
Buckley owned three D.C. sports bars in the 1970s — Rickshaw Tavern, The Beaver, Oliver’s — and was also an active member of the Capital District Sportfan Association.
At the same time, Buckley was a popular speaker at charities and various clubs.
Chris Buckley said: “All the people that knew him say they never saw him preach. His personality was that people could laugh around him and everybody loved him. All they talk about all the time is his wonderful sense of humor and how much fun he was and how wonderful he was to work with. His humor and his wit and his wisdom was infectious. You heard it in his voice, you saw it in his body language.”
As a journalist, Buckley was a published author, having written the previous books on Washington, books of opinion about baseball, sports and politics that won Pulitzer prizes. They were “Inside Baseball,” published in 1972, “On the History and the Future of Baseball,” published in 1974, and “Once Upon a Time in Baseball,” published in 1976.
When Buckley lost a 1962 contest for majority leader in the House of Representatives, he became known as “I lost my bid, but I still won.” He later wrote a more-famous book, “Strange Ball: Baseball and Political Corruption in America,” published in 1975. The book took many readers by surprise. Even people who admired Buckley liked the book because it was unconventional.
Dan Hubbs recalled how Buckley “used to give interviews at tables in some of the best sports bars in town. He would stand next to them and let them in on what he thought about a given topic. He talked about baseball and politics with a great deal of candor. He didn’t bite his tongue one bit.”
No funeral is planned, although a memorial service is being planned.
Chris Buckley, who now lives in Texas, said his father was a New England native who grew up talking politics and baseball, especially baseball. After law school, he and his brother rose through the ranks at WRC, moved to Chicago, and then to DC when Hartman, a radio and television personality, left the area