Bay Area sports legend Sam Spear dies at 72

Sam Spear, a Bay Area sports promoter and broadcaster who was a friend of Joe DiMaggio and countless other luminaries, died of complications from the rare disease sarcoidosis on Saturday. He was 72 years old.

Known for his stories and love of red wine, jazz, and conversation around dining, especially in North Beach, Spear was director of media relations at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows and hosted radio shows. and television on horse racing.

His signature line, “I’ll see you … At the races.

Baseball was a passion for Spear. He worked for the Giants under owner Bob Lurie and the A’s under owner Steve Schott and befriended many managers over the decades including Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Alvin Dark and Bill Rigney.

“Sam was like Clarence in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a PR angel sent to Northern California to bring people together,” said Andy Dolich, sports affairs consultant, friend and former executive of A.

Born in Oakland and raised in Alameda by his aunt and uncle, Thomas Russell Spear is a graduate of St. Joseph’s-Alameda and the State of San Francisco, majoring in speech.

In 1978, Spear started what became a popular nightly rebroadcast on Channel 26, which ran until 2017. In recent years, he has hosted “At the Track with Sam Spear” on Sunday mornings on KNBR.

“Sam was the first to bring horse racing to home shows in the Bay Area,” said Tom Ferrall, who shared an office with Spear as the former publicity manager at Golden Gate Fields and Bay. Meadows. “He was Mr. Horse Racing in the Bay Area.

“He was old school and favored personal contact, working on the phone and earning and eating sports writers. If he wanted something in the papers, it was in the papers. Ditto with radio and television.

Dolich praised Spear on his knowledge of the local sports landscape and said, “He was sort of Siri before there was a Siri. You could ask Sam anything, and he would know the answer.

“There are so many carbon copies in the sports and entertainment world, and Sam was absolutely real. Still, he had privacy. He never bragged or said “look at me”. It’s so hard to find in the area where we are.

Spear was a high school and college umpire and called games played by many Bay Area Youth League legends including Chris Speier, Dennis Eckersley and Bill Buckner. He was also a basketball referee.

Spear was known as Alameda Sam, Speier as the Alameda rifle.

“Sammy was always a pretty funny guy and had a flair for his refereeing and his dismissals,” Speier said. “He was putting on a show with all kinds of different calls. He had this way of himself that made people feel comfortable. Everyone loved him. We will miss him.

A close friend of DiMaggio, Spear loved to remember the legendary San Francisco Seal and the New York Yankee. Before the scheduled Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, when the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the area, they were sitting together in Candlestick Park, then quickly made their way to the marina, where DiMaggio’s sister lived.

“We were sitting near the commissioner,” Spear recalls in a 1999 Chronicle article, “so we found out early on that they were going to call the game. When we got to our car and started down Third Street , we found out Joe’s block was on. It was a very tense situation because Mary was living in the house at the time. Joe was cracking his fingers a little while I was driving.

“We ended up parking at the Palais des Beaux-Arts and walking in the dark to his house. We succeeded because he was Joe DiMaggio. But Marie had not been in the house, and the very big damage stopped a house before theirs.

Soon after, Spear was lining up with DiMaggio outside a school in the Marina with other residents waiting to be informed of the state of their accommodation and when they could return.

“We were behind several hundred people,” Spear said, “but Joe didn’t want to be in the front of the line. He didn’t want to be different.

Spear knew it was a no-no to mention Marilyn Monroe in DiMaggio’s presence. While driving in San Francisco one day, Spear put on Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and said DiMaggio told him, “It was Marilyn’s favorite song.

Spear is survived by longtime partner Barbara O’Neill, daughter Meghan Hanson, stepchildren (with late wife Johanna) Bob Telles, Tracey Telles and Rick Telles, sisters Donna Lopez, Mary Spear, Bonnie Koojoolian , Nancy Rogers and Julie Thomas and many cousins.

John Shea is the San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @JohnSheaHey

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