larry lederman, the very best of us

By Dick Jerardi

It was the Thursday night before the 1997 Final Four in Indianapolis. Was with a few of my sportswriter friends at the off-track-betting spot attached to the Embassy Suites, a few blocks from the old Hoosier Dome where the games would be played. I asked them if they would like to be in the next race at Garden State Park. They looked at me like I was crazy.

I called the old 800 number at Garden State and got patched into the announcer’s booth. Larry Lederman answered. I gave him the names of several friends, including Ken Rosenthal, then of the “Baltimore Sun” now a key part of the Fox TV baseball coverage and a baseball columnist for “The Athletic.” And sure enough, my friends, including Kenny, were in the next race running behind horses, in between horses, fanned wide, closing, dropping back. It was the horse names and it was their names. Only Larry could pull it off and he did it seamlessly.

There was the night before a Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs when Larry was calling at the Meadowlands. He was to call races as every famous and not-so-famous announcer in the country. He changed voices during the races going from Trevor Denman to Dave Johnson, Tom Durkin, Ross Morton, Bob Weems, Jack Lamar, Keith Jones. He would throw a Jackie Mason voice in there just because he could.

I first met Larry in the winter of 1985 when I came to Philadelphia to write for the “Philadelphia Daily News.” He worked for DRF as Lew Zagnit’s chart call taker in the raucous press boxes at Philadelphia Park and Garden State.

There was a Sunday when Larry called his bookie to bet some NFL games. He said: “give me the dogs.” He was asked which ones. “All of them,” he said. Of course. Only Larry.

Larry became the regular race caller at Atlantic City, Garden State and Freehold. He regularly filled in for Jones at Parx.

His legendary “it’s not a battle, it’s a war” calls at AC will reverberate forever.

He was asked by Robert DeNiro himself to do the part of legendary race caller Fred Capossella in the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale.” Check out the movie. That is Larry’s off camera race call in DeNiro’s directorial debut.

It was more than 12 years ago when Larry was diagnosed with brain cancer. A brilliant surgeon gave Larry the last 12 years when he wondered if he would have any. If Larry ever complained, nobody ever heard it.

He could not drive anymore so a few years ago, I picked him up and we went to dinner in midtown Manhattan with Dave Johnson, Bill Finley and a few other friends. We went through the Holland Tunnel so Larry could take me through the lower Manhattan neighborhood where he grew up.

After Larry was first diagnosed, he lost his wife Jodi and then their daughter Leslie. The conversations after Leslie’s death were just so hard. I wanted to say the right thing, but there was no right thing to say. It was all just so unfair.

The tumor returned last year, “exploded” Larry said and there were no more options. Larry texted me late Saturday night Feb. 24. Wanted to talk the next day. He knew he was dying. I knew he was dying. We had talked a few weeks before when he told me exactly that.

But, with Larry, even then, it was like no time had passed. He could swing from his health to a night at the track we had shared without missing a beat. He was Larry right to the end – sharp, incredibly funny, one of one.

Larry Lederman, 67, died March 5 at his home in East Windsor, N.J. There will be no service. His ashes will be buried in a family plot in upstate New York.

The memories? The stories?

Those are forever, timeless, just like Larry Lederman, my great friend, everybody’s great friend.

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