This winter, the track and the world of harness racing suffered a big loss. Bob Meyer, a mentor and friend to me, passed away at the age of 80. The loss has been felt by so many at the track and in the community and of course by his loving family. When I first debuted on the microphone at Saratoga Casino Hotel it was the year 2001. The voice of Saratoga at that point was that of “Bullet” Bob Meyer. A legend of the industry, Meyer was best known as the longtime voice of Yonkers Raceway. Bob was an aspiring sports broadcaster and horse racing fan from New York City who wound up hearing about a job in announcing races. Meyer called his first race at Roosevelt Raceway in 1969 before announcing at Monticello for a couple of years. He was hired full time at Yonkers Raceway in ‘72. While still honing his craft, Meyer continued to improve until he found his style, one that became recognizable to so many fans of the sport going back several decades. Bob came to Saratoga in 2000 to become the voice of the Spa and when approached with helping a young, future announcer, he was more than willing to give me a chance. I called the last race every night and then filled in for Bob on the few occasions when he would take some evenings off.
At the conclusion of the 2005 racing season, Bullet Bob retired from announcing eventually assuming the role as a back-up for me when I took the job in ’06. Bob served as my lone fill-in for years and continued to “pinch hit” for me until calling his final race on a Sunday afternoon in December of 2018. On that day, Bob got to do something he had told me he’d always wanted to do- have his grandchildren there to see/hear him call the races. The track hosted Bob and his family and honored the Bullet with a race in his honor the evening before that final day on the microphone. Bob was exhausted after that final day of calling races. He had emptied the tank. After all, he was 78 years of age at the time and a full-day on the mic wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Bob was thrilled to have his family there to share his special day.
Those who knew Bob Meyer know that he was a man with a strong personality. A vociferous Boston Red Sox fan (to the point that we would have dozens of battles about them and the Yankees over the years), Bullet had a bit of a gruff exterior. He was certainly sharp-tongued and opinionated but at the same time was an extremely loveable guy. I didn’t learn this right away however. In fact, back in ’01 after calling the last race on maybe a handful of occasions, Bob came into the booth after one of my race calls when I had used a cutesy, outside-the-box kind of line and simply blurted “I’d retire that freakin slogan!” At the time I thought “oh know. He doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m terrible. I wonder if I’ll ever call another race.” To the contrary. I came to realize that he did like me and in fact thought quite highly of my potential as a race caller. He just didn’t like to stray too much outside of the aforementioned box when announcing but rather preferred to keep things simple. It was just Bullet being Bullet. That was his personality. He wouldn’t sweet talk and charm the pants off of you. But there was a layer of caring and compassion about Bob that became more and more evident over the years.
In 2013, when my wife Kelli and I welcomed our son Gavin, Bob had recently had his first granddaughter. From that day on, each and every time I saw Bob, before we talked about racing or baseball or anything else, he would start EVERY conversation with “how’s the little guy?” When my answer would be something like “he’s great!” his response would always be “that’s all that matters.” Though Bob’s family doesn’t live locally, he would always tell me when he had plans to head down to see his daughter Carly, son-in-law David and granddaughter Violet in New York City or when he’d visit his son Peter, daughter-in-law Larissa and grandsons Jonah and Andrew in Boston. For a number of years, he would go with his son and grandsons to a different baseball stadium somewhere in the country and Bob truly looked forward to that trip all year long. He was quick to show me pictures of little Violet (who isn’t so little anymore!) whenever he would get a new batch. He loved his family so much, even if it was from afar.
When I got word last month of Bob’s passing, it was kind of a surreal feeling. No, he wasn’t a young guy. The news didn’t come as an ultra shock as he had slowed down a bit over the past few years. But he had always just been there. He was there when I called my first race in 2001 and had been there throughout my entire journey in the booth. I was happy to always have him available as a back-up and when kidney stones struck me a few summers ago, Bob had to come in and work in a pinch. He didn’t love to have such little time to prep but he was more than willing to come help out. That was him. He was always there. He was in the grandstand every Sunday when I would come up to the booth. Heck, when I would pop into Boston Market for a quick dinner on my way into work, Bob was often there too! We would talk/argue about baseball or I’d just listen as he discussed his impending trip to Vegas or unlikely affection for the music of Adele and always, every time, we would talk about our families. It was who he was. He could make you smile, laugh and yes even cringe once in a while with his “tell it like it is” mindset. But he was there and now he’s not and that hurts. It’s kind of a hollow feeling for me coming to the booth on Sunday mornings now just as it is for those who work at the track every day who would see Bob all the time. That empty feeling is prevalent for so many.
This Saturday (March 7th), there will be a local memorial service for “Bullet” Bob Meyer that will take place at the Saratoga Casino Hotel Ballroom from 10am-1pm. Bob’s family will be in town to gather with his friends and former co-workers as we celebrate his life at home and behind the microphone. Any and all are welcome to join as it is open to the public. Breakfast and light refreshments will be served. Hopefully, we will see you there as we celebrate the life and career of a man who was a legend behind the mic in what was an illustrious career in harness racing and a man who wound up becoming an unlikely good friend to me and to so many of us at Saratoga Casino Hotel. RIP Bullet. Thanks for everything. You are already missed.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon beginning at 12 Noon and on Saturday evening with action starting at 5pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!