Ralph Bernstein, who peppered coaches and players alike with tough questions for nearly a half-century while covering the Philadelphia sports scene for The Associated Press, has died. He was 85.
Bernstein died of cancer on Saturday, his daughter-in-law, Maureen Bernstein, told the AP on Monday.
“No sportswriter in the history of Philly had a more widespread influence or presence,” longtime Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin told his newspaper. “He covered every Phillies spring-training and home game, every Eagles preseason and home game, every Sixers and Flyers home game, every Big 5 doubleheader, all the press conferences for hirings and firings, and everything in between.”
Bernstein, who lived in Pembroke Pines, Fla., since retiring in February 1994 after more than 48 years at the AP, would have turned 86 on Thursday.
“Nobody , and I mean nobody , could grill someone in an interview the way he could,” said Frank Bilovsky, retired sportswriter for the former Philadelphia Bulletin and longtime friend of Bernstein.
Colleagues recalled Bernstein’s hard-nosed questions sending the normally cool Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry stalking angrily from a stage, and prompting Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark to kick a trash can in the team clubhouse and threaten to punch him.
But after fielding a series of tame questions at news conference shortly after Bernstein’s retirement, Philadelphia Eagles coach Rich Kotite groaned, “I miss Ralph.”
“He refused to take ‘no comment’ for an answer,” Conlin said. “But his questions were straight-ahead. He never set anybody up for a cheap shot. And when his story appeared, the quotes were accurate and in context.”
Bernstein, a Philadelphia native, started as a stringer for the old Philadelphia Record while attending Temple University. After serving in the Army in World War II, he returned home and worked for United Press before joining the Associated Press.
In addition to his work for AP, Bernstein wrote books on Philadelphia A’s pitcher Bobby Shantz, La Salle University coach Ken Loeffler and Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning.
He is survived by a son, Robert; a brother, Bernard; and two grandchildren.
Bernstein’s first wife, Barbara, was stabbed to death during a robbery in their Jenkintown condominium on Dec. 29, 1982, while he was covering the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A former Philadelphia police officer was convicted in her murder.
Bernstein’s second wife, the former Mary Ann Melincoff, died in 2003.