Looking back on a gem of a friend -- George Randazzo
George Randazzo, founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, died Sunday morning. The Bloomingdale resident was 77 years old.
I knew George for many more decades than I care to admit, and was stunned when his son Tony, a Major League Baseball umpire, texted me the news Sunday afternoon while on his way to the airport in Los Angeles.
George meant so much to so many. Here's what he meant to me, and what I wrote about him in November 2017.
I would not be able to find more meaningful words today.
-- Barry Rozner
No one remembers the date they met George Randazzo -- but everyone remembers the day.
You say hello and it's an hour later.
He's got a million ideas and doesn't stop until you've heard them all.
Meanwhile, what do you do and what are your plans and what do you need?
Always, what do you need?
Whatever it is, George has the answer -- or knows someone with the answer.
In my case, it was work. College kid will sweep floors for beer money. Just needed some work.
That was George's specialty.
And since I was journalism major, George decided I could freelance for "Red, White & Green," the official magazine of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
In my spare time, when I wasn't face down on a sticky tavern floor.
Next day I was on the phone with Tommy Lasorda and Lou Duva, interviewing legends for feature stories.
The week after that, Joe Torre and Bobby Valentine.
I once shook hands with Joe DiMaggio. Tony Esposito bought me a drink. And I tried -- unsuccessfully -- to buy one for Linda Fratianne.
And in George Randazzo I had a friend for life.
Most likely, everyone who's spent time with him feels that way.
As he prepares for the 40th Annual Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala next Saturday at the Westin River North, emceed again by baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, the 76-year-old Randazzo would rather talk about those who have helped than what he has done.
It's about how his wife, Linda, endured a ridiculous dream that started out of a two-bedroom home while they collected boxing memorabilia in hopes of raising money for a local youth Catholic program.
How DiMaggio showed up for the first big banquet, giving the NIASHF instant credibility.
How they started with a small building in Elmwood Park, moved to a bigger facility in Arlington Heights, and how Jerry Colangelo led the drive to open a 44,000-square foot Hall of Fame in 2003 on Taylor Street in the heart of Little Italy.
How "four Jewish guys gave me the money to get started," or there would "have never been an Italian American Sports Hall of Fame."
He would rather talk about the hundreds of people who have supported the cause, about the 250 inductees, the rooms filled with memorabilia donated by athletes, and how he thinks Anthony Rizzo is one of the best young people he has ever encountered.
He would rather brag about son Tony, a major league umpire who worked the 2016 World Series, and son Marc, a restaurateur and former professional boxer who once held the WBC Continental Cruiserweight title.
He would rather boast about "Red, White & Green" alumni like John Kass, Bob LeGere, Dan Pompei and Dominic Scianna.
Randazzo doesn't want to hear about what he built from the ground up in the last 40 years.
He will discuss the civic leaders from every imaginable background who lent their dollars and time, and are responsible for the $7 million donated to scholarship and charitable causes.
The Vietnam vet doesn't talk about his honors, far too numerous to mention here, but trumped by the 2002 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations in New York.
A husband, father, grandfather, pioneer, founder and philanthropist, you don't hear much from Randazzo during the good times, but during the worst of it he seems to always be there, arriving like an angel on your shoulder.
Perhaps that's because -- more than anything else -- George Randazzo is a friend.