As Ernie Baur walks away, nothing but good things to say

Dan Steinberg
Friday, September 3, 2010

Among the dozens of iconic Ernie Baur stories, I still think this one is my favorite. As the MVP of Super Bowl XVII, John Riggins was required to stay in Southern California longer than his teammates. He flew back to Washington on Tuesday, arriving at something like 11 or 12. When he awoke on Wednesday morning, he called Redskins Park to try to find out about the victory parade. No one answered, which seemed strange, so he turned on the TV.

"I see Maureen Bunyan standing on the corner, saying, 'The team bus is now approaching!' " Riggins recalled this week. In an instant, he realized that his watch was still on West Coast time, and that he was in the process of missing the entire event.

"This was what I dreamed of as a kid, the ticker tape parade," Riggins told me. "I didn't know what to do. So I figured what the hell, I'll call Ernie."

Baur - a veteran producer and director at WJLA, WUSA, WTTG, Home Team Sports, and now executive producer at Comcast SportsNet - is retiring this week. Thursday night's Redskins-Cardinals preseason game was his final broadcast as a full-timer, although he'll continue to do some freelance stuff for the network. And for the 43 years he's been in the industry, Baur has been solving problems like that one.

"All I can say is that guy is the calming voice in my career," said Chick Hernandez, who worked with Baur both at Channel 5 and CSN. "He can make a three-ring circus feel like a poetry reading."

So in Riggins's case, Baur quickly negotiated a deal: His station would help ferry Riggins to the parade route, as long as they could have a reporter there to document the story. Soon, a limo and Virginia police escort were at Riggins's house, taking him to the District line, where the D.C. police took over.

"By the time I got there, the guys were sweeping the horse manure off the street," Riggins said with a laugh. "I gave it a shot, and Ernie was the one who made it into a story."

Riggins was just one of the dozens of big-time newsmakers the Bethesda native worked with over the past four decades. Among other things, he was a copy boy for Sam Donaldson, directed WJLA's "AM Washington" with Ed Walker, covered breaking news (including the 1977 Hanafi takeover) with Gordon Peterson, directed people like Glenn Brenner, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, worked on the field for six national Super Bowl broadcasts, helped put Tony Kornheiser and John Feinstein on the air, and, famously, gave birth to Warner Wolf's signature "Let's go to the videotape" call when he initially missed Wolf's cue to roll an NBA highlight.

And Baur, I should note, didn't just help people who went on to be stars. He also helped badly dressed idiot kids who were utter disasters on television, once attempting to keep me from drowning myself in a bowl of hummus after my trainwreck of a debut on CSN's "Washington Post Live." The point is, good luck finding someone who doesn't like Ernie Baur.

"He's one of those guys - and I think we all know at least one of those guys - who you've never heard anybody say anything bad about," Steve Buckhantz told me. "That's on a personal level. On a professional level, he's the best director I've ever worked with."

"Just phenomenal," Hernandez said. "He could have directed at any level, and for him to stay and be a local guy was truly a blessing for us, for anybody who watched local sports here in this market."

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