Hank Goldberg, a legend across television, radio, sports, and entertainment, passed away on July 5, following a seven-year battle with chronic kidney disease. Goldberg turned 82 on the day of his passing.
Better known as “Hammerin’ Hank,” Goldberg was a handicapping expert at ESPN for twenty years, boasting a record of .500 or better on 15 of the 17 NFL seasons he predicted while at the desk for ESPN. Goldberg wore many hats during his career; he was a regular on NFL Countdown, ESPN Radio, ESPN’s Daily Wager show, and the network’s thoroughbred racing coverage expert. Most recently, he could be found at CBS’ Sports HQ or Sportsline, as a prominent reporter and handicapper.
Early Career and Background
Goldberg was born on July 4, 1940 in Newark, New Jersey. A son of a great sportswriter, Hy Goldberg, a young Goldberg was exposed to sporting events and sports reporting from early on. In fact, every year, Goldberg would miss school for seven weeks and travel to Florida with their dad to cover spring training for the Yankees. Here, he met Joe DiMaggio, who would become a lifelong friend to Goldberg.
In the summer of 1958, Goldberg visited a thoroughbred horse racing track in Oceanport, New Jersey, and it was there that he placed his first bet. Unsurprisingly, he won $450 by hitting the daily double, which is equivalent to roughly $4,580 today. Several years later in 1966, Goldberg moved to Miami to work in advertising, and help the Miami Dolphins’ public relations department with administrative tasks and small projects. He eventually found himself filling in for a local radio show intermittently, and his career in radio was born.
His “big break” came in the 1970’s when famous Las Vegas oddsmaker and bettor, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder brought Goldberg on to contribute to his famous newspaper column. After four years of that, Goldberg went on to become the color commentator for the Dolphins radio broadcast, and eventually in 1978, secured his own late-night sports radio talk show on Miami radio station, WiOD. In 1983, he joined NBC television station, WTVJ as a sports commentator and it was here that “Hammerin’ Hank” was born. He would hold all three of these positions simultaneously, until he was let go at WiOD for failing to follow the program director’s instructions. He would then join WiOD’s rival station, WQAM and surpass the former in ratings. He worked at WQAM alongside his other ventures until 2007, when his contract expired.
Rise To Fame
1993 would become the year that Goldberg went from the king of Florida to a national icon for sports and entertainment. He joined ESPN Radio for a show three nights a week and ESPN2 with a gavel that he would hammer down on the desk if he disagreed with a colleague’s take on a game, hence the name, Hammerin’ Hank. It was loud, obnoxious, hilarious, and everybody loved it. He also served as ESPN’s NFL Insider using his connections and information from his experiences. Goldberg cultivated a career at ESPN that spanned two decades and influenced multiple generations of sports fans.
May 2018 would become another huge year for Goldberg as the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting, allowing states to regulate their own sports betting markets at their discretion. Two months after, the 78-year old moved to Las Vegas to continue his career after 52 years in Florida.
He quickly joined SportsLine and CBS Sports HQ to pick NFL, college football and college basketball games, as well as big horse races. This is also when he picked up with ESPN again, providing his picks for “Daily Wager.” But that’s not all – over the next few years, he offered NFL analysis for VegasInsider, was a regular guest on Jim Feist’s gambling podcast, gave Triple Crown handicapping advice on the Rich Eisen Show, and even appeared as an expert panelist at his local casino, Sunset Station. His move to Las Vegas proved productive.
Despite his tenacity and his constant pursuit of something bigger, Goldberg had struggles that he endured throughout his last few years of work. In 2015, he was diagnosed with kidney failure as a result of diabetes. He underwent dialysis several days a week for several hours a day, immediately after being diagnosed, however his move to Nevada made him ineligible for a transplant in the state because of his age. Complications of his diabetes eventually lead to severe nerve damage in his right leg which would result in the amputation of that leg, below the knee, in October 2021.
During this time however, Goldberg didn’t miss a beat at work. From his bed in the hospital, he correctly picked the top two horses in May’s Preakness Stakes for SportsLine, and even had published picks for last month’s Belmont Stakes. While he and his picks will be missed, his legacy transcends time.
Goldberg will be remembered for his controversial takes, commanding voice, gregarious nature, change-for-no-one mentality, and likability in front of the camera. Between dating Katie Couric, partying with Dan Merino, and playing golf with Sandy Koufax, he truly did it all, and influenced several generations and industries in the process. Over the years he also developed his infamous black book which held contact information to some of entertainment’s biggest names from sports legends like Joe Namath and Mike Eruzione to famed actors like Clint Eastwood.
These contacts were a critical part of his betting routine, which almost always included advice from someone in the black book. In fact, his biggest win was thanks to longtime friend and horse trainer, Nick Zito, who was training a horse, Birdstrone, that was coming off an eighth-place finish at the 2004 Kentucky Derby, for that year’s Belmont Stakes. Zito promised a late hustle from Birdstone for the win. Birdstrone was posted at 36-1 odds when they left the starting gate. Goldberg won $24,000.
Rest in peace to one of the greatest personalities that the sports world has ever known. Keep hammering, Hank!