A storied existence


Dream often rush toward the drain, with feverish attempts to keep them from the dreaded location frequently leading people to realize they must settle for far less captivating careers and pursuits. Able to actualize his most fervent vision, Bill Werndl has spent more than five decades plying his trade as an esteemed media figure, with his recollection of amazing experiences and regard for the inspirational individuals behind them calling him to co-author “No Curveballs: My Greatest Sports Stories Never Told.”

“It’s something I think many people will be able to sink their teeth into,” the 70-year-old scribe said of his brainchild with fellow sports media presence Joe Vallee. “It offers real insights about the business, the heart, and the soul of the athletic world, and I’m proud to put it out there, especially for those who can remember the times when that universe was more about the last two parts than it was the first element.”

The wordsmiths saw three-and-a-half-years of hard work come to fruition Sept. 21. Werndl, thanks to a journey that started 50 years ago in the spring, is enlisting 29 chapters to reinforce not only his irresistible interest in performers’ feats but also the city’s charms in inspiring such devotion.

“For all of the star players who have come through town, you’ll find a ton of journalists who are fortunate for the chances to have come across them, interact with them, and count them as friends,” Werndl said. “There’s no mystery about what helps guys to get by when they put on a uniform for one of the Philly teams; it’s guts and determination. The opportunity to relay some tales from my time inside and outside of Philadelphia and how those interactions are unforgettable parts of my identity set my mind going.”

His active thought center, therefore, loved recalling the plentiful South Philly-situated contests teeming with legendary hires all with desires to work toward claiming championships and waving at parades. With Delaware County roots, he found himself hopelessly devoted to wishing for the success of the City of Brotherly Love’s athletic upholders of pride and productivity. His book’s website notes the transformational rapport that he established with titans such as former Phillie Pete Rose, a huge component of the franchise’s 1980 run to the World Series title and Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader; ex-Eagles coach Dick Vermeil; and the Broad Street Bullies clubs, whose courtesy toward him still seems as delicious to his soul as championship libations felt to their lips in their Stanley Cup-champion heyday.

“The loss of that link between players and the reporters and broadcasters who want to publicize their gifts and reactions to wins and losses is unfortunate,” he said in pondering how social media and the possibility of causing controversies have strained exchanges over the years. “I think guys from bygone periods had more engaging natures, and the book covers that and wonders where we’re headed as fans and chroniclers of athletes’ performances.

“Having been at this for so long, I’ve seen the changes and pondered what motivates owners, athletes, and regular folks to be unable to refuse the allure of sports. I think I had some things to say about that complexity while also considering the simplicity. “‘No Curveballs’ is my tribute to what has kept me employed and content.”

Werndl wandered into the wonderful world of sports as a Sharon Hill-reared youth, with an infatuation for statistics starting him on a path that has produced tales that could tame even the most undisciplined attention span.

“I knew I didn’t want to have one of the go-to careers like a doctor or a lawyer,” he said of other options’ inability to spur him. “I liked being around sports and knew that somehow, I could make my enthusiasm pay off.”

The prescient professional scored his first interview for WFIL Radio, the future WPVI/Channel 6, shortly after starting in its mailroom, engaging hoops legend Wilt Chamberlain when the Philly-bred center played for the 76ers. The next 30 years solidified him as a voice of reason, even when his messages included a bit more honesty than one might have desired, including his assertion to Ron Jaworski that the Eagles should part ways with the struggling quarterback during the ’86 season. Twelve years earlier, Werndl had made history in becoming the first full-time sports producer in the coveted Philadelphia market.

“There were so many great people who entered my life when I was first in Philly,” the appreciative septuagenarian said of bonds that include an endearing friendship with South Philly Review columnist Tom Cardella, whom he credits for helping him to land co-host duties for WYSP’s Birds pre- and post-game shows. “By no means am I ready to hang it up, but I do love looking back and giving nods to everyone who has made a contribution to my success not only as a broadcaster but also as a man. That recognition is the reason for this book.”

Fate has allowed Werndl to be a regular enjoyer of alphabet soup, as CBS, ABC, ESPN, NBC, and FOX have employed him. Feeling that life begins at 50, he collected more letters in July ’96, moving to San Diego to work for XTRA 690 AM. Ratings darlings, he and Steve Hartman became the Loose Cannons, with Werndl, dubbed Philly Billy, adding coverage of the ’98 World Series featuring the Padres and color analyst endeavors for the Chargers to his annals. He gained more renown when heading to The Mighty 1090 AM and returned to his original haunt in 2009.

“There’s an undeniable allure that Philly sports have, no matter how many insults the city’s teams face,” Werndl said of the enviable passion of boisterous fans. “We’re blessed to have great athletes with amazing potential that I would love to see net us some championships.”

As for continuing to call on his talent for accentuating action, the fortunate fellow, whom listeners of West Chester’s WCHE 1520 AM and Levittown’s WBCB 1490 AM can hear opine on the state of professional sports, noted “I just want to keep being productive for the rest of my life.”

“Your mind has got to be active,” Werndl, who makes his home with wife Corinne in Chester County, said. “Don’t wait for the undertaker. Keep doing what inspires you, or find new inspiration.” SPR

Visit amazon.com/dp/0692757910

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

Bill Werndl self-published the 232-page paperback last month.

Photo provided by Bill Werndl