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06/14/08 2:26 AM ET

Late Russert left mark on baseball

'Meet the Press' host was board member of Hall of Fame

Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press" and a board member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, collapsed and died of a heart attack at work in the network's Washington, D.C., Bureau on Friday. He was 58.

Russert was elected to the Hall's Board of Directors in 2003.

"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Tim's sudden passing," said National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "He was an integral member of our Board of Directors and its executive committee, and he cared about the Hall of Fame and its mission so much. We'll miss Tim's critical thinking and his unsurpassed passion for the game tremendously."

Russert sat on the Board with Hall of Fame players Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver, Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, Cardinals general partner Bill DeWitt and Royals owner David Glass.

"I join millions of others in mourning Tim's passing," Steinbrenner said. "He loved the game of baseball and was a true friend of the Yankees and mine. Tim always batted in the cleanup spot for the media and always hit for the fences. May God bless him and his family."

Russert said he was thrilled when he was selected to the Hall of Fame Board.

"Baseball has been central to my life, as a son and as a father," he said at the time. "I am honored to join the Board of the Hall of Fame to help preserve the history of baseball and educate a new generation about the glory of the game."

Selig issued the following statement:

"I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. He was one of the great journalists of our generation and a great fan of baseball. His untimely passing leaves a great void for our nation and Major League Baseball. All of us in Major League Baseball mourn Tim, and we send our sympathy and condolences to his family and friends."

According to MSNBC's Web site, Russert was taken to local Sibley Memorial Hospital. Michael A. Newman, Russert's internist, said that resuscitation was begun immediately and continued at the hospital, but to no avail.

After an autopsy, Newman said cholesterol plaque ruptured in an artery, causing sudden coronary thrombosis and almost instant death because that artery feeding the heart became clogged, stopping the blood supply to the heart.

Russert had earlier been diagnosed with asymptomatic coronary artery disease, but it was being controlled with medication and exercise, and he had performed well on a stress test in late April, Newman said. The autopsy revealed that he also had an enlarged heart, MSNBC reported.

Russert had just returned from a family vacation to Italy and was doing voiceovers for Sunday's program when he collapsed. Tom Brokaw, a friend and former NBC anchor, is scheduled to host a special edition of the show on Sunday in Russert's honor.

Considering Russert's close relationship with his father, the death, coming a few days before Father's Day, is particularly poignant.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Russert wrote several books about his dad, whom he lovingly referred to as "Big Russ." He penned "Big Russ and Me" in 2004, and "Wisdom of our Fathers" in 2006.

Russert grew up a Yankees fan and was a Nationals season-ticket holder. He was also well known for his love of the Buffalo Bills, a team he spoke about often on the Sunday political program during the football season. But he never saw his Bills win the Super Bowl. That team lost the National Football League championship game four consecutive times from 1991-94.

Russert's passion for baseball was evident when he moderated a debate between Red Sox Nation presidential candidates last fall.

Larry Lucchino, the president of the Red Sox, mourned the death of a man whose career began as the press secretary to the late New York Sen. Daniel Moynihan. Russert joined NBC in 1984 and began his run on "Meet the Press" in 1991.

"On behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner and the entire Boston Red Sox organization, I express our deep sadness and profound grief at the news of the passing of Tim Russert," Lucchino said. "Tim was a passionate fan of baseball, a great friend of the Red Sox and a dear and beloved personal friend to many of us."

Russert first purchased his Nationals season tickets in 2005, the season the team move south from Montreal and played at RFK Stadium, returning Major League baseball to the nation's capital for the first time since 1971.

At the end of that season, Russert emceed a black-tie gala hosted by the Nationals. All proceeds from the event benefited the ballclub's charitable arm, which is dedicated to serving the greater Washington community.

"I think Tim was a great guy -- he was obviously a fan of baseball and the Washington Nationals," said right-hander Jason Bergmann, who was at the '05 banquet and still pitches for the team now. "He was a well-respected man in political circles. We appreciated him. He will sorely be missed."  

The Nationals also offered this statement: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of renowned journalist Tim Russert. Tim was a dedicated friend and fan of the Washington Nationals. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Russert family during this time of great loss."

Prior to the Nationals' move to D.C., Russert was a frequent visitor to Baltimore's Camden Yards. Before Friday night's Orioles game against the Pirates, a pregame moment of silence was held to honor Orioles minority owner and legendary sportscaster Jim McKay's passing last weekend. Afterward, Russert's death was acknowledged by the public-address announcer.

Russert loved to brush elbows with baseball's elite.

In 2004, Russert, who conducted a weekend interview show that appeared on CNBC, featured a panel including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer and Roger Clemens. The show was shot in front of a live audience at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a guest on "Meet the Press" during his aborted run at the Republican Presidential nomination when he was pressured by Russert's trademark questioning style, said he admired the longtime journalist.

"I talked about baseball with him all the time," said Giuliani, a voracious Yankees fan, who was at their game on Friday night in Houston. "I actually made a few bets with him on baseball. We're going to miss him, tremendously. Tim Russert was a good friend of mine. I was just with [him] on May 28. We did a program together at [New York's] Radio City Music Hall with him, John Edwards and me. He interviewed us live. 

"He was just a remarkable journalist. Most of all, he was a really fine human being. He loved baseball, he loved life and most of all, he loved his family."

Russert was also a political commentator on MSNBC and was regularly seen throughout the primary season, which ended earlier this month with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain as the presumptive nominees for their respective parties. Russert's last "Meet the Press" aired this past Sunday and was a round-table discussion about Hillary Clinton's departure from the Democratic race and the Obama-McCain confrontation.

His signature signoff for the program was always, "If it's Sunday, then it's Meet the Press." This Sunday and for every Sunday after that, the show will sadly continue without him.

"He left us far, far too soon, but he leaves a gigantic legacy of professionalism, journalistic excellence, authenticity and friendship that will inspire us and generations to follow us," Lucchino added. "Red Sox Nation mourns the loss of Tim Russert more than we can express."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.