He's trying to tell these people how lucky they are to have their health, not to be like his mother, not to be like Jimmy Vee, not to be like the kids who write to him from hospital beds. It sounds like schmaltz, but it is too schmaltzy to be schmaltz. His shirt is soaked in sweat. He has probably given this speech 300 times, and he still gets tears in his eyes. And 35 minutes later, the people wonder how long it will take for that ringing to go away.
Vitale has seen sorrow at every turn of his life. Growing up, he watched his mother try to walk to Mass every day with tuberculosis, failing kidneys and a rheumatic heart. After he was married, he hurt for Lorraine, who during an earlier marriage had to spend days in a maternity ward watching new mothers feed their babies, knowing she would deliver a stillborn child. Several years later, when Dick and Lorraine's first daughter, Terri, came out healthy, he cried. When he got the call from Jimmy Vee saying he had cancer, they cried together on the phone. "You look at a guy like that, so full of life, and then he's just struck down, and your heart breaks!" Vitale says. "And you think, My God, that could be me!"
In December, when the doctors told Lorraine about the lump, she didn't tell Dick for the first three days. "I knew he'd start panicking," she remembers. When she finally told him, he drove the lab people nuts, calling on the half hour for results. When the lump turned out to be benign, Dick and Lorraine cried.
No wonder Richie the Worrier's emotions go coast-to-coast. No wonder everybody he meets has "beeyootiful eyes" or "that great smile." No wonder he can't help but call and cry with the sick kids he hears about, then cram their hospital rooms with gifts. Like Peter Boone's room in Indianapolis. Peter, 18, hasn't spoken for seven years. Instead, he clicks with his tongue. Born with spina bifida, he has had 60 operations and was going for 61 when Vitale sent him books, tapes and a basketball, then mentioned his name on the air.
Unbelievable, eh, Pete? Click.
Were you amazed at what Mr. Vitale did for you? Click.
He's your favorite broadcaster, huh? Click, click, click.
In Tampa, Dave Phillips, a starter on the Chamberlain High School basketball team, learned recently that he has a rare form of malignant lymphoma. Vitale not only sent him the usual assortment of whaddyacallits, but he also phoned the kid, worked to get one of the boy's heroes, Charlie Ward, to call him, and arranged for Dave and his family to see the Phoenix Suns play the Orlando Magic in March if Dave is up to it. The boy's aunt, Barbara Gray, said Vitale's call "was like a hand that came out of nowhere and just reached in and pulled Dave up."
You think those boys think Dick Vitale talks too much?