By Michael E. Miller
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Hank Goldberg has been called many names throughout his 26-year career hosting talk radio in South Florida: heel, sorehead, jerk, cretin, to cite just a few of the epithets his listeners, rivals, and even some admirers use to describe the 64-year-old radio personality.
But since his early days at WIOD-AM (610) in the late Seventies, where he spent fifteen years before joining rival station WQAM (560) in 1992, South Florida sports fans have come to know Goldberg as simply "The Hammer." It's a moniker dreamed up by fellow talk-show host and sports journalist Joe Zagacki, who was impressed with Goldberg's propensity to lose his temper with callers and wallop them with insults. "I guess it had something to do with my on-air demeanor," Goldberg acknowledged during a recent interview. "I'd just come in when [current CNN host] Larry King left WIOD. Before he left, Larry told me to never suffer the fools. Unless they had something significant to say, he advised me, just get rid of 'em. Well, I didn't have a great bedside manner in getting rid of 'em, so Zagacki started calling me 'The Hammer.' It stuck."
Yet Henry Edward Goldberg offers South Florida sports fans more than tired talk-radio shtick. Yes, he badgers, goads, and provokes his audience, but he's also a brainy journalist who backs up his on-air diatribes with hard facts and a good deal of common sense. That credibility has allowed the Newark, New Jersey native to forge lasting relationships with local sports icons and political power brokers alike, including former Miami Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson and Miami City Manager Joe Arriola. At the same time, Goldberg's not afraid to criticize those in either sector, and he's certainly not necessarily the home team's cheerleader. His talk show doubles as a bully pulpit against arrogance and subterfuge by sports franchise owners. In 1996, for example, he blasted the public referendum that led to the construction of the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat. Team owner Micky Arison covered the construction costs, but a deal with Miami-Dade County (the land beneath the arena is publicly owned) called for scarce tourism tax dollars to pay for the maintenance and operations of the Triple A. Alex Penelas, who was running to become the county's first executive mayor, capitalized on public outcry against the deal and won the election that October, just a month before the referendum. But behind the scenes, he was negotiating with Arison for a better deal; scant days before the arena vote, he reversed his position and urged voters to back the facility. To this day, Goldberg criticizes Arison for pumping $3.7 million into promoting the confusing ballot question, in which a "no" vote actually approved use of public funds for the new arena. And to this day, he calls Penelas a "lying little weasel" for switching sides.
Then in 1997, Goldberg ran into trouble with the management at WQAM, which broadcasts the Florida Marlins' games. He'd been criticizing then-team owner Wayne Huizenga of misleading the public about the franchise's finances; it got him suspended for two weeks from his 3:00-7:00 p.m. weekday talk show. Nonetheless, when he returned to work, he refused to sign a pledge not to criticize the Marlins or their management.
For the past ten months, Goldberg has come out swinging against efforts by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to build a publicly funded stadium with an estimated price tag of $325 million next door to Miami's Orange Bowl. The Marlins began negotiations with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County during the team's successful World Series run last September. County officials agreed to help the Marlins by contributing -- again -- tourism tax dollars to the construction of a new stadium. The City of Miami agreed to contribute public land and offered two city-owned sites: the Miami Arena in downtown or the Orange Bowl in Little Havana.
Initially the Marlins rejected the Orange Bowl site, but when no other municipality stepped forward to offer public land, Loria and team president David Samson accepted the city's offer. In early May the Marlins, the city, and the county agreed to a deal-in-principle to build the baseball stadium, along with an estimated $32 million parking garage. The city and the county will be contributing $148 million in public land and tourism tax proceeds to the project. The Marlins have pledged $157 million, $127 million of that financed through a county bond that the Marlins will pay back through a long-term lease with the county, which will own the stadium. The bond will be covered by the stadium's future revenues. To cover the balance, the Marlins want to secure a $30 million sales tax break from the state legislature. According to the preliminary deal, the city and the Marlins have also agreed to finance the construction of the garage by issuing a bond financed with the garage's future parking revenues.
When the stadium subject comes up on Goldberg's radio show, as it often does, he rattles off the reasons the public should not pay, from the Marlins' perilous financial situation to the team's failure to hire a lobbyist in Tallahassee who could have helped secure its request for a tax break. The latter criticism prompted Samson to call in to Goldberg's show to rebut the charges.