Tuesday, May 15, 2012 12:00 AM

Clemson Smith Muniz: a leader in Spanish sports broadcasting

It is a Monday morning, and Clemson Smith Muniz (C ’79) sounds a lot more energetic on the phone than he did the night before.

On Sunday, the New York Jets had battled the Miami Dolphins in a grueling game that was not decided until a Jets field goal in overtime. Smith Muniz described every excruciating detail as the play-by-play voice of “Los Jets en espanol.”

“That was a tough one,” the former DP co-sports editor is saying.

“The game was sloppy, and the Jets played poorly. I began with the pre-game show, at 12:30 -- and then there was the post-game show. I broadcast for five hours straight.”

He has the DP to blame. It launched him into what would become a career as one of the leading Spanish-language sports announcers in America.

Smith Muniz was among the first sports broadcasters hired when ESPN created its first Spanish-language sister network, ESPN International.

He also was the first play-by-play announcer in Spanish for the New York Knicks; the first to call games in Spanish for the Jets, St. John’s basketball and Army football; and the first to broadcast Yankees, Mets and Detroit Tigers games in Spanish on television.

So many firsts, Smith Muniz is listed in the New York Historical Society’s Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports.

For many play-by-play announcers, broadcasting is the realization of a life-long dream. Yet, broadcasting and journalism were not on Smith Muniz’s radar when he landed at Penn as a freshman from Puerto Rico in 1975.

“As a kid I didn’t even think of becoming a journalist. But the DP ran its annual ad looking for freshmen and sophomores, and I went to the meeting,” he says.

“Those were the days of typewriters, yellow sheets of paper and editors changing your copy with green felt-tipped pens. My first story was about intramurals. Ed Weist was the deputy sports editor, and he said, ‘Not bad, but where are the quotes?’ And I said, ‘What are quotes?’ ”

Smith Muniz was a quick study, becoming co-sports editor in 1978. But his goal was to be a foreign correspondent and win a Pulitzer Prize. So after graduating with a B.A. in History, he took as job as a City Desk reporter for the Hartford Courant.

Two years later, when an editor left to lead the sports department, Smith Muniz decided to go with him. He agonized for three days, he said, but the offer of becoming the Courant’s Yankees beat reporter was just too great to turn down.

He then worked at the New York Daily News and -- in a move that would eventually lead to his career as a Spanish broadcaster -- as the New York sports correspondent for El Pais, the largest newspaper in Spain.

“I went to Penn and had to work on my English to get into the journalism business -- and then in the late ‘80s, I had to switch gears and work to improve my Spanish,” he says.

The launching of ESPN International provided another opportunity.

“I was the first full-time sports guy they hired. Nobody had the sports background that I had -- covering Super Bowls, the Olympics and other sporting events,” he says.

He would work at the cable channel for eight years.  

“I learned to be broadcaster. I like to say that I ‘did everything from A to Z’ -- from Australian rules football to wrestling. And I did big events -- NBA, college football, Monday Night Football. I got a lot of experience. It was fun.”

Smith Muniz still works some national broadcasts, including calling one baseball game each week, in Spanish, for the MLB Network. “You can listen to Bob Costas, or you can listen to me,” he laughs.

Smith Muniz, who lives in Garrison, N.Y., north of New York City, also owns Smith Muniz Productions, which works with teams, leagues, networks and publishers to reach Hispanics via print, television, radio and the internet.

But he is primarily a local broadcaster now. He’s entering his 13th season calling Jets games and he’s closing in on 20 years broadcasting for the Knicks.

“I know New York. I live in New York. I think it is more fulfilling,” he explains.

Plus, the work is steadier:  If your network loses the rights to broadcast, say, the NBA, or the NFL, you can quickly lose your job, he says.

A special delight is his gig broadcasting Army football games.

“College football in the fall in the Hudson Valley: The pageantry, the tradition, in the last bastion of amateurism in the country,” he says.

His voice grows animated -- with no hint of fatigue after his Jets-Dolphins marathon -- as he describes the scene, sounding like a true broadcaster.

-- Joel Siegel

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