MLB, sports broadcasting mourn loss of Gabay

Executive who helped grow baseball's global presence had countless friends on and off the field

MLB, sports broadcasting mourn loss of Gabay

Russell Gabay was a family man, a baseball lifer and a sports broadcasting lifer. And, to his closest friends and co-workers, he was a great person.

Gabay, the vice president and executive producer of international broadcasting for Major League Baseball for the last 20 years, suffered a heart attack and passed away suddenly Saturday night at the age of 59.

He leaves behind a wife, Liz, daughters Samantha and Sydney, and a stunned and saddened legion of friends and colleagues who have nothing but the highest praise for a man full of zest and passion for life whose devotion to his loved ones, his work and the game of baseball truly set him apart.

"Clearly, the world is less fun today than it was before," said Paul Archey, former head of MLB International, current president of sports and campus marketing at the University of Kentucky, and a friend and co-worker of Gabay's for 15 years.

"Russ was one of a kind. You go through life, and one of your fears is that you'll never make an impact on people. Russ made a huge impact. On a lot of people."

After a crushing weekend, those people expressed their anguish at the tragedy of such a bright and vibrant personality being taken from them at such a young age.

"For over 20 years, many of us worked closely with Russell as he oversaw MLB International's broadcast operations," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "His many contributions to growing MLB's global presence leave a significant legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Russell's family and many friends during this difficult time."

Added MLB Network president Rob McGlarry: "Russ was a dedicated colleague who loved the game, particularly conveying its passion to audiences around the world. We appreciate his longtime service to MLB International and, in recent years, to MLB Network. We mourn his passing and extend our deepest condolences to his family."

Gabay grew up in New Jersey and attended the University of Hartford, where he majored in communications. He parlayed a love of sports into a job as an operations producer for the fledgling television network known as ESPN, and after eight years of cutting his teeth with camerawork and audio and production, he moved on to HBO Sports, where he served as director of East Coast production and delved heavily into the cable network's boxing coverage.

In 1996, Gabay, a huge baseball fan, landed his dream job. Over the next two decades, he headed up international coverage of the league's jewel events such as the postseason and the All-Star Game. He traveled the globe as MLB branched out to Asia, Europe and Australia with ever-expanding initiatives including the World Baseball Classic, winter All-Star tours and Opening Series in Tokyo, China and Sydney and other exotic outposts hungry for a taste of America's national pastime.

Gabay tirelessly and fearlessly took MLB's "world feed" and helped grow it into a booming business while building a dedicated team. But no one was more loyal than Gabay, said his longtime co-worker and friend, MLB Network vice president of remote operations Tom Guidice.

"One thing about Russ that always resonated with me is the world feed crew he put together ... and kept together," Guidice said. "He got this group together to produce the world feed for the All-Star Game, and the core crew -- the directors, operations folks, producers, technicians, camera guys, tape guys -- he was extremely proud of all of them. There was nothing more important to Russ than a sense of team.

"And it was infectious. The entire crew would pretty much come back every year. That's almost unheard of in this business."

Gabay was quirky. He was opinionated. He was verbose. He was lovable.

He would volunteer every year for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and wind up in colorful costumes as part of the annual event's legendary floats.

He would barge into Archey's office unannounced, his entrances bringing to mind those of Kramer in "Seinfeld," and glowingly report the events of his daughter's weekend soccer game, where he proudly helped referee or line the field.

"Russ was a great guy, a great husband and dad, and just a very fair, very calm, very kind and very considerate person," said famed broadcaster Gary Thorne, a friend who worked with Gabay for the last 20 years on MLB's international broadcasts.

"He's simply somebody you wanted to share time with and talk to and have dinner with."

And when it came to getting the job done, Gabay was also as professional and reliable as they come. Thorne said he and Gabay had a running joke about how Gabay was so prepared ahead of time that at the end of Spring Training in March he'd already have the open written for the All-Star Game in July. And it wasn't a total stretch.

During the 2015 World Series, when FOX Sports' domestic live feed of Game 1 vanished during the fourth inning, Gabay sprung to action, helping to get the world feed live as FOX worked to get back online from a power generator failure.

"It was a pretty organized and civil process actually; no one had their hair on fire," Gabay said at the time. "Everyone was incredibly professional. Everyone knew what had to get done and stayed in their lanes. It's great that we can have each other's back."

That's what everyone who knew him is saying about Gabay as they struggle to find ways to somehow ease the blow of this inexplicable loss.

"He was one of those guys that really valued his friendships within baseball," said longtime friend and co-worker Don Hintze, MLB.com's vice president of consumer media. "If you had any hardships in your life, he'd be the first person standing outside their door."

Hintze remembers in particular how proud Gabay was of the launch and success of the World Baseball Classic. At the final of the inaugural Classic at Petco Park in San Diego in 2006, in fact, Gabay's pride could literally be heard throughout the ballpark. He had helped organize the composition and performance of original, Olympics-like fanfare music.

"Everyone liked him," Thorne says. "There was nothing to dislike. When you think about it, there are not many people you can honestly say that about."

A memorial fund has been established for Russ's family via Sports Video Group. Visit the main Sports Broadcasting Fund page at sportsbroadcastingfund.org/donate/, where there are two options: one to donate to the general fund and another for the Russell Gabay Memorial Fund. Clicking on the Russell Gabay Memorial Fund will take a visitor to a page for either a PayPal or credit card donation. It reads that the donation is to the Alma Foundation, which oversees the fund and the money will be automatically sent into a separate fund for the Gabay family.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.