06/06/2008 11:00PM

ABC Sports great Jim McKay dies

Email

Jim McKay, the legendary sportscaster who founded the Maryland Million during the Maryland circuit's heydays in the late 1980s, died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Monkton, Md., according to a statement released by his family. He was 86.

McKay was honored with 13 Emmy Awards during his iconic career with ABC Sports, which included years of serving as the primary host of racing's biggest events, most notably the Kentucky Derby. He also earned great acclaim for hosting the television coverage of 12 Olympic Games and earned two Emmys for his work during the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich.

Born James K. McManus in Philadelphia in 1921, he moved at 15 to Baltimore, where he eventually became a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. After serving as a naval officer in World War II, he got into television in the infancy of the medium, in 1947, and got his first glimpses of national fame as host of the Wide World of Sports anthology beginning in 1961.

Among McKay's innumerable awards were the George Polk Award, the Peabody Award, the Dick Schaap Award, and induction into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He was the first American sportscaster to visit mainland China, and he conducted a landmark interview in 1991 in Cuba with Fidel Castro.

Besides horse racing and the Olympics, McKay also was known for his work on golf, auto racing, soccer, and other sports.

In 1986, McKay helped found the Maryland Million, a program designed to promote the state's breeding and racing industry; the series since has been copied in some form by more than 20 other states. In 1987 at Pimlico, Sean's Ferrari, a 2-year-old colt named for his son, won the Maryland Million Nursery. McKay was a longtime owner and breeder with close ties to Bill Boniface, the trainer of Sean's Ferrari and numerous other winners for McKay.

"Jim was one of the best ambassadors our business could've ever had," Boniface said. "He really enjoyed the Thoroughbred business. As many great sporting events as he was involved in, he would say he enjoyed the Derby and Preakness the most. He really put our sport at the top. Plus he was one of those kind of guys who could talk to a hotwalker the same as the president."

Among McKay's survivors are his wife, Margaret; his son, Sean McManus, a 30-year television veteran who now is the president of the news and sports divisions at CBS; and a daughter, Mary.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.