NEW YORK — John Saunders, the versatile sportscaster who has hosted ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” for the last 15 years, has died, the network announced Wednesday. He was 61.

Saunders joined ESPN in 1986. The Canadian did play-by-play, led NHL Stanley Cup and World Series coverage on ESPN and ABC, and hosted studio shows for baseball, college football and college basketball.

A cause of death was not announced.

“This tragic news brings us unspeakable sorrow. John was the patriarch of our family and we can’t believe he is gone,” Saunders’ family said in a statement. “We are sincerely touched by the outpouring of support and sadness, which is a reflection of the character and integrity that defined him.

“While we don’t yet have all the specifics, John wasn’t feeling well physically in recent days and sadly, he was unresponsive earlier this morning. We appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers for our cherished father, husband, brother and uncle.”

Saunders took over as host of “The Sports Reporters,” a Sunday morning staple of ESPN programming, after Dick Schaap died in 2001. Saunders played the role of calm traffic cop on the panel show that features three sports journalists volleying opinions on the top sports news of the day.

“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades. His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen,” said the ESPN president, John Skipper, in a statement.

Saunders was also a founding member of the board of directors for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, a charity started by the network after Jim Valvano, a former college basketball coach and ESPN announcer, died of cancer in 1993.

“He was as close to Jimmy V as anybody at ESPN,” said Dick Vitale, who has worked at ESPN for decades with Saunders and considered him one of his closest friends.

Vitale said Saunders was a diabetic but he wasn’t ailing, and that the death of one of his closest friends was unexpected. Saunders has been the master of ceremonies at Vitale’s gala and V Foundation fundraiser in Sarasota, Florida, in 10 of the 11 years that the event has been held.

Saunders started as news director at CKNS Radio in Espanola, Ontario, in 1978. He worked as sports anchor at CKNY-TV in North Bay, Ontario, from 1978 to 1979, and at ATV News in New Brunswick in 1979-80 before he became sports anchor for CITY-TV in Toronto from 1980 to 1982.

Saunders worked as a sports anchor at WMAR-TV in Baltimore from 1982 to 1986 before joining ESPN.