This afternoon is the final of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, PA. A number of MLB players have passed through Lamade Statium on the way to the top. Todd Frazier of the Reds, who recently put up his 30th home run, made a name in the late ’90s as his home town team, Toms River won the Series. That earned them an invitation to Yankee Stadium, where Frazier got to meet his idol Derek Jeter.
Gary Sheffield, later to hit 509 MLB home runs was a pitcher in 1980 with the daunting task of facing Taiwan in the 1980 LLWS final. His Florida team lost, 4-3. Modern Mets’ rookie Michael Conforto made the Little League World Series and has a fighting chance of making the one in October.
To me though, from my blind person’s perspective the most wonderful thing is the array of great announcers who have broadcast this event through the decades. I doubt the kids in 1953 noticed Jim McKay, the then unknown CBS reporter who broadcast the first LLWS Final to be televised. They would know him later as the voice of Wide World of Sports. Today’s Little Leaguers can’t help but notice the ESPN crew-any more than you can avoid noticing ravenous mosquitoes on a Pennsylvania night. The first time I watched the final from Williamsport was in 1979. At 16, it was my first and only chance to hear the great Red Barber on live TV. Up until then I had read two of his books about his baseball career but had little idea what the “Ole RedHead” sounded like. He was paired with the equally iconic Mel Allen. The two had jointly won the Ford C. Frick award from the Hall of Fame the year before-the first time it was given.
ABC’s bowling and boxing expert Chris Schenkel called the final in 1963 when it became a fixture on Wide World of Sports. Jim McKay returned to the controls in 1964–71, with such able cohorts as Bill Veeck, Jackie Robinson, Keith Jackson, Ted Williams and-in his first of several appearances-Howard Cosell. step back and imagine the two volatile personalities of Ted Williams and Howard Cosell for just a moment. What would you give for a recording of that broadcast? Your soul? Me too.
It was another year, another great broadcaster in Williamsport-Jimmy Piersall in 1968, Mickey Mantle and Vin Scully in ’69, (Mantle was a fixture through 1972,) current players Bob Gibson (1973,) and Carlton Fisk (1974,) Brewers’ and ABC broadcaster Bob Ueckerand Al Michaels (1975.) Somebody had a nice sense of irony in 1977, pairing Don Sutton and Reggie Jackson who would face each other, mano a mano in the upcoming Major League World Series. Earl Weaver was on the crew in 1983 and 1984. Earl was the profanity king of baseball with Tommy Lasorda as his crown prince, so ABC neededd a fast finger on the Edit button if Earl got away from the script. Let him drop a swear word on ABC in 1984 and half the parents in America would have suffered apoplexy.
Current player and future World Series winner Jimmy Key covered the game in 1995 and Kirby Pucket followed suit in 1996. The series’ coverage has increased with the advent of ESPN and its family of networks. Now every game from Williamsport and many of the regionals leading up to it are covered. Today, Karl Ravech and Nomar Garciaparra will broadcast the final-their fourth consecutive championship game broadcast. A local team from Lewisberry, barely2 hours from Williamsport faces the always menacing Japanese entry. With the locals playing, the already large crowd should swell to some 45,000 as it was yesterday for the US final when the Keystone kids beat Pearland, Texas. Whether today’s little hero is Chayton Krauss, Braden Kolmansberger, Cole Wagner or any of their teammates, their escapades will be described by some of the best in the business. That’s how it should be-but that’s just baseball as I see it.