A Moment for Milo

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I had no idea who Milo Hamilton was the first time I heard his voice. I had just turned 11. Getting ready for school in New Jersey on that April morning, April 9, 1974 I had the radio on, and heard these famous words. “He’s sittin’ on 714. Here’s the pitch by Downing, Swinging, there’s a drive into left center field.”   All baseball fans know what came next, the home run by Henry Aaron that broke Babe Ruth’s holy of holies, the career home run record.

Leland Milo Hamilton, who died yesterday at age 88 was as unassuming, and just as quietly great  as the mighty  slugger from Alabama who hit that home run. Hamilton graduated from University of Iowa, the school that brought to the sports world the iconic Phillies’ broadcaster Harry Kalas and football player and commentator Alex Karras. Even before that, sailor Milo Hamilton did his earliest broadcasts on Armed Forces Radio, which had been formed after America joined World War II.

It didn’t take Hamilton long to learn that even by doing his best he couldn’t guarantee job security in baseball. He joined the Browns in 1953. After a year, the Browns left town. He joined the Cardinals. After a year, Milo left town on orders from the Cardinals who wanted Joe Garagiola to broadcast with Harry Caray and Jack Buck. there was a spot with the Cubs alongside Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd. But after 3 years, Hamilton heard the story he’d heard in St. Louis. He was moved aside for another former player, this time Lou Boudreau.

Hamilton took a season of rest from baseball until 1961 when the White Sox brought him back.  He and the self-appointed Commander,  Bob Elson were their voices for the next five seasons. Then came a decade  in Atlanta, with the Braves who had moved south from Milwaukee.  While everybody knows of Aaron’s 715th home run, Hamilton also covered the 1969 Braves who took part in the first NLCS. Even the term “NLCS” was years away. The series had no national radio broadcast contract and wouldn’t until 1976.  The Braves  were favored to beat the Mets, as the Orioles would be in the World Series. Neither the Braves nor the Orioles could conquer  the Miracle Mets.

As long as he had been in baseball, Hamilton did not broadcast for a World Series  team until 1979, and that experience  came with a ton of challenges. He had joined the Pirates as 1976 began, replacing their legendary broadcaster Bob Prince. Nobody wants to follow a legend. Good as he was, he didn’t get good reviews in the Steel City, and left there following the Pirates’ 1979 Series win over the Orioles. Under the rules of the day, Hamilton could broadcast through the Pirates NLCS but not the 1979 World Series. The regulation would change within a few years, but it would be a new century before Hamilton called a Fall Classic.

From Pittsburgh, his Next stop was Wrigley Field for five seasons. In the last of these, 1984 Hamilton again saw his team falter in the NLCS. Unlike the Cubs of 1969 and 2003 they had no Don Young or Steve Bartman to serve as their fall guy. They did their own Jimmy Foxx impersonation and could make no excuses. Ahead 2 games to none in a best 3 of 5, they lost the next 3.   The last 3 seasons, 1982-84  brought Milo  back in touch with Harry Caray, who Hamilton had worked with in 1955-57. Hamilton felt Caray had gotten him run off the air when Ike was president, and at the end of 1984 Cubs’ ownership made it clear why Hamilton was no longer required in the Windy City. Harry Caray wanted him gone.

Hamilton’s final stop would keep him broadcasting longer in one city than all his past assignments  combined. With Astros’ announcer Dewayne Staats bound for Chicago, Hamilton headed for Texas to join his fellow Iowan Gene Elston. There Hamilton stayed. The Astros played in an epic playoff game in 1986 against the Mets, a game they lost in 16 innings. Hamilton’s final year of covering every game was 2005, the year the Astros finally made the World Series. Baseball’s broadcasting rules had changed, and where he wasn’t allowed to cover the 1979 world series for the Pirates, he was heard on KTRH in Houston with Dave Raymond covering the 2005 Series.

After that, Hamilton did home games unless a new stadium was being opened.  Up to then he had 55 major league ball parks under  his belt, everything from the original Yankee Stadium, the baseball cathedral to crumbling antiques Forbes Field, Crosley Field and Connie Mack Stadium, all of which fell like dominoes during the Nixon years.  Between 2006 and 2012 he made special excursions to see the openings of the new Busch Stadium, Nationals Park in Washington, Citi Field in New York and Marlins Park in Miami. He had hoped to see either Comerica Park in Detroit or Target Field in Minneapolis this season to make 60 parks. His health would not permit it.

In 60 years, he broadcast more great players than you could put in a book. Just a few are Harry Brecheen, Virgil Trucks, Bob Turley,  Max Lanier, a young  Don Larson, and an ageless Satchel Paige, all with the    1953 St. Louis Browns. They lost 100 games in his rookie year which was their last year in St. Louis. Hamilton called the great deeds of   Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and all the great Yankees in ’53 and ’61-65. He saw the Yankees and the American League’s other stars once interleague play began in 1997. With the Braves he famously called Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, along with calling the amazing Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and decades worth of national league stars. The circle was completed when he called the 2012 Astros-who lost 107 games. What few players they have mostly play elsewhere now: Steve Pearce with the Orioles,  Bud Norris with the Padres, J. A. Happ with the Pirates.   The best of those Astros who still play in Houston are pitcher Dallas Keuchel and infielder Jose Altuve. It’s hard to even imagine how many games and how many players the man who saved his enthusiasm for the best moments, as Bob Elson taught him to do, had seen and illustrated for his listeners. Long after Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, I stayed up desperately late into the night, risking the wrath of my supervisor at Alamo Rentacar to hear Milo and Dave Raymond call the 2005 World Series. Game 2 ended on a walkoff home run, game 3 went 14 innings, the longest game in both time and innings the World Series had ever seen. And Milo Hamilton carried the action around the world. R I P Milo  Hamilton.

 

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