When A Great Voice Goes Silent

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The first thing I felt when I heard last night that Jim Simpson had died was unhappiness. Then, I could only be grateful for all the years I got to listen to him and all the exciting games he broadcast. His voice was as smooth as Chuck Thompson’s if not as deep. I first heard him covering the 1971 World Series with Bob Prince and Bill O’Donnell. From there on I listened to him whenever I knew he was on the radio covering baseball.  His last World Series was 1974, and two years later NBC lost the rights to the World Series.

James Shores Simpson, of Washington, DC was heard on radio as early as 1952 covering the Helsinki Olympics for CBS radio. He was already a well-known figure on NBC before he ever called a game of baseball-a sport he said he did not enjoy.  He and Lindsey Nelson were at the Yale Bowl in New Haven on Nov. 22, 1963 preparing to do the NBC-TV broadcast of the annual football fixture between Harvard and Yale. When they got word of the assassination of President Kennedy, they walked through the tunnel at Yale Bowl, and Simpson said “We’ll remember this walk and this moment  for a long time.” His first All-Star game on NBC radio was in 1966. In 1967 he called the 15-inning classic at Anaheim. in 1970 he described Pete Rose rolling a shoulder into Ray Fosse in the 12th inning to win that midsummer classic. Can you see Mike Trout whamming into Buster Posey that way in 2016? Simpson called Reggie Jackson’s monster home run in the 1971 All-Star game at Detroit, the first one I even listened to part of. At Camp Marcella where I went, radios weren’t allowed-but on the night of the All-Star game the counselors looked the other way for a while as we sat in a huddle, all leaning forward to catch the faint signal as Simpson and Koufax described the action.  Simpson’s  first World Series came in 1969 when the Mets dismantled the Orioles. He covered the five fall classics that would follow, seeing the Orioles and Pirates win one each and the Oakland A’s take 3 in a row. He covered baseball with Tony Kubek, Sandy Koufax, Ralph Kiner, Bill O’Donnell, Al Michaels, Monty Moore and Vin Scully in those years. Meantime on the TV side he had made a name as an NBC football play-by-play man second to Curt Gowdy. My brother-in-law recalled him calling Jets games when Joe Namath was their stud quarterback.

Jim Simpson was the first play-by-play voice heard when ESPN began operations. He and Dick Vitale covered the new network’s  first college basketball game. Along with NCAA hoops, he covered the College World Series from Omaha for a number of years as ESPN grew and began to gain the credibility that makes them the titan of sports TV they are now. It is with a heavy heart that I write these words of tribute to a broadcaster whose voice meant a game was special enough for NBC to cover it. R I P Jim Simpson.

Two baseball players turn 25 today. One is the Phillies’ Aaron Altherr. He hit the first inside-the-park grand slam in 16 years on Sept. 25, as the Phillies pounded Washington 8-2. He is originally from Germany, where his mom was in the military and his dad played professional soccer.

Also turning 25 is the Cardinals’ Stephen  Piscotty. He started going to baseball games at Stanford when he was small, and attended Stanford rather than taking a chance with the Dodgers. Instead of being a 45th-rounder with them he was taken by the Cardinals in round 1 in 2012. 2015 was his first taste of the major leagues. He and Peter Bourjos were in a frightening collision in a game against the Pirates. The footage was deemed too grim for one St. Louis TV station to run. But showing the resilience of youth he played and hit a home run in the first game of the NLDS, which the Cards ended up dropping to the Cubs in 4 games.

Also two active players are 32. One is Eric Johan Aybar of the Braves. He played his entire career with the Angels before being traded for Andrelton Simmons. Sadly, what should have been his Sports Center moment wasn’t shown on ESPN. In the 2006 Caribbean Series final, as his native Dominican Republic played Venezuela, a fly ball bounced off his head. The batter circled the bases with the game-winning run. With the Angels he won a gold glove in 2011 and was an All-Star in 2014.

The other man who can now claim 32 years is Mike Pelfrey. Five weeks ago he signed a two-year deal with the Tigers for $16 million. This with a 61-81 major league record. He’s been in the majors since 2006, with the Mets until 2012 and the Twins from 2013-15.  The Mets took him in round 1 instead of Andrew McCutcheon or Jay Bruce. In His final year with the Mets, 2012 he needed Tommy John Surgery.The Twins took a risk that didn’t work out, signing him for major $$ after the operation. Now the Tigers are doing the same. If that’s how much an ineffective, oft-injured pitcher costs, the price tag for a good pitcher is scary.

Finally, I have to end this difficult edition with a story I find highly funny. The AA New Britain Rock Cats of the Eastern League told the world they were leaving for nearby Hartford for 2017, to become the Hartford YardGoats. They would play in Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Well, when the construction foreman said “Time to make the donuts, the workmen moved too slow and the park cost too much. It seems the park won’t be ready until at least_ mid-May. The price is $10 million over budget. The city doesn’t want to pay it, neither do the developers who are building this fiasco in the nation’s insurance capital. I find all this funny because I never wanted New Britain’s team to vacate. When it was a Twins’ team, a small, pretty girl wrote a letter asking to be an intern. Said letter went into the trash-where my broadcast partner found it. He rescued it, contacted her and she began doing radio commercials and interning for us. That was in April, 1995. By November 1996 I had proposed to her, and we were married a year later.  At the end of every home game at New Britain Stadium in 1996, she would give me a kiss good-night, a kiss to build a dream on.  While our marriage has ended, I still didn’t want the stadium where we found each other to be without its AA team, now a Rockies’ affiliate. The town didn’t want it to leave either, and I guess those in the know are laughing up their sleeves at the travails the Hartford YardGoats now have to face.

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  • Tom M. Thomas
    January 14, 2016

    New Britain Stadium is now home to the indie Atlantic League Bees. I will be attending their games, not the old Rock Cats’.

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