A Moment for the Best Broadcasters

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Yesterday we all got a look at the Hall of Fame ballots for players.  The winners will be announced on January 18, with Trevor Hoffman,  Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez the most likely candidates as I see it, with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez in the second rank.  However, I’m going to take some column space and write of the finalists for the Ford C. Frick award.  That winner will be announced on December 7, and one of 8 men will win the prize. Of the finalists, 6 are still working while  2 are dead.

The 6 still working are the Mets’ Gary Cohen, the Cubs’ Pat Hughes, Jacques Doucet of the Blue Jays, the White Sox’ Ken Harrelson, DeWayne Staats of the Rays and  the Giants’ Mike Krukow.  Of the 6, Harrelson and Krukow are  the only former players.  Harrelson was an outfielder and  Krukow was a pitcher.

At 64 mike Krukow remains  as sharp at the mike as ever he was, though a neurological issue requires him to now use a cane.  I remember him best as a Cub, which he was from 1976-81. Then he spent a year in Philly after which he joined the Giants. He pitched there through 1989 and has broadcast ever since. He’s done radio on KNBR and is now the tv color man with a daily recorded pregame  radio piece thrown in. On TV he works with former second baseman Duane Kuiper (KyPer.) If he wins I’ll tell you the list of Giants’ broadcasters who already have the Ford C. Frick award under their belt.

The Mets’ Gary Cohen and the Cubs’ Pat Hughes are still working and have been broadcasters from the start of their careers.  Cohen, who is now 58  hails from Queens and went to Columbia University, alma mater of our current president. While Cohen cut his teeth at WKCR radio on the campus, he was a political science major as opposed to broadcasting. He’s been with the Mets since 1989.  just two years after his college graduation he joined the South Atlantic League’s Spartanburg Spinners, where he stayed for two seasons. After not broadcasting in 1985 he was with Durham and then Pawtucket, both in AAA. He has also called football, college hoops and hockey.  To this day he can be heard on WABC when Seton Hall plays. Both CBS radio and later ESPN radio used Cohen for postseason work when the Mets weren’t involved. 3 times he broadcast hockey from the Olympics, the last in 1998. Cohen worked with Bob Murphy until the Hall of Famer retired at the end of 2003.  Starting in 2006 and continuing to the present he does TV for all Mets games.

Pat Hughes, whose legal first name is Virgil has worked for both the Brewers and the Cubs. WGN, WBBM (in 2015)  and then WSCR in Chicago have carried his voice since 1996. Hughes, now 61 began his radio career at San Jose State, turning pro in 1979. After a dozen years with Bob Uecker in Milwaukee, Hughes and the late Ron Santo spent 15 years together in the booth until Santo’s death in 2010. Hughes  has done college hoops and NHL hockey going back to the days of the Minnesota North Stars. Following Santo’s death, Keith Moreland was Hughes’ color man for 3 seasons. Since 2014 it’s been Ron Coomer, another  former big leaguer. At long last Pat Hughes  was able to call the Cubs winning a World Series, which hadn’t happened since 1908.

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is 75 now. A South Carolina native, he’ll never go to Cooperstown on his .239 batting average.  However he’s a candidate for his long years in the booth. He played his best after joining the Red Sox. They were in dire need, as their all-star Tony Conigliaro had been beaned and would never return to form. Harrelson did TV as early as 1969 while he was with the Indians. He began fulltime TV in 1975 with the Red Sox.    He worked with the late and iconic Ned Martin, a fellow candidate on this year’s ballot from 1979–81. He has spent two stints with the White Sox, the latest one starting in 1990 and continuing to this day in a limited way.  He is best known for his decade with Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek. Harrelson and the late Bill King, who is on this year’s ballot were nominated as early as 2007 when the Royals’ Denny Matthews won. Hawk dubbed Frank Thomas “The Big Hurt” when the former Auburn star joined the White Sox. He has hung nicknames on decades of other White Sox great and small.

Dewayne Staats has broadcast the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now Rays)  on TV since their first game in 1998. He had grown up listening to KMOX from St. Louis and idolizing Harry Caray. He got to intern at KMOX though by then Harry was in Chicago with the White Sox.  Staats joined the Astros in 1977 to start his major league career. He was with the Cubs from 1985-89, then the Yankees in their horrific early ’90’s years.  He left them for ESPN after the 1994-95 strike. In 1988 he and Steve Stone did the telecast of Wrigley Field’s first night game though it was washed out by rain. He has also done college football and hoops on ESPN. His first nomination for the Ford C. Frick award came in 2008.

Of the 6 working   broadcasters, the last  I’ll mention is the least known, at least in the United States.  Jacques Ducet spent much of his career broadcasting in French from 1972–2004 in Montreal and is now heard on French-language TV for the Blue Jays. He was a print journalist until he joined the Expos at age 32. He called two perfectos, one victory and defeat for the Expos. Dennis Martinez pitched one against the Dodgers in 1991, and the Yankees’ David Cone twirled a perfecto at the Expos 8 years later. When the Expos moved to Washington Doucet broadcast 6 seasons of an independent team, the Quebec Les Capitales before being summoned back to the bigs with the Blue Jays.   Doucet has written 3 books in French about the game. This is his sixth time as a finalist for the Frick award.

The last two finalists have long departed the scene but are remembered particularly where they were heard nightly. Ned Martin passed away in 2002 at age 78. He spent more than 3 decades with the Red Sox, as well as doing postseason games on both NBC and CBS radio. On CBS he worked with the incomparable Ernie Harwell.  In his regular duties in Boston early on he worked with Curt Gowdy. Bob Murphy’s departure for the Mets left an opening which Martin could fill.    Martin and Ken Coleman made a wretched team worth listening to and brought joy to all New England in 1967 when the Red Sox almost pulled off the impossible. From 1979 on he appeared only on TV which limited his reach. Martin and fellow nominee Hawk Harrelson teamed for a while. He covered more than 5,000 Red Sox fans, which is a record only current radio man Joe Castiglione can think of approaching. Red Barber, Vin Scully and Ned Martin may be the only 3 baseball broadcasters who would quote from Shakespeare on the air. A friend of mine who listened to Martin for decades said, “One cry of “Mercy,” from him was worth 10 “Holy Cows” from Phil Rizzuto.  Martin was more judicious about using the term “Mercy.”

The last nominee is Bill King, who died at age 78 in 2005.  He’s as well known for his Oakland Raiders football coverage as he is for his work withthe  the A’s. He has 3 Super Bowl rings to go with one World Series ring.  No other broadcaster has both.  The baseball facts are he broadcast the A’s from 1981–2005, the longest tenure for any Athletics’ broadcaster even going back to their days in Philadelphia. King, Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons broadcast the earliest San Francisco Giants’ games when the team moved west in 1958. He covered the NBA’s Warriors, and both football and hoops for the Bears of University of California. His earliest broadcasts were in Guam as World War II was wrapping up.  When possible he would recreate games coming in from the wire service. His yell of “Holy Toledo” was the west coast’s “Holy Cow,” or “Mercy!” King and Simmons were together for 15 years with the A’s. A blood clot in his lung ended the life of a true great.

So there they are in capsule form, the 8 men who are to be considered for an award which first went to Mel Allen and Red Barber in tandem in 1978. Last year’s winner was the pioneer of sports broadcasting on radio Graham McNamee, who passed away at age 53 in 1942.  As a collector I’ve had the good fortune to hear a few of his later calls,  once it became possible to preserve radio broadcasts. Sadly none of these entailed baseball play-by-play. Vin Scully, who today got the Presidential Medal of Freedom won the Frick award in 1982–34 years before his retirement! No Frick award winner will repeat that feat.  Thanks to all the nominees from all their listeners for all they contributed through the decades.

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1 Comment
  • Troy Larson
    November 30, 2016

    It’s a shame John Gordon is not in yet as a Ford Frick Award winner.

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