As New HOF Class is Inducted, I Take a Look Back

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Hi all.  I’m going to do something different today while everybody else is writing about the men being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  BTW, I never should have forgotten to mention Jack Morris and Alan Trammell the other day when I reposted the article about today’s other inductees.

If you listen to morning sports talk shows, some of them poke fun at some of today’s radio play-by-play guys.  John Sterling takes a lot of heat for missed calls and for the slogans he has for most of the Yankee hitters if they hit home runs.  Having a little fun is one thing.  Today I dug into the vaults and found an utterly shocking article by a man who clearly despised baseball broadcasters.  He tore the profession to pieces, saying the broadcasters made stuff up as they went along.  You want to know when this piece was written?  1955!!

Red Smith was the author, a man later given both a Pulitzer and the J.G. Taylor Spink award at Cooperstown for a career of outstanding journalism.  His writings are amazing if you discount the article “The Last Frontier” about the radio broadcasters of the day.  He only nailed one by name, the Cubs’ Jack Brickhouse. As fate would have it, Jack would win the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting in 1983, a year  after Red Smith’s death.

While Brickhouse was the only one to get a personal written whipping by Smith, he tore up the profession as a whole.  The names he didn’t mention who were employed in 1955 read like an honor roll.  In New York, The Giants had Russ  Hodges and the Dodgers had a very young Vin Scully in charge of the store since Barber’s defection at the end of 1953. The Phillies’ games of the day were By Saam’s daily chore, and a chore it was. Further west, the Pirates had The Gunner, Bob Prince.  Jack Brickhouse  handled the Cubs with Bert Wilson who would die at age 44 in November of that year. Harry Caray was coming into his own in St. Louis. Earl Gillespie handled the day-to-day broadcasts of the Milwaukee Braves, and had he continued after the Braves pulled up stakes he might have gone to Cooperstown.  He was that good. The old Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt brought the sounds of the Reds into much of the country over thunderous WLW in Cincinnati. Of the NL broadcasters for 1955, only Hoyt, Wilson  and Gillespie aren’t enshrined at Cooperstown.

In the American League, the Yankees had both Red Barber and Mel Allen.  Barber had quit Brooklyn over money.  The Red Sox had Curt Gowdy and a very young Bob Murphy.  Yes, that Bob Murphy who was a fixture on Mets’ games later. The Indians and Orioles had two great broadcasters from the South. -Jimmy Dudley hailed from Virginia while Ernie Harwell called Georgia his home. He anchored the Orioles’ games before becoming an icon in Detroit. On White Sox games, the fans heard Bob Elson, aka “The Old Commander.” The Senators, as awful as they were on the field had Bob Wolf and Chuck Thompson upstairs in the booth. So far, every American League announcer employed in 1955 is in Cooperstown now.  The Tigers had Van Patrick who handled all sports and died at age 58 in 1974.  The Kansas City A’s were called by Merle Harmon who would spend a lot of years covering the Twins later on. These two were the only American league voices working in 1955 that didn’t go to Cooperstown.

So just imagine, if Red Smith saw fit to tear down the entire broadcast profession while listening to those great men, what would he make of today’s broadcasters?  Just for starters, Smith hated the way the 1955 announcers were beginning to slip in short commercials during an atbat.  That happens more today than ever before, particularly in the largest cities. Smith didn’t have a former player to make fun of, at least not that year.  There had been former players broadcasting as early as the 1920’s and more would flood in later, but only Waite Hoyt had a microphone in 1955 and Smith liked his personal stories.  There were no replays, so radio announcers didn’t have to fill time as they do now. It seems like every play is being reviewed, particularly any play where a run scores.  The entire stat business was rudimentary, not just then but for another couple of decades.  Red Smith wouldn’t believe the tonnage of stats available not just to the 2018 MLB broadcaster, but to minor league announcers, college boys learning the trade and just plain fans. Most of the stats available now weren’t considered in 2002 when my broadcasting career was done.  If Smith couldn’t stand the best of the best, what would he think now?

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