8 Have Been Called, One Will be Chosen

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  That time of year has come around again. 8 men have been nominated. Only one will carry off the Ford C. Frick award for excellence in baseball broadcasting. The first time the award was granted, it went to both Mel Allen and Red Barber in 1978. Two score years have passed since then, each with just one award winner. Many times, the winner has made a highly enjoyable speech. Possibly the best was made by the Phillies’ Harry Kalas where he included some jokes told by his late partner Richie Ashburn. 7 of this year’s candidates could make a speech if they were to be elected. Only one, Ned Martin passed away in 2002. The other 7 are Joe Castiglione, Jacques Doucet, Tom Hamilton, Ken Harrelson, Pat Hughes, Mike Shannon and Dewayne Staats.

  For my money, Ned Martin should have been elected long ago. He spent 32 years with the Red Sox, part of that time working with fellow nominee Harrelson. Martin split time between radio and TV from 1961–71, covered radio only from 1972–78, then went to TV only for the rest of his career. He covered the entire long and brilliant career of Carl Yastrzemski, who followed Ted Williams in left field and who was himself followed by Jim Rice. When Ned and Yaz were in their prime, I was a small boy twiddling the dial of a particularly good radio. Long after bedtime, if conditions were right, I could hear the Red Sox on WTIC radio from Hartford. I was hearing Ned Martin in New Jersey. Those truly were stolen moments, since the jig would be up if Mom caught me with the radio on. A few years later, the Red Sox faced the Reds in the 1975 World Series. This was NBC’s last radio World Series, and Ned Martin was one of several men who shared duty both on radio and TV. He was doing radio play-by-play for Dwight Evans’ 9th-inning home run in game 3 and Carlton Fisk’s iconic blast in game 6. Starting in 1976, CBS radio arranged for Martin and Ernie Harwell to call the ALCS which they did from 1976–78. All 3 of those series featured the Yankees and Royals, and were all won by the Yankees. The day before the 1978 ALCS, Martin called what Yankee fans know as “The Bucky Dent Game,” the one-game American League East playoff. After going strictly to TV, Martin’s most famous moment was the night Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners, on April 29, 1986. Martin passed away shortly after Ted Williams’ memorial service in 2002. Joe Castiglione, as a fellow Red Sox broadcaster may split the ticket and prevent either himself or Martin getting in. Joe joined the Red Sox in 1983, some years after Martin had made his permanent shift to the TV side. Before joining the Red Sox, he spent time with both the Indians and Cavaliers in Cleveland, and the Brewers in Milwaukee. Joe Tate was the king of Cleveland sportscasters when Castiglione put in his time there, but Tate left the other Joe out of his memoirs. I only discovered he had worked in Cleveland while preparing this piece. Ken Coleman was the Red Sox’ senior announcer in the ‘80s and had the radio call of the infamous Bill Buckner error. Like most of the media world, he was in the Boston clubhouse waiting for a celebration that never happened. With Coleman’s retirement, Bob Starr became lead announcer for two years. Since 1992 there has been just one king of the booth at Fenway, working with numerous partners through the years. He’s also taught college courses and written two books. Jacques Doucet (Due Set) has been nominated 5 times, once since I began writing. I wrote a vignette about him at that time. In March, he will turn 80. Like John Sterling in New York, turning 80 won’t keep Doucet out of the booth. He was the Expos’ French language play by play man for their entire run, and has done French language commentary on TV for the Blue Jays since 2012. His baptism by fire came in 1964. At the time, he was a newspaperman. With his paper on strike, he got a taste of commentary broadcasting football games of the Montreal Alouettes. Initially he worked with Jean-Pierre Roy with the Expos, but by 1972 he was covering their full slate of games. While the Expos never made the World Series, he got to cover two perfect games. One was twirled by the Expos’ Dennis Martinez in 1991. The other came about in 1999 when David Cone saw 27 Expos come up and sent all 27 away empty-handed. Tom Hamilton is the cheerleading broadcaster of the Indians and has been for almost 3 decades. In the 1930’s, One of their earliest voices was another Tom, this one named Tom Manning. He was also a cheerleader who taught Cleveland to love baseball. At 65, he may be a bit young to receive the award now but I can’t imagine him being denied given enough years. In his first 8 years at the controls, he worked with Indians’ legend Herb Score providing a more quiet counterpoint to Hamilton’s style. Starting in 2010 he has worked with New Jersey native Jim Rosenhaus who remains his partner today. Hamilton and Score called the 1995 and 1997 World Series on the Indians’ flagship. Hamilton and Rosenhaus were at the controls in 2016 when the Indians barely lost in a 7-game classic of a World Series. Hamilton got the rarest possible opportunity when his son was drafted by the Indians. He got to call at least one atbat by his son Nick in a spring training game. While Joe Castiglione has known a father’s pride working with his son Duke, I don’t know of another broadcaster whose son played the game, however briefly while his dad was making the calls. All you need to say on the south side of Chicago is “Wimpy and Hawk,” and any White Sox fan will know who you mean. “Wimpy” is Tom Paciorek, Hawk is Ken Harrelson, now under consideration for the Ford Frick Award. Hawk had played for the Red Sox among other teams, and spent his first 7 years as a broadcaster working with Ned Martin among others. He then spent a few years in the booth at old Comiskey Park, and returned there for keeps in 1990 working with Paciorek until 2000. For decades, White Sox games were shown across the land on WGN. Hawk began to cut back his schedule in 2016 and called it a career at the end of 2018. An unabashed Southerner (from Woodruff, South Carolina) he’s the one broadcaster I know of who would dare use the Southern invention “dadgummit” so as to avoid cursing a play gone wrong. If my family cringes when I say “Mercy,” (and they do,) they’d lose their minds if I used Harrelson’s pet phrase to avoid cursing. He repeatedly called the White Sox “The Good Guys,” and while I never said it on the air I’ve been known to refer to the Yankees as “the good guys” when I write about them. He’s taken a lot of heat for his blatant homerism and his abuse of certain umpires, but I would give him strong consideration if I were a voter. Pat Hughes is another Chicago broadcaster of great renown who is being considered this time around. If I were only allowed to write one thing about Vergil Patrick Hughes, I’d write this. On the day Phillies’ iconic broadcaster Harry Kalas died, an obviously shaken Hughes delivered an eloquent tribute to the Illinois native. I e-mailed Mr. Hughes congratulating him for making a strong statement under the most difficult conditions. He was kind enough to respond some days later. He broke into the bigs in 1983 with the Twins, then spent more than a decade with the Brewers. His first game on Cubs’ radio broadcasts came in 1996. When I moved to St. Paul, I got to hear him on WGN where the Cubs’ broadcasts were at the time. Before getting a computer, his broadcasts were the most distant games I could get from St. Paul, and he was great to listen to. His partner was Ron Santo who broadcast bravely in spite of diabetes that had troubled him for most of his life. Only cancer could defeat him, which it did in 2010. Randy Hundley would fill in when Santo’s health made it impossible for him to work. After a few years with Keith Moreland, Ron Coomer joined Hughes in 2014 and they remain partners today, though their radio home has moved off WGN, first to WBBM and now to WSCR. Hughes is the only Cubs broadcaster to be able to proclaim the Cubs as World Series winners. Radio baseball began in 1921, 13 years after the Cubs won their last World Series. They lost in 1945 and even then, their announcer Bert Wilson wasn’t at the controls. Come 2016, while most of the country got the ESPN radio call, Cubs’ fans tuned in on radio and the Internet to hear Hughes bring the Cubs home to victory in game 7. Hughes has served as writer, producer and narrator for a series of 16 CDs entitled “Baseball Voices,” each featuring the life and works of a broadcasting great. Mike Shannon played the outfield, then third base for the Cardinals and moved to the booth to work with Jack Buck in 1972. Like his partner, Shannon had and still has a voice that won’t be confused with anybody else’s. That can also be said of John Rooney who has partnered with (and sometimes bolstered) Shannon since 2006. Though he doesn’t travel in the regular season, I heard Shannon calling the Cardinals’ playoff run during the season just ended. DeWayne Staats has called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ and Rays’ games on TV since their creation in 1998. He was a 20-year veteran when his Tampa Bay career began. He had worked with the Astros as early as 1977. After 8 seasons there, he spent 5 with the Cubs, 5 with the Yankees and 3 with ESPN before the Devil Rays’ first pitch was thrown. He was calling the game on TV when Nolan Ryan fired his 5th no-hitter and when Jim Abbott threw his one and only no-no. Like some of the others mentioned here, Staats has been nominated for this award before now. Why, some may ask, are some of the pioneers not on the ballot this time? Where is Hal Totten, my personal choice for a pioneer to be elected? There will be another go-round for pioneers in a couple of seasons. This year was to be devoted to current broadcasters. Next year the choices will be among national voices, then at the end of 2021 we’ll hear pioneering names who, if their broadcasts exist at all, can be found on youtube or in the vaults of what few collectors are still out there. The 8 men above-Castiglione, Doucet, Hamilton, Harrelson, Hughes, Martin, Shannon and Staats are this year’s candidates. When one is chosen, you’ll hear who he is when I do.

  • Chris Gallo
    November 6, 2019

    Another wonderful story…which one of these men was your hero/ role model?

    • Don Wardlow
      November 6, 2019

      Of these 8, Ned Martin.
      However, my alltime baseball idol was Bob Murphy who got his Ford Frick award in 1994.
      I was honored to meet and interview him in June of that year, an interview we played on the air on July 31 as he was being inducted.

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