Hall of Fame Book Marks 100 Years of Baseball Broadcasting
Over the past century so many familiar voices have broadcast baseball stories.
It's not a stretch to say that those calling a game from stadium press boxes, be it radio or TV, are as important to a club's fan base as any wearing a uniform in a dugout. Particularly during baseball's first half century, when radio was king, transistors were howling during summer visits to beaches and parks, with dials set to the local wireless affiliate to catch a big league game.
With television growing by leaps into more and more homes, weekly baseball games presented by networks each Saturday (at first), became a staple in American entertainment diets. Those being posted as the eyes and ears, to show and tell the inning-by-inning happenings, became extended friends to millions of sports fans.
With all the advancements in technology over the past century, it's easy to forget both the industry and leaders who made the medium into what it is today. Thankfully, there are experts in the field what are charged in not allowing this to gain any long term traction.
Curt Smith, who USA TODAY labels "the authority on baseball broadcasting", leads the charge on preserving the history of the game's storytellers.
Memories From The Microphone: A Century of Baseball Broadcasting is Smith's latest project, working with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, to preserve the road map of how radio and TV have assisted in growing the sport. All the hall of fame caliber names who Americans have welcomed into their living rooms and in ballparks , from Boston to Seattle for a century, Smith marvelously reunites fans old and young with their favorite broadcasting friends.
Dizzy Dean, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Bob Wolff, and Curt Gowdy head the list of who Smith explains simply and factually how men as this, along with others, became as prominent and in many cases wealthy as the ballplayers they were observing.
Radio remains the favorite medium in which Smith prefers to catch his beloved Boston Red Sox, and any other baseball game, for that matter.
"It's theater of of the mind. Mel Allen and Dizzy Dean were my favorites," Smith said during a recent telephone conversation from his home in Western New York.
In Memories From The Microphone, Smith calmly walks readers through 13 chapters, from the 1920's, when on Friday August 5,1921 KDKA's Harold Arlin from Pittsburgh's Forbes Field called the Pirates 8-5 win over Philadelphia, to cellular, satellite, and digital formats of today.
So many wonderful memories come swinging at you, when advancing through the decades that Smith reviews. Remember growing up (or hearing about) and watching Baseball's Game Of The Week on network TV? Remember This Week In Baseball's voice Mel Allen? Ever wonder how and why the New York Mets' original broadcast combo of Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, and Lindsey Nelson came to be?
Smith doesn't disappoint in filling in the details.
Growing up in a small town near Rochester, New York, Smith listened to the New York Yankees on radio. Baseball is his dominate sport, and politics is Smith's other love. Along with writing baseball books, Smith served as a speech writer for President George H. W. Bush, as well as in the Reagan administration.
As Smith points out, and his writings in Memories From The Microphone attest, the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell's belief that nothing happens on radio until a broadcaster talks still stands the test of time.
One element of Smith's love and expertise of baseball broadcasting that you won't find in Memories From The Microphone is his reverence for the late Yankees radio and TV voice Mel Allen. Smith funded a scholarship at his alma mater (State University of New York at Geneseo) for students who participate in Communication activities.
Many amazing facts about baseball and broadcasting's relations jump out in each chapter. On page 202 , in the 1960s-1980s: Network TV Blooms chapter, readers learn that in 1964 the Yankees earned $550,000 from CBS's Game of the Week for each home weekend game. Another fascinating "inside" tidbit Smith reveals in Memories From The Microphone is Allen's salary in the mid-1940s.
At this point, Allen was earning a reported $95,000 - highest of any big-league Voice.
Russ Hodges, Vin Scully, and Jack Brickhouse are others, giants among broadcasters synonymous with baseball, are all included in Memories From The Microphone, and details are offered on how they became to get their start, and the impact each contributed to in making the industry what it is today.
I forgot that Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, was hired by ABC as a commentator for their new Major League Championship Baseball telecast during the 1965 season.
Memories From The Microphone is page after page of baseball history, from the press level, and from anywhere else a microphone has been positioned. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, who spent a couple decades as the principal play-by-play and analyst team presenting ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, are part of Smith's educating baseball fans on what they see and hear in describing happenings on the field.
Most questions on the who and how teams have selected who represents them, either thru wireless, cable, or any other broadcast avenue, Smith puts them to rest in Memories From The Microphone.
Growing up in the New York City, from the 1950's, Yankee shortstop and future hall of famer Phil Rizzuto enjoyed a 40-year career as the club's radio and TV broadcaster. Chapter 10 1970s-1990s: Cable And Company grabbed my attention. Readers learn how Rizzuto was invited to join as the "junior" member of the Yankees broadcast duo of Allen and Barber.
Memories From The Microphone is a fun read that will grasp baseball fans' attention, from their cleats to cap level, of how what they see and hear all came about. A more welcoming journey for fans of all ages isn't found about broadcasting and baseball.
The tandem of Smith and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum hit it out of the park with providing this comprehensive overview of names and voices of of the game.
How about that!
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.