In the past week, AM Radio lost three legends.
Sure, we all had the pleasure of hearing Paul Harvey on a regular basis…
but who of you heard of, much less got to hear former Chicago Bulls greats Norm Van Lier or Johnny “Red” Kerr on the radio? Since I’m within earshot of Chicago…I did.
Last week, Hall of Very Good contributor David Allan wrote a glowing piece on the magic of AM Radio…here it is. Gooooooooooood day!
Baseball is a funny game isn’t it? I mean here we sit getting ready for another 162 game grind—on the verge of men doing amazing things, some will under-achieve, others will over-achieve.
Through 162 games and a month’s worth of playoffs they will persevere. They will survive the blast furnace that is the local media for over 200 days. Then at the end they will be rewarded by lifting up the crappiest trophy in sports. You’ve got to admit baseball fans, that trophy is terrible.
But before we get there, we will be thrilled by clutch hits and huge defensive plays. Long home runs and flawlessly turned double plays. The images of a quick flip from the second basemen behind the bag to get a hard sliding runner on what looked to be a sure fire single up the middle.
And if all goes to plan, I will spend my summer listening to much of it on the AM radio. Not sure why—maybe it’s because baseball fans are nostalgic. Maybe because it’s stop and start rhythm allows for a full disclosure of what is being witnessed. But baseball on the radio is like magic on the air waves.
With that being said, I wanted to take a look at some of the greatest baseball calls of all-time.
I mean some, more than others, give you shivers.
I’ll start with one that is personal to me. I grew up a Red Sox fan in a land of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays won their first American League East Title when I was four years old. But there I sat October 23, 1993. That’s right sports fan, the World Series used to END in October.
When Tom Cheek opened his mouth that night, it couldn’t have been planned. No World Series had ever ended on a walk-off home run where the home team was trailing to start the at bat. Yet there it was in all its perfection, tumbling out of his mouth like he’d said it a thousand times before.
“Here’s the pitch on the way.
A swing and a belt! Left field…
way back. Blue Jays win it! The Blue Jays are World Series champions as Joe Carter hits a three-run home run in the 9th inning and the Blue Jays have repeated as World Series champions! Touch ’em all, Joe! You will never hit a bigger home run in your life!”
The genius, the calm truthfulness in “touch’em all, Joe” has always sat with me, as a baseball fan, as a magical moment that was accented not with hyperbole, but with sincerity.
Or how about the genuine exuberance of Jack Buck’s Kirk Gibson call on that late October night in Dodger stadium?
“You have a big 3-2 pitch coming here from Eckersley. Gibson…swings and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Tigers have won the game, 5 to 4!
I don’t believe…what I just saw!
I don’t believe what I just saw!”
That is not a mistake on my part. So caught up in the moment was Buck that he had made the call on behalf the Tigers, Gibson’s former team.
Most people remember Vin Scully’s call of “in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” Not many people remember, once Buck composed himself he continued, “I’ve seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one tops almost every other one.” As Gibson continued to hobble and limp around the bases.
I use these as examples. I am sure there are a number of you out there that remember the Russ Hodges call of Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heart ‘Round the World!” I am sure those same people still shiver at that Hodges call.
Or maybe it’s the grin that crosses the face of some when I quote Chuck Thompson.
“Well, a little while ago, when we mentioned that this one, in typical fashion, was going right to the wire, little did we know. Art Ditmar throws. Here’s a swing and a high fly ball going deep to left, this may do it! Back to the wall goes Berra, it is…over the fence, home run, the Pirates win! (Long pause for crowd noise) Ladies and gentleman, Bill Mazeroski has just hit a one-nothing pitch over the left field wall to win the 1960 World Series for the Pttsburgh Pirates by a score of ten to nothing! Once again, that final score, the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates TEN, and the New York Yankees NINE!”
Sure, he screwed up when he said ten to nothing. Yeah it was really 10-9, but I don’t think anyone at home cared. For all the smiles in Pittsburgh and all the disappointment in Yankeeville, the call was what it was and what it is. An enduring piece of the game we love so much, a mark that will still make you smile or cringe, every time you hear it.
I still love to hear baseball on the radio. I still smile when I see an old man at the park with his transistor radio trying to find the local AM wave. There is a magic moment when shares an ear bud with the boy or girl sitting next to him.
The joy they get from hearing a local legend, which is more than likely part of the fraternity of biggest homers in the world describe what our eyes can and sometimes can’t see. I still enjoy those long rides in the car, or nights after I finish playing and I can stand in the parking lot and let baseball on the radio waft into the conversation and out of it just as easily.
It’s that time of year, sports fan, we all long to hear the organ, the description of the red brick colored infields, the emerald green of a perfectly cut outfield and the call of a great play over the airwaves, reaching out and touching us, letting us have our game, no matter where we travel.
The best part is, as long as there is baseball on the radio dial, and the colorful personalities that describe it, there is more to come!
***After the passing of broadcast legend Joe Nuxhall in November 2007, Johnny P posted this tribute.***