Culling great moments and people from 57 years of sportscasting
DON HUFF, sports editor of the Wheeling, W.Va., Intelligencer and a fellow member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, writes that he is doing a survey of his colleagues. He asks five questions; the answers could fill a book. In this case, a column. First - most dramatic moment broadcast? I will have to cite four. In Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, the Yankees at Brooklyn, leading the Dodgers, 2-1, two out in the last of the ninth inning, Bill Bevens going for a no-hitter, and Harry Lavagetto pinch-hitting. Al Gionfriddo at second, which he had just stolen, Eddie Miksis at first, and Lavagetto doubling off the right field wall, scoring both runners, spoiling the no-hitter and winning the game. There was never such a noise in Brooklyn. ... Then, of course, Bobby Thomson's ninth-inning home run off Ralph Branca in Game 3 of the 1951 playoffs. In football, the 1935 Notre Dame-Ohio State game, when the Irish scored twice in the last minutes to win, 18-13. That game has been voted by some as the most exciting in college history. I was the only broadcaster when the Chicago Bears changed all football by humiliating the Washington Redskins in 1940 by the incredible score of 73-0. The Skins had beaten the Bears three weeks before, 7-3, and had quarterback Sammy Baugh. After that game, in which the Bears used the T-formation, all teams followed suit.
Second - most unforgettable person? I must name two men, Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey. I broadcast for both. They brought baseball up to date and between them changed the game. MacPhail created the first season-ticket plan, first flew his team in the regular season, first installed lights in the big leagues, broke the radio silence in New York, first sold his games on TV, and revived ailing franchises in Cincinnati, Brooklyn, and Yankee Stadium. Rickey created the farm system, which changed baseball's structure completely, then shook the very foundations by bringing in Jackie Robinson. Rickey dominated the National League at St. Louis and then at Brooklyn. Both men were strong, unafraid, farseeing, inventive, dramatically colorful, and constructive. I wonder what baseball would be like today had they not been involved.
Third - any event you didn't cover you wish you had? The answer is no. I started in radio in early 1930, and I was constantly busy. I concentrated on the event at hand. Thirty-three years in the big leagues (Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium), All-Star Games, World Series, Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowl, almost 40 years of college and pro football games. Director of sports at CBS. I was a broadcasting hobo long enough.
Four - why is baseball the best sport to broadcast? The baseball announcer must know the game thoroughly, because the game is so open and the fans so knowledgeable. The slightest mistake is glaringly obvious. ... Football is organized confusion, and even the coaches don't know what goes on until they study the game films. Baseball is played at a controlled pace. There is time after every pitch, every play, every out to describe the action. Baseball is open and orderly.Football is a mass of men. Basketball and hockey have players running and skating back and forth constantly.
Five - whom do you most admire in your profession? I have to take a rain check on this one. First of all, when you are a working announcer, you are doing your games and can't hear the other fellows who are doing their games. When I had time off I certainly didn't spend it listening to other broadcasters. Now that I am retired, my time is too precious to be a servant to sports events.
I had excellent broadcasting partners - Al Helfer, Alan Hale, Connie Desmond, Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, Jim Woods, Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Garagiola, and Jerry Coleman. They were men I worked with and traveled with and knew and respected. I doubt anyone worked with so many outstanding professionals.
A question that wasn't asked - what broadcasts are you proudest of as you look back over some 57 years behind the mike? Opening day at Ebbets Field in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, when, with MacPhail's blessing, I made the first radio blood donor appeal for the Red Cross. Until then the mention of blood on the air was tacitly forbidden. These appeals continued throughout the war, and they filled the Red Cross appointment books.
I was born in Mississippi, raised in central Florida, and was the announcer at Brooklyn when Mr. Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson. Both men were satisfied with the broadcasts. So was I. I still am.