Late President Gerald Ford once told a reporter, “I watch a lot of baseball games on the radio.”
Now, that might sound like a malapropism of Yogi Berra-proportions, but I knew exactly what the President meant because I, too, have “watched” a lot of baseball games on the radio through the years.
The really good baseball announcers – the likes of Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, Jon Miller and Bob Costas, just to name a few – have always painted exquisite word pictures that have brought the game to life for me and millions of other listeners.
The really good ones also have had the ability to make us laugh – occasionally unintentionally, with malapropisms that would make Berra and Ford (the Prez, not Whitey) approve.
In his marvelous new book, A Talk in the Park: Nine Decades of Baseball Tales from the Broadcast Booth, friend and former presidential speech writer Curt Smith has gathered scores of great stories and perspectives from baseball announcers past and present.
Here’s a sampling:
• “I was honored (to make it to Cooperstown as an announcer), but I think I should have gone in as a player. After all, anyone with ability can make the majors. To trick people year in and year out is, I think, a much greater feat. I only wish the forty-four Hall of Famers there that day agreed. A lot of them were my teammates, but won’t admit it. – Bob Uecker
• “One day the camera spotted a teenage girl. Phil (Rizzuto) said: “She reminds me of that old song, ‘A Pretty Girl is Like a Memory.’ I said, “Scooter, I think that’s Melody.” Phil: “Really? How do you know her name is Melody?” ” Bill White
• “Baseball can be wonderful, but a little parochial. Early in 2009, a Mariners backup catcher read that there was a big deal being made about an important person due to visit Seattle. The catcher said to no one in particular: ‘Hey, who’s this Dailai Lama chick?’ ” – Dave Sims
• “Phil Rizzuto and I are doing the Yankees, we’re in a rain delay, and somebody calls us: Name the all-time Yankee team. We can’t choose between Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra at catcher. First base, Lou Gehrig, best guy there in baseball history. Second, Joe Gordon; Till he made Cooperstown in 2009, I’d bitch to the Hall each year. Shortstop, the Scooter. Third base, Red Rolfe. Outfield, we put Mantle in left, Joe D. in center and Roger Maris in right. Great team. We’re feeling good till the phones light up. “Hey fellas, did you forget somebody? Where the hell is Babe Ruth?” Oops. A time like that you want to curl up in a fetal position and find yourself a closet.” – Jerry Coleman
There are hundreds of more anecdotes like those in A Talk in the Park. I highly recommend the book, which is now available in stores and on the web. And, if you’d like an autographed copy, you can get one at Frontier Field before Saturday night’s Red Wings game, where Curt will be doing a signing.