Radio for the Off-Days

It’s an off-day today.  So I figured I’d pound out a few thoughts.

First, I’ve always had a thing for baseball announcers.  Their stories fascinated me as a kid.  Growing up in small-town Nebraska, I didn’t get much access to broadcasts, but when I did I was a good audience.

I loved Joe Garagiola during the Saturday Game of the WeekBob Uecker popped up on the broadcasts and the commercials during those days.  He’s a genius.  And it turns out Vin Scully was pretty good during the post-season.

Fortunately, Pat Hughes — the long-time voice of the Chicago Cubs — shares a similar affection for these guys.  Pat has produced a series of CDs devoted to the careers of several great announcers.  He even did one on my partner, Milo Hamilton.

I strongly recommend spending a few minutes to check out “Baseball Voices: Commemorative Audio Tributes to Baseball’s Greatest Announcers.”  Pat has written, narrated and produced 10 fabulous CDs with historic radio calls, background stories and lots of extra audio rarely heard for legends like Harry Caray, Marty Brennaman, Red Barber and others.

Along those lines, the Astros returned from Chicago late last night after completing a three-game series with the Cubs.  Per usual, the radio booth at Wrigley Field was a disaster.  It’s tiny and uncomfortable.  Often times it’s suffocatingly hot.

It’s also one of the greatest places on earth.

For years I sat no more than a foot away from Cubs radio analyst Ron Santo — separated only by the pane of glass between our booths.  We talked a lot.  Ronnie loved to chat.  And, man, did we laugh.  Everyone who talked to Ron laughed.

A lot.

I tell my boys that Ron never had a bad day.  I’m not exaggerating. I’ve never heard of him appearing tired or frustrated or down.

We’re talking about a guy who endured eight surgeries on his right leg before doctors had to amputate his foot.  Several weeks later, they brought him back in to amputate the rest of his leg from the knee down.

The following year, doctors took his left leg from the knee down as well.  Heart attacks, quadruple-bypass surgery and a life-long battle with juvenile diabetes never seemed to bother Ron Santo.

The one thing that occasionally drove Santo nuts was — no surprise here — the Cubs.  When they played well, Ronnie beamed.  When they struggled, it broke his heart.  His suffering was heartfelt, genuine and painful.  It was also endearing.

Ron Santo passed away at the tail end of 2010.  First week of December.  Less than a month ago he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame; a recognition he openly hoped to receive.

I always felt Ron’s playing career was Hall worthy, but admit that I might be swayed by my affection for the man and his unique broadcast style.

Last week, I pulled into my garage and let our mini-van’s engine idle for a few extra moments as my wife and kids climbed out.  I wasn’t quite ready to get out, myself; I needed a little more time.

It just so happened that we were listening to “Baseball Voices: Ron Santo.”  It’s the only audio tribute Pat Hughes has done for a non play-by-play man.  And it’s a beauty.

“Mom, is Dad laughing or crying?” my 9-year old son asked.

“Yes,” she said.

My wife understands me pretty well.  I was definitely laughing.  I was also crying.  I couldn’t help it; Ronnie had that effect on me.  I miss the big fella.


MORE SANTO (thanks James)

Santo’s wife, Vicki, delivered a terrific speech at Ron’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  She captured the spirit and personality of the man as beautifully as could be imagined.


If you want a little taste of the kind of funny stuff you’ll find on “Baseball Voices: Ron Santo,” check out this video of Pat Hughes talking about Santo before his HOF induction in July.  Good fun when you have a few minutes to watch:

Pat Hughes and Ron Santo — great broadcasters but better men.

8 thoughts on “Radio for the Off-Days

  1. Saturday morning wrestling and Saturday game of the week were summer musts for me if I happened to be indoors. I most remember the introduction; the music and the collage of videos circulated on the screen featuring great defensive plays, home runs, Earl Weaver screaming down an umpire. Garagiola sometimes got on my nerves with his over dramatic parenting sometimes. UL Washington would come to the plate with his trademark toothpick in his mouth chewing away and Joe G. has to warn us: “That is very dangerous. You youngsters out there don’t ever play the game with a toothpick in your mouth, you can really, really, hurt yourself” Thank you Joe! I was headed to the kitchen cabinet to fetch a toothpick and then going to my Saturday game but you saved me!

  2. Like yourself, I grew up listening to sports on the radio. One of the most memorable calls ever; April 30th, 1988, I was exhausted from a rare Saturday final exam and stayed home that night. Mets/Reds (you will remember this game) I was at home listening to the Marty Brennaman/Joe Nuxall call (I grew up in Louisville, Ky.). So its the top of the ninth inning, with a man at second and two outs and the score tied at 3, Mookie Wilson hits a ground ball to short and Barry Larkin throws across to Nick Esasky for a routine out. As you see so often, the first baseman’s removal of his foot from the bag is commonly instantaneous with him catching the ball. Esasky is a step or two toward the dugout, a good two seconds have elapsed, and the umpire, Dave Pallone rules Wilson safe and motioned that Esasky had pulled his foot. Howard Johnson never stopped running and scored the eventual winning run. You know the story from there, Pete Rose explodes out of the dugout, (not just to argue the call, but the delay) goes nuclear, pushes Pallone and receives a 30 day suspension. Marty and Joe, probably one of the low points in their career are all over it:

    Marty – “I can’t believe it! I CANNOT believe it! Dave Pallone had a hotdog before he made that call!”

    Joe – “Terrible call”

    (Thunderous boos from crowd and stuff starts raining out of the stands)

    Marty – “Right now, they are throwing things at Dave Pallone, and….”I’ll tell you, he deserves it!”

    Joe – “Well Marty, he’s a scab umpire left over from the strike, he shouldn’t even be out there”

    (Transistor radios start coming onto the field along with coins, batteries and other heavy objects)

    Howard Johnson and Keith Hernandez had to play the bottom of the ninth 3rd and 1st with batting helmets.

    I could not wait to see the Sunday game because it would be televised. To my guilty pleasure disappoinment, it was uneventful and low key.

    Both were accused of inciting a riot to which Marty replied, “I still maintain we were right, I’ll never apologize for that. They accused us of inciting a riot. I don’t think we did then and I don’t think we did now.”

    There was another home game later that season where Brennaman criticized an umpire call and suddenly kind of caught himself saying something like “HEY, you fans in the stands, I know some of you have transistor radios, and I’m telling you right now, Don’t!”

    Dave, as you and Brett build your career, may you have an occasional moment or two of spotlights……..but not like the one I just described, don’t go inciting riots!

  3. You might want to change that one subtitle from More Ron to More Santo. More Ron sounds too much like moron.

    When and where can we see the ten finalist for the 2013 Astros radio announcer competition? I hope they get put into a trivia contest to judge their knowledge of the team and it’s history.

  4. J.D. mentioned on Sunday that he may put togehter an All-Bird team during the games in St. Louis. My friend Ryan and I came up with this one. Please pass it along to him. Thanks.

    1B Chick Gandil
    2B Billy Martin
    3B Ron “The Penguin” Cey
    SS Barry Larkin
    RF Andre “Hawk” Dawson
    CF Tris “The Grey Eagle” Speaker
    LF Ducky Medwick
    C Birdie Tebbetts
    INF Robin Ventura
    INF Robin Yount
    OF Goose Goslin
    OF Jay Buhner
    OF Jose Cardenal
    C Hawk Taylor
    SP Mark “The Bird” Fidrych
    SP Sidd Finch
    SP Pete Falcone
    SP Andy Hawkins
    SP Joey Jay
    RP Goose Goosage
    RP Jeff Parrett
    RP Doug Bird
    RP Russ Swan
    RP Jim “The Emu” Kern
    RP Aaron Crow

    Announcer – Ken “Hawk” Harrelson

    Manager – Doug “The Red Rooster” Rader

    General Manager – Frank Wren

  5. Dave,

    I learned the other day that the Colt .45s jersey giveaway will occur during the weekend I have my monthly Marine Corps reserve drill in Grand Prairie. Is there any chance you might be able to save one of those jerseys for me? Much thanks.

    Semper Fidelis,

  6. Dave, loved the article. I began listening to the Astros back in the 60’s. The radio voices that touched my ears and caused me to become a lifelong Astros fan are Gene Elston and Lowell Passe. Descriptive to a fault, Elston could give every statistic known to mankind and call the game at the same time. Passe on the other hand made the games fun with his “Breezed him one more time,” when an Astros pitcher struck out an opposing batter. Elston was analytical while Passe was just downright an Astros fan in the broadcast booth. Other names that fill my broadcast memories are Harry Kalas (who should have stayed with the Astros, but I don’t know why he left) and Dewayne Staats. Both had great voices and made the games fun. Thanks for making even the most recent Astros games fun to listen to. You guys keep up the great work. One day you’ll be broadcasting a World Series game with some of the same players. You never know.

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