The Men at the Mike
Recalling the days of sportscasting's legends—Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy And Others—When baseball and cigar smoke were in the air.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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At that time, Gowdy was in Boston broadcasting Red Sox games. He, too, would get his share of historic moments. He announced Henry Aaron's 715th homer in 1974, though it was Milo Hamilton's call in Atlanta that most often accompanies the footage of Aaron's momentous blow. A year later Gowdy called the dramatic sixth-game World Series homer by Carlton Fisk.
His stay in Boston overlapped the great Ted Williams years. Gowdy called Williams' last major league game on Sept. 28, 1960, when the Red Sox slugger homered in his last at bat.
Recently, Gowdy had the pleasure of introducing his longtime friend at Ted Williams Hitter's Hall of Fame in Hernando, Florida: "Ladies and gentlemen, Ted Williams is the most competent man I've ever met. He's the best hitter I ever saw, the best fisherman--whether it be marlin fishing, fly or spin fishing--he studied everything and worked at it. And I recently spoke to John Glenn, who was with Williams in Korea, and Glenn called him 'the best jet pilot I ever saw.' Ted had the eye-hand coordination, the natural attributes. What made him even better was he worked harder and studied more than anyone."
The year after Williams retired, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combined for 115 White Owl Wallops for the Yankees. The privilege of announcing Maris' 60th circuit clout went to Mel Allen. Phil Rizzuto delivered the famous call for the 61st.
The following spring, the New York Mets made their debut. Those 1962 Mets plumbed new depths of baseball futility, winning 40 games and losing 120. "Some players lose the ball in the sun," cracked their clowning manager Casey Stengel. "Our guys lose the ball in the moon." Their men in the booth during that inauspicious start were Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner, who would become the longest-running threesome ever, together until 1979.
Kiner was used to such futility; and then again, he wasn't. The Pittsburgh Pirates he played for in the 1940s and '50s were perennial cellar dwellers. But Kiner was a slugger, a home run hitter so prodigious that he made it to the Hall of Fame in 1975 on the strength of his slugging alone. He led the National League in homers for seven consecutive years, from 1946 through 1952. So frequently did his towering shots reach the seats at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh that their resting spot came to be known as "Kiner's Corner." (He later adopted the name for his postgame show with the Mets.)
While Kiner's slugging exploits began 50 years ago, he has been smoking even longer. "I started when I was playing minor league ball. There were bus rides all night long and I was smoking Roi-Tans. It was 1941, and there were no adverse publicity or repercussions for smoking. Today, they chew [tobacco], but I tried that and got sick!"
Now Kiner smokes Griffin's "almost 95 percent of the time." In the WOR television booth at Shea Stadium, he smokes with partners Tim McCarver and Gary Thorn. "Rusty Staub [another Mets broadcaster] is anti-smoke, and after his pleading I don't smoke while he is on the air," says Kiner. "I don't smoke in the house, either, but I average about three a day on the golf course. I enjoy it."
In the booth, Kiner does more than smoke. He admits to getting off a few malapropisms--he calls them "Kiner-isms"--now and then. A recent one was "All of the Mets' road wins against the Dodgers this year have been at Dodger Stadium." Observing today's style of play and large salaries, he once said, "If Branch Rickey was alive today he'd be spinning in his grave." Rickey was the general manager of the Pirates, and he and Kiner debated over salary figures more than once. Says Kiner with a laugh: "I said Rickey had all the money and all the players and never let the two get together.
"Rickey was a big cigar smoker who always had ashes on his shirt. Anyway, in 1952, I hit 37 homers but we lost 112 games, and in negotiating Rickey and I had a total impasse. We met in California to discuss it. I said, 'I led the league in homers,' and he said, 'What place did we finish?' Well, we finished last, and he said, 'We could finish last without you.' So I got a 25 percent cut, from $90,000 to $68,000."
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