Posts Tagged ‘Mel Allen’

Baseball’s VIPs

January 16, 2014
Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

A couple of posts back, the one on Judge Landis, I made the comment that he was one of the most important people ever in MLB. Well, that led some of my friends to send me emails asking who I considered the 10 most important people ever in the sport. As you know, I’m sort of a glutton for sticking my foot squarely into my mouth, so I decided to publicly respond to them.

First, let me be clear that “most important” has nothing to do with “best player”. Almost all of these people listed below and little or no actual playing time in the big leagues. So don’t be asking, “Where’s Gehrig?” or “Where’s Wagner?” or about other players. They may be terrific players but they aren’t as important in the grand scheme of things as the people I’m about to mention. As you read through the list, you’ll realize I’m big into origins.

Here are my 10 most important listed in alphabetical order:

1. Mel Allen–I suppose any announcer could have gone in here except for a couple of  points. Most of us get our games through the filter of someone in a booth at the stadium keeping us up on what’s going on, so a play-by-play man is not an unreasonable choice for a position on this list. I pick Allen for two specific reasons. First, he announced for the Yankees for years and thus became the primary voice many people heard. Second, when TV decided to add a second camera to games, Allen is supposed to be the guy who suggested adding the second camera in center field, thus showing the pitcher throwing to the batter in something like close up (the previous camera angle was high up behind home plate). It’s become the single most common angle from which most people see a game on television.

2. Alexander Cartwright–Cartwright is here to represent an entire group of people, the pioneers who invented the game as we know it. Somebody had to start putting the rules of the game into a form that became acceptable. It is possible that people like Duncan Curry or Daniel Adams, or William Wheaton should be here in his place. Cartwright certainly did not invent baseball, but was apparently prominent in one of the many attempts to codify the game. As the Hall of Fame has placed him in its midst, he’ll do for this spot, but I’m not certain he’s the best candidate.

3. Henry Chadwick–You a stat guy? Care about the statistics of the game? Well, Chadwick invented the box score and a number of the statistics we still use to determine the quality of play on the diamond. As the first prominent sports reporter his articles helped to popularize the game. Put those two things together and you have someone who belongs on this list.

4. William Hulbert–I don’t like Hulbert. As a human being he is crass, bigoted, vain, parsimonious. But he founded the National League and thus came up with a way to make baseball profitable enough for people to want to become owners and thus establish a stable (sort of) league that flourishes today.

5. Ban Johnson–Founder and first President of the American League. Was de facto lord of baseball until the arrival of the man below.

6. Kennesaw M. Landis–First and most powerful Baseball Commissioner. Ran baseball with an iron fist. Cleaned up the game after the Black Sox nearly wrecked it. He opposed integration, but supported the more lively ball and the farm system (and besides isn’t he what a Commissioner ought to look like?)

7. Marvin Miller–the Lincoln of MLB. When he took over the Player’s Association it was a joke. When he left the union it was a co-partner with the clubs. Whether you like free agency or not, Miller figured out how to free the players from baseball slavery and change the economics and the dynamics of the game. Of all the people on this list, he’s the only one not in the Hall of Fame (Allen is on the writers plaque).

8. Branch Rickey–changed the game twice. He invented both the farm system and brought integration to MLB. He is  arguably the most influential baseball man of the 20th Century.

9. Jackie Robinson–In 1884 Toledo had a black ballplayer. That lasted one year. John McGraw and others had tried to integrate the game and had failed. With Robinson baseball truly does become a game for all Americans.

10. Babe Ruth–in a game in trouble, Ruth takes over and changes forever the way it is played. With the emphasis on the home run over bunting and base stealing we get the game as it’s been played (plus or minus a rule or two) since 1920.

And Honorable Mention to people like John Montgomery Ward (first union), Fleet Walker (who was the first black player), Jim Creighton (apparently the first professional), Lip Pike (who made professionalism acceptable), Harry Wright (who made the modern manager’s job what it is today), Bill Veeck (who made the ballpark experience so much fun), and a host of others, some of which you may decide should be in the list of 10.

Calls of a Lifetime

May 11, 2011

The one and only Vin Scully

You know what I miss about modern baseball? No, it isn’t the great pitching, there’s a lot of that around. It isn’t the wonderful fielding, take a look at “Web Gems”. It isn’t the hitting, these guys can hit. What I miss is the men who used to call the games.

I miss Mel Allen. I miss Red Barber. I miss Russ Hodges. They were the main men in New York baseball when I was very young. They knew how to describe a game in vivid words that painted pictures of the game, of the field, of the players, and of the fans. Allen had sheer joy, Barber colorful use of words, Hodges wore his emotions on his sleeve. In fact, Hodges gave us all one of the single greatest calls of a lifetime with his 1951 “The Giants Win the Pennant” repeated a thousand times. Go to You Tube or somewhere and just listen to the joy and astonishment in his voice. Don’t look at the picture, just listen to the voice. You know what happened if you just listen.

Of course there were others. Dizzy Dean was a world to himself. Half the time I didn’t understand him (and neither did anyone else except for maybe Mrs. Dean) but who cared; he was wonderful. Jack Buck was understated and almost emotionless sometimes, and that was a wonderful tonic to the “rah, rah” types that drove me crazy. And nobody ever knew how to simply shut up and let the crowd do the talking than Buck.  Joe Garagiola knew more about baseball than most people could learn in a 1000 years. Both were out of St. Louis (And isn’t it amazing how many great play-by-play guys have come out of St. Louis?) so I got to hear them a lot. Ernie Harwell could describe a play better than anyone I ever heard. Bob Prince was a little too much for me, but his love for his Pirates was so obvious you let it slide sometimes. And Curt Gowdy could announce anything and have you impressed.

There aren’t a lot of them left. You still hear Jay Randolph on an occasional Cardinals broadcast (see what I mean about St. Louis) and there is not, nor has there ever been, anyone quite like Vin Scully. Take time someday and just listen to the man. Even his non-baseball talks are a treat to the ears.

Now it’s not that the new guys are bad, they just aren’t quite as good. Too many of them simply call a game and don’t describe it. I guess that’s television and the idea that you can see for yourself what’s going on. But you know what? I miss the old guys who knew you had to describe a game as well as call it.

Great Calls

May 6, 2010

The death of Ernie Harwell reminded me how much I miss the truly great voices of baseball. SportsPhd had a wonderful comment on Harwell (which you should read, especially if you’re a dad) and mentioned the now stilled voices of the past.  He mentions a lot of them, missing  Bob Prince at Pittsburgh and Russ Hodges with the Giants.  But then it’s a short blog, not a dissertation. It’s right that we sit and remember these people. They mean as much to baseball as the players, the managers, the peanut vendors, the owners, the fans, the print reporters, and the guy who trims the ivy at Wrigley Field. For some of us, it’s how we got our baseball.

They are sometimes famous for catchphrases like Red Barber’s “catbird’s seat” or Mel Allen’s “how about that”. Others are noted for the delivery style like Dizzy Dean’s mangling of the English language or Vin Scully’s use of classical allusion. Still others are best noted for simply knowing when to shut up. Jack Buck being the great practitioner of that.

There are specific calls that ring in my head when I think of baseball. None are more memorable than Russ Hodges’ “The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant.”  The call that announced that New York was going to the World Series in 1951 gets my vote as greatest call ever. Others will disagree. I know several people who love Bob Prince’s call of Bill Mazeroski’s home run in game seven of 1960.

Jack Buck also has two of my favorites. One is his response to Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” The other is his comment when Gene Larkin hit the little single that put the Minnesota Twins over the top in 1991, “The Twins are going to win the World Series.” What a wonderful bit of understatement. Then the Twins swarmed on the field and Tom Kelly went to the Braves bench to congratulate the Braves. Buck’s response? Silence. He knew when to shut up and let the camera do its job.

My personal favorite is Vin Scully, but then I’m a Dodgers fan. I love his use of the  language. I still remember him calling Sandy Koufax’s perfect game late in the evening on the radio. Wow.

I’ve left out a bunch: Joe Garagiola, Jay Randolph, etc. But there’s no slight meant. I’d give a whole lot just to hear the voices of those that are gone and those that are retired. I hope the generations that follow get to hear something like them. If not, those generations are really going to miss something very special.

Rest in Peace, Ernie Harwell.