An ode to baseball’s voices of summer

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Has covered baseball since 1981

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1971, Russ Hodges died.

The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

That was the call by the great Russ Hodges after Bobby Thomson’s famous home run in 1951. It was an iconic call, as was Jack Buck’s “Go crazy folks, go crazy,” after Ozzie Smith’s walk-off homer in the 1985 National League Championship Series, and Buck’s “I don’t believe what I just saw,” after Kirk Gibson’s homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. And Vin Scully’s call on Gibson, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” Scully delivered that famous line after a good two minutes of silence; he wanted the listeners to hear the crowd.

The full “On this date …” archive

Baseball play-by-play broadcasters are so important — they are a member of the family, they come into our house every night, on TV or radio, they are the eyes and ears for our favorite team and players. It is common that our favorite play-by-by guys are the ones we listened to as a kid. For me, that was Dan Daniels and John MacLean for the Senators, Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell for the Orioles. Thompson would say after a big play, “Ain’t the beer cold?” or, “Go to war, Miss Agnes.” O’Donnell once said, as third baseman Brooks Robinson was making a great play on a grounder, “Will Brooks get him … is a school bus yellow?”

I traveled for four years on the Rangers beat with Hall of Famer Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz. Holtz, at age 14, would re-create every San Francisco Giants game from the night before, broadcast the game into his tape recorder and, if his dad was around to play the organ, would begin the broadcast with, “And now, Paul Holtz will play the national anthem.”

I traveled for four years on the Orioles beat with Hall of Famer Jon Miller, whose impersonations were priceless. He did Vin Scully calling a game in Japanese. He did Sherm Feller, the legendary public-address announcer at Fenway Park, doing a “Leave It To Beaver” episode: Good morning Miss Landers, boys and girls, today’s lesson … Miller did Bob Sheppard, the God-like PA voice at Yankee Stadium, ordering breakfast: Good morning, ladies, and gentlemen, and welcome to my table. I’ll have the No. 2, two eggs, over easy, with toast, No. 2.

We will always remember Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Tigers for so many years. When Tiger Stadium was replaced in 2001, I asked him what he wanted to take from the grand old park as memorabilia. He asked for one of the urinals from the visiting clubhouse.

What?

“It’s personal,” he explained. “Every great player in the history of the American League used it. I’m going to clean it up and make it into a planter for my wife.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Other baseball notes from April 19

  • In 1961, shortstop Spike Owen was born. His real name is Spike.

  • In 1968, catcher Brent Mayne was born. When Barry Bonds was walked intentionally with the bases loaded in 1998, the next batter was Mayne. He lined out to right field to end the game. And once, when he was sure the other team was stealing signs, he told his pitchers early in the game, “I’m not putting down any sign. Throw what you want. I’ll catch it.” The Royals allowed only two runs the rest of the game.

  • In 1959, outfielder R.J. Reynolds was born. He collected shoes, hundreds and hundreds of pairs. “Everything,” he said, “but patent leather.”

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