Announcers

Al Helfer, this year’s Frick winner, was likely the most traveled of all the baseball voices ever honored

Helfer had two tours of duty with the Dodgers, worked for 8 MLB teams in all and finished up with Finley's A's in 1969 alongside Monte Moore

Ford Frick Award – Fun Facts

2019 Frick winner, Al Helfer

On NFL Enshrinement Weekend, smack in middle of the summer, how about a tribute to baseball and to this year’s Frick Winner, Al Helfer. Locally, for sure, baseball announcers are a touch of home. Winners of the Frick Award, emblematic of broadcasting excellence, are household names in the cities where they did much of their work.

On July 20th, Al Helfer became the 43d recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually at Cooperstown to honor a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”

Helfer entered in the pioneer or Broadcast Beginnings category; the other categories are Major League Markets, meaning team announcers, and National Voices or those known mainly for network broadcasting. Helfer could fit any of the designations and so could most of the other 42 honorees.

So, here are some facts about Helfer and the award:

  • Helfer was the original play-by-play voice of Mutual’s Game of the Day, making him the first to broadcast Major League Baseball live nationally on a daily basis. The other Frick winners to have been part of the Mutual daily announce team were Bob Wolff (1995), who did a few games in the early years, and Gene Elston (2006), who broadcast during the last three years of the series. The Game of the Day ended after the 1960 season because of impending expansion and so many teams switching to more night games. The Mutual Game of the Day was available only in non MLB cities which in the series’ popular years excluded only New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The rest of the country was fair game.
  • Helfer is one of only two voices to call games for all three classic NY teams. In 1937 and 1938, he said he did a few Yankee games when they were testing the waters on ending the ban on regular season radio broadcasts. In 1945, he did the Yankees and Giants when they teamed for a joint broadcast. In 1949, Al did the Giants as #2 to Russ Hodges, another Frick winner (1980). Al also had two tours with the Brooklyn Dodgers, from 1939 to 1941 with Red Barber, one of the first two Frick recipients in 1978, and from 1955 to 1957 with Vin Scully (1982) as well as Andre Baruch and Jerry Doggett. The stout Pennsylvanian also worked with Connie Desmond, the only other baseball broadcaster to do the games for all three teams, the Yankees and Giants with Mel Allen (Barber’s co-inductee in 1978) in 1942 and the Dodgers from 1943 to 1956. 
  • Helfer is one of eight Frick winners to be honored posthumously. The others are Hodges, Buck Canel, Bob Prince, Arch McDonald, Tom Cheek, Graham McNamee, and Bill King.
  • Brother Al, as Barber called him, announced for eight different teams, more than any other Frick recipient. Besides the three New York teams, he also did the Pirates, Reds, Phillies, Colt ‘45s (now Astros) and Athletics. The runner-up among Frick winners was the 1992 recipient Milo Hamilton. The Iowan did the Browns, Cardinals, Cubs, White Sox, Braves, Pirates, and Astros.
  • The only Frick winners who were never full-time or part-time team broadcasters were pioneer McNamee who did early World Series for NBC Radio from 1923 to 1935 and Bob Costas who did do fill in games for Jack Buck on Cardinals and excelled on network television. 
  • Among Frick winners, Helfer is:

the 3d from the Pirates , in addition to Bob Prince and Hamilton

the 4th from the Reds, with Hodges, Barber, and Marty Brennaman

the 6th from the Dodgers, with Barber, Ernie Harwell, Scully, Buck Canel, and Jaime Jarrín

the 5th from the Phillies, along with By Saam, Chuck Thompson, Harry Kalas, and Tim McCarver

the 4th from the Astros, with Elston, Kalas, and Prince

the 9th from the Athletics, including Saam, Thompson, Herb Carneal, Harry Caray, Bob Elson, Jon Miller, Lon Simmons, and Bill King.

  • The teams with the most Frick recipients are the Yankees and Giants with eleven each. The winners who broadcast for both teams are Allen, Hodges, Arch McDonald and Helfer. Other Yankee announcers have been Barber, Curt Gowdy, Canel, Joe Garagiola, Jerry Coleman, Tony Kubek, and Tim McCarver. The other Giants recipients have been Harwell, Jack Brickhouse, Lindsey Nelson, Lon Simmons, Miller, McCarver, and Bill King.
  • Helfer worked during the regular season with four other Frick recipients: Barber, Hodges, Scully, and Elston, as well as the World Series with Allen, Jack Brickhouse and Jimmy Dudley. He was associated with Canel, who voiced Brooklyn Dodgers games in Spanish in 1957; By Saam (1990), who did the regular Phillies broadcasts while Helfer televised them into a New York market bereft of National League baseball in 1958 and Joe Garagiola who was part of the 1957 All-Star Game NBC broadcast crew with Helfer.
  • Although Helfer worked with a lot of fellow recipients, the record for teaming with Frick winners belongs to Garagiola. In addition to Helfer, he broadcast with Caray and Jack Buck on Cardinals broadcasts; Barber and Coleman with the Yankees; Nelson, Wolff, Gowdy, Kubek, Scully, and Miller on various incarnations of NBC’s Game of the Week; and Allen, Harwell, Saam, Brennaman, Dick Enberg, and Bob Costas on World Series coverage.
  • In 1957, when Helfer worked with Scully on Dodger games and Canel broadcast Spanish language games, it marked one of the few times that three Frick winners were with the same team at the same time. Others have been the St. Louis Cardinals (Caray, Buck, and Hamilton in 1954; Caray, Buck, and Garagiola, 1955-59 and 1961-62), the Chicago White Sox (Elson, Hamilton, and Brickhouse, 1962-65); the Yankees (Allen, Barber, and Coleman, 1963-64; Barber, Coleman, and Garagiola, 1965-66); and the Giants (Hodges, Simmons, and King, 1958-62). When NBC aired the Game of the Week in 1974 and 1975, three Frick winners—Gowdy, Garagiola, and Kubek—broadcast the games. In the 1980s, NBC’s two regular Saturday crews consisted of four Frick winners: Garagiola and Scully, and Costas and Kubek.
  • It’s interesting to note that in 1965 when ABC carried the first true national Game of the Week, the four main announcers were Chris Schenkel, Merle Harmon, Ken Coleman and Keith Jackson. None has won a Frick. 

 

1968 KNBR Radio promotes its A’s broadcasts
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Michael Green
Michael Green

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His specialties are Nevada history and 19th century America, but as a onetime wannabe sportscaster, he also plans to write about the history of baseball broadcasting.

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