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Owners and GM’s make myopic decisions, firing their beloved voices; Derek Jeter is the last to err

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Halberstam

This happened recently and it stuck to my craw. It triggered me to list similar and larger such developments that are still remembered by those of age.

Derek Jeter and Dave Van Horne

I’m not suggesting that the Marlins’ Dave Van Horne wasn’t losing his fastball. Yet the man in the booth with the sepulchral tones gave baseball 53 years of his life, most in Canada. Under Derek Jeter, he died a death of a thousand deaths. Dave’s voice is still in fine fettle at age 82. It hasn’t lost a decibel yet from my naked ear.

Like him or not, DVH is a Ford Frick Hall of Famer. As the years progressed, he was less visible on the Marlins radiocasts. His weak sidekick Glenn Geffner kept getting more visibility under Jeter’s watch. After this past season, Van Horne was asked to come back for twenty games like 12-15% of the schedule. To me, that’s insulting. The team dragged an accomplished and distinguished man through the mud in his 80s. The team could have acknowledged him. It didn’t.

When Jeter came down here, he unloaded TV announcer Rich Waltz for no reason. He made changes for the sake of making changes. And what in the world does he know about baseball broadcasting? His moves showed no vision. Derek will sell his stake in the club and stuff it in his deep pocket and move on.

But this has happened too frequently with other teams. Here are other notable times:

Ernie Harwell's estate drained by family infightingBo Schembechler and  Ernie Harwell

He was idiotically tossed from the Tigers booth in 1991 by club boss and former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler. Ernie was likely the Tigers’ most popular broadcaster ever. He first spent 12 years in Brooklyn, followed by the baseball Giants and the Baltimore Orioles, before becoming an institution in Detroit for some four decades, some 55 seasons in all. He had an elegant, soft and breezy tone. Tigers opening pitch became Ernie time. When all was said and done, Harwell (left) was rehired and Schembechler was rightfully fired

Harry Caray and August Busch III

While Jack Buck eventually outdistanced him in popularity, there was no bigger voice in St. Louis than Harry Caray. Tremendous charisma, Harry called Cards baseball for a quarter century. All was wonderful even though he battled with colleagues Joe Garagiola and Milo Hamilton. But when rumors spread that he was having an affair with the owner’s daughter-in-law, the boss stepped in and fired him. Caray, so hypnotic behind the microphone and a larger than life personality, popped up off the mat. After a year in Oakland he moved to Chicago and did all sorts of shtick with the White Sox and later with the Cubs.

Horace Stoneham and Russ Hodges

Russ, a southerner did MLB in New York first as an understudy for Mel Allen with the Yanks. He then moved from the big ballpark in the Bronx to the small one in Harlem. He called one of the most well known comeback homeruns ever, the one smacked by Bobby Thomson. “The Giants win the pennant…!” He then crossed country for San Francisco when baseball moved to San Francisco. He and the team suffered at cold Candlestick on summer nights. Horace Stoneham didn’t have his back in 1970 when sponsor Chevron let him go after 25 years. His departure was gracious. His son, a good friend, told me so. Russ was down in the dumps and died of a broken heart, a year later in 1971.

Dan Topping, Del Webb, GM Ralph Houk and Mel Allen

The man with the perfect vocal tone. Few had a greater command  of the language. From 1947 through 1963, Mel missed only one World Series, 1954, Giants-Indians. He was as my friend Curt Smith would say, the cynosure of baseball across our great land. Mel partnered with Red Barber’s last, Dodgers-Yankees, and Vin Scully’s first in 1953, also an interborough affair. Mel’s sharpness declined noticeably by 1964. The Yankees blew him out and fans fired invectives at Yankee ownership and management.

Walter O’Malley and Red Barber

Don’t leave Red out of the mix. He gave the game a rhythm on radio, first in Cincinnati, working for the progenitor of the MacPhails, Larry. The the baseball innovator was the first to transfer his means of travel by train to plane. He then took over Brooklyn where he imported Red. The Dodgers had been banning radio, for the fear of a drop in attendance. MacPhail started running broadcasts and they were a huge hit. The Redhead got along magnificently later with Branch Rickey, a teetotaler. But the broadcaster and Walter O’Malley became fast antagonists. In 1954, O’Malley showed Barber directions to Manhattan and gave the precocious Vin Scully the Ebbets Field booth.

And yes, (per frequent column and knowledgeable contributor), as the 1966 season was coming to an end, Red was invited to breakfast with the Yanks’ fresh GM, Michael Burke. He had a half a cup of coffee and was handed his walking papers. Red himself called the writers sharing his story tendentiously. No one seemed to care. One beloved broadcaster called him persnickety.

Charles Finley and Harry Caray, Merle Harmon, Jon Miller, Bob Elson, Al Helfer, Jim Woods

There was one who survived Finley. Monte Moore made it through a couple decades despite being fired a number of times and rehired the next day. The Big survivor is still sharp in his 90s. While still in Kansas City, Finley listened to Moore do the KU basketball games in the days of Wilt Chamberlain and he hired him. Over the next couple decades Monte had partners like Hall of Famers, Caray, Elson, Helfer. and Miller. The only one that Moore talks sourly about is Caray. Monty gave Jon Miller his Big League break in 1974.

Peter Angelos and Miller He took the Orioles microphone in 1983 and built a strong bond with the fan base there. Angelos was a difficult man and after a while they grew an irreparable rift. Miller went to Northern California and joined the Giants. He was the Voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night TV baseball and many radio World Series. ESPN unceremoniously waved him good-bye. Sunday night baseball hasn’t been the same yet.

***

These are the big ones. There are others and we’ll get to them and other sports down the road.

So let’s salute the all-time baseball broadcast survivor: Monte Moore. He was shelled enough by Charles Finley but in the process was assigned 3 World Series on NBC television with Curt Gowdy

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
7 months ago

Of course, the Yankees also fired Red Barber. I know you’ll get to others, but the one that rankles me personally is Ross Porter, whom the Dodgers treated terribly. Ross, to his credit, refused to go back to Dodger Stadium during the regime that fired him. The current ownership rehired the sap who fired him under Frank McCourt, so I suspect Ross is staying away now, too. In Harwell’s case, there has been talk that it was the radio station manager more than Schembechler, but if Bo had had any brains, he would have told the radio station manager that… Read more »