There Was Magic in His Voice

“He’s sitting on 714.”  Most baseball fans believe it’s one of the top five calls of all-time.  These two guys are forever joined in baseball lore by less than forty words, spoken into microphone one early evening on April 8, 1974, by Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton, forty-one years ago.  It was the first game of the new season.  The Atlanta Braves were at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Here’s how the call sounded as Henry Aaron settled into the batter’s box.

“He’s sitting on 714!  Here’s the pitch by Downing, swinging, there’s a drive into left centerfield, that ball is gonna beee…OUTTA HERE!  IT’S GONE!  IT’S 715!  There’s a new home run champion of all-time and it’s HENRY AARON!”

It was “pure” Milo Hamilton.  For some of us, baseball is life.  I still wonder about the places he’s been, the players he’s interviewed and the scores of fans he’s entertained.  For most of us, he’s Uncle Milo.  He was family; he came into our homes 162 times a year, until these last couple of years.  I even listened to his call when I was at the Astros game.  He always stirred my imagination.  One of the secrets of baseball is that you play almost every day.  Therefore redemption was only hours away. Miloused the game to help people discover themselves.  They could use those discoveries to confront anything in their life.  Baseball is a teacher; it reveals your heart and soul and the game is designed to reveal it to you.

There will never be another like him as far as I’m concerned; I love the old man.  As he got older, he began to look tired, frail, and almost sickly until he found his way into the announcer booth or onto the field of play.  It was like flipping a switch.  A microphone made his eyes light up like lanterns.  The game simply turned him on. Milocould sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and make you laugh.  He walked every day into his radio booth intoxicated by the promise of that day’s game.  He didn’t like being surprised; he studied and saved his information in a satchel that may have been as old as him.  He loved baseball so much; even his computer wore batting gloves.  No one wanted to talk to Milo Hamilton about another announcer or player; they wanted to talk about Milo Hamilton.  The longer an announcer stays with the same team the more the fans identify with that team.  Fathers, sons, and sons of sons, we all become a part of his history.

His educated eyes could fill books with the magic of the grand old game.  Most of us know about his calls of eleven no-hitters, the grand slams, and historic home runs.  For sixty-seven years, he opened his scorecard and charted baseball history.  He taught us how to figure batting averages, told us how players got their nicknames and why.  He described routine double-plays, the importance of a bunt single, why stealing third increases the chances of scoring by nine, and the reason so many players strike out looking.  He taught us about Uncle Charlie, twin killings, chin music, and frozen ropes.  Seeing-Eye singles, right down Kirby and “Holy Toledo, what a play!” became his signature calls.  Every play reminded him of days gone by, when only the player, the city, and the circumstances were different.  I would love to see through his eyes, if only for a moment.  Listening to him call a game made me feel like a hundred dollar bill in a two dollar wallet.  Writer Phil Hirsh once wrote, “Baseball is the only game you can see on the radio.” Milomade it easy for all of us.  His canyon deep voice was unmistakable.  He was always “in” the game.  You could never tell by his tone of voice whether his team was behind or ahead.  Everybody wanted to be connected, to be a part of him.  Let’s call that a professional.

Baseball looks so easy to play from your seat.  It is, in fact, the hardest of them all.  The game moves at a pace where a grandfather can talk about what’s happening on the field with his grandson.  They see and experience virtually the same game. Milotaught me how to score a game, what to look for, how to anticipate a great play.  He gave us a history lesson every night and allowed us to dream about what it would be like to play Major League baseball.  All words seemed better to me when spoken by Milo Hamilton.

What you saw was what you got withMilo.  Not many of us find our true place in life; that does not hold true for Milo Hamilton.  I can’t imagine him doing anything else. Milohas been a part of the Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session radio show for almost twenty years.  Three times every year he joined us on the air, live fromHouston,Texas.  My partner Dennis Quinn always referred to our interviews as “Milounplugged.”  On two different occasions, we took our show on the road toMinuteMaidPark, andMilowas nice enough to join us there, in the booth, talking baseball.  We talked old school baseball; from “Stan the Man” and “Hammerin’ Hank” to “The Ryan Express.”  We covered everything from the disappearance of the hook slide to the tragedy of steroids and everything in between.  There is never a time I did not learn something.  It has been said that the greatest classroom often lies at the feet of the elderly.  How true.

Milowas inducted into the Broadcast Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.  He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2000.  He has been an announcer for 67 years.  His first job in Major League baseball started in 1953, with the St. Louis Browns.  He has also announced for six other Major League clubs.

There were several times when Milo visitedCorpus Christi; the Hooks would set aside a suite forMiloand he always asked us to join him.  The conversation was magic as the years of baseball through his eyes came flooding back.  It was as close to baseball Heaven as I will ever get.  I once told him how much he was loved as I was leaving his company.  I think it may have surprised him.  He didn’t know how to respond, but he smiled.  I’m absolutely sure he knows he’s loved, but does not hear it enough.  We are always moreappreciative of something we had and have now lost.

Milo last visitedCorpus   Christi, January 24, 2014, with the Astros caravan.  I couldn’t wait to see him.  When he walked into the room he was surrounded by the TV guys like Custer at the Little Big Horn.  We sat and laughed and talked about the call.  He and Hank still speak with each other quite often. Milolooked good as he is winning his battle with cancer.  I’ve never met a more giving individual.  There will never be another Milo Hamilton.

Milo Hamilton passed away today at 88 years of age.  The good lord may have kissed this guy right on the forehead.  This is kind of hard for me as this is not the way I wanted to remember him.  For me,Milowill never be gone, he’s still here, and he’ll always here.

 

 

Andy Purvis

www.purvisbooks.com

Red Rooster

This fellow was a fine defensive third baseman with five Gold Gloves to show for his work.  He was a wild, eccentric, fun-loving guy who was also a little bit crazy.  He received the nickname, the “Red Rooster.”  In a sport where players routinely make millions of dollars, this guy would arm-wrestle you for twenty dollars.  He made Nolan Ryan look kinky.  One time when Houston Astros’ teammate, Norm Miller, and his wife paid an unannounced visit to Rader’s house, Doug answered the door completely naked.

Once while being interviewed for television by Jim Bouton, Doug Rader advised all Little League players to eat their bubble gum cards along with the gum.  He said that if they ate the cards and digested the information, they would become better ballplayers.  “Bubble-gum cards are very good for a Little Leaguer’s diet,” said Rader.  Another time, Doug said, “They should only eat the cards of the good ballplayers.  Say you have a kid whose 5-foot-1 inches tall, tell him to eat a Willie McCovey card.  Willie’s 6 foot 4.  The kid may grow.  You never can tell.”  Rader went on during the interview, “Have them eat the bases and home plate, and they’ll play better.”  Doug Rader played for the Houston Astros from 1967-1975.  He recorded his first big league hit in his first at-bat.  He became known for his off-field antics around the world.  Doug would use the Astros’ locker room as a driving range, teeing up a golf ball, while guys were diving for cover in their lockers, behind trunks and under the whirlpool.  His teammates prayed they would not get hit, as golf balls ricocheted around the room.  Astros’ pitcher Larry Dierker, was asked why nobody took Rader’s golf clubs away.  “’Cause they wanted to live,” responded Dierker.

 

 

 

Andy Purvis

www.purvisbooks.com