While many will associate baseball teams as merely comprising of the athletes, the direction from the dugout and the folks behind the microphones are just as important. Imagine your home team without its leader, or the voices that provide play by play commentary! Many of these coaches and announcers once had on-field careers.
The first full-time coaches in professional baseball date to 1909, when the New York Giants’ John McGraw hired Wilbert Robinson and Arlie Latham as coaches. By the 1920s, most Major League teams had two full-time coaches, although the manager often doubled as third-base coach, and specialists, such as pitching coaches, were rare. You had to know it all to coach! After World War II, most MLB teams listed between three and five coaches on their roster, as managers increasingly ran their teams from the dugout full-time, and appointed pitching, batting, and baseline coaches to assist them and the baseline coaches. Because of the proliferation of uniformed coaches in the modern game, Major League Baseball now restricts the number of uniformed staff to six coaches and one manager during a game. A benefit to having former players as coaches is they know what it’s like to be directed and how to play the game every day, and can have reasonable expectations for their players.
|Wilbert Robinson (center) and Arlie Latham (Right)|
New York Giants dugout, 1909
Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons
In most sports leagues, the coach is easily identified by his clothing. However, in baseball, the manager and coaches typically all wear numbered team uniforms, just like their players, with few exceptions. Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack always wore a black suit during his 50 years at the helm of the Philadelphia Athletics, and Burt Shotton, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940s, wore a Dodger cap and a team jacket over street clothes in the dugout. After the widespread adoption of numbered uniforms in the early 1930s, Joe McCarthy, another Hall of Fame manager, wore a full uniform but no number on his back for the remainder of his career (with the New York Yankees, then the Boston Red Sox). Coincidentally, all three men retired during or after the same season — 1950.
|Ronald Reagan, WHO Radio Sportscaster|
Photo Credit: Des Moines Register
Often, the broadcasters were not actually present at the game, but simply gave reports telegraphed to them from the stadium. From the years 1933-36, a young Ronald Reagan provided commentary for the Chicago Cubs. During one game, he lost his feed, and simply ad-libbed possible scenarios to avoid dead air.
For the 1923 World Series, Rice had a partner for the first time: Graham McNamee. Rice was the leading broadcaster, but during the fourth inning of Game 3, he turned the microphone over McNamee, making him the first “color commentator” - a person ad-libs when the game isn’t actually in progress. Although frequently criticized for his lack of expertise, McNamee helped popularize baseball.
As the Golden Era of the 1950s wound down, radio broadcasts were gradually eclipsed by television. The World Series continued to be broadcast on the radio, with NBC Radio covering the Series from 1960–1975, and CBS Radio from 1976–1997. However, after 1960 there would not be regular-season baseball broadcast nationally on the radio until 1985 when CBS Radio started a Game of the Week. Most teams do have a local broadcasting outlet to provide games to their fans.
|Richie Ashburn's Hall of Fame Plaque|
By Peter Bond, via Wikimedia
Another memorable broadcasting voice is Harry Kalas. During the summer, he was known by Phillies fans for his hallmark "Swing...and a long drive...this ball is outta here!" when a home run was launched to the stands, and leading the crowd in post-game performances of the song "High Hopes." Kalas broadcast for the Phillies for nearly forty years, until literally the day he died. (Kalas collapsed in the booth just before the start of the April 13, 2009 Phillies-Nationals game, and died shortly after being taken to the hospital.) However, many outside of baseball recognize his distinct voice because he was also the announcer for Inside the NFL during the baseball off-season, and provided voice-overs to the NFL for nearly 30 years.
A wise man once said, “Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that matters the most.” That certainly is the case with these “hidden” heroes at the ballpark. While many believe a baseball team to comprise only of the athletes at the plate, the coaches that train them and the broadcasters who popularize their names are equally important. Commentators and broadcasters allow fans to experience the game as if they were in the stands themselves watching the payoff of a coach’s hard work.
Harry Kalas Cover Photo Credit: Sons of Penn
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