Preface from My Baseball Journey: A Sportscaster's Story
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
An Essay on Man, Epistle I
It is highly doubtful Pope had baseball in mind when he famously wrote about the nature of optimism. After all, the English poet expressed his sentiment more than a hundred years before New York City volunteer firefighter Alexander Cartwright is believed to have invented the game he called “town ball.”
Long-suffering Brooklyn Dodger fans expressed predilection for their 20th-century team in more colloquial terms. “Wait ‘til next year!” became the September battle cry shouted from the confines of Ebbets Field, until one day, despite their “Bums” decade-long dominance of the National League, next year never came. The team moved west following the 1957 season and in just two short years, the Los Angeles Dodgers were World Series champions.
Soon, the Houston Astros will be making their own move “west,” across league boundaries and to a new division. That is what next year will bring at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign.
The Astros 2011 season saw losses mount at a record rate. The year began with a narrow 5-4 setback against the Phillies and ended 105 defeats later at Minute Maid Park with an 8-0 shutout at the hands of the soon-to-be World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, a game which saw only two Astros starters remain from the squad which took the field in Philadelphia. Nearly a dozen first-year players dotted the Houston roster by season’s end.
Hope though does spring eternal. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Prior to 2011, Houston’s record for on-field futility was the 97 defeats suffered by teams in 1965, 1975, and 1991. The ’91 team, much like the squad 20 years later, featured a youth movement in progress. Only one regular was older than 28. That 97-loss season, though, was not without highlights: 23-year-old first baseman Jeff Bagwell won the NL Rookie of the Year award, 25-year-old catcher Craig Biggio was named an All-Star for the first time, rookies Luis Gonzalez and Darryl Kile showed flashes of the brilliance which would make them long-time big-league standouts, as did 24-year-old relief pitcher Curt Schilling, later to become a mainstay on three World Series championship teams.
One of the “old-timers” on that ’91 Houston team was a 31-year-old left-handed starter by the name of Jim Deshaies. Jim and I have gotten better acquainted in more recent years, but more about that a bit later.
As the television voice of the Astros for 25 years, I’ve had the best seat in the house to witness the rise and fall of Houston’s baseball fortunes, from the lean years of ’91 and ’11 to six of the nine playoff appearances the team has made in its 50-year history. I’ve seen milestones achieved and records broken; been privy to behind-the-scenes decisions which have changed the face of the franchise, and have witnessed, up close and personally, the on- and off-field heartache that comes with a life lived as a big-league ballplayer.
Sportscasting is a career with its own peaks and valleys. Not only do those of us in the profession ride with the fortunes of the teams whose day-in and day-out accomplishments we seek to describe, but also the nature of the business itself, whether television or radio, can often be tumultuous and unpredictable in its own right.
Some broadcasters, the likes of Vin Scully, Jack Buck and our own Milo Hamilton, become household names, even institutions. There are prodigious egos behind a few of the microphones, just as inflated opinions of self-worth can be found among those in uniform, but there are many, many more good people who both play the game and, as true gentlemen and ladies, cover the sport.
Those who achieve success in their calling, even those of us who make our living making the calls, usually learn the importance of a grounded existence. I was fortunate, both in the way I was raised by my parents and in the choice of my spectacular wife of more than 40 years, Dianne, to find and maintain a solid foundation in my personal life. Jesus Christ, is also, for me, a rock in a sometimes weary land.
Many years ago I chose to follow a different course than the usual nine-to-five job. In the time of my formative years professionally, the early ‘70s, a position with the likes of Procter and Gamble or AT&T offered the promise of a long career and the allure of a generous pension. Instead, I embraced the riskier proposition of pursuing bright lights in the big cities. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a great organization in a great town for the past quarter century, but my story is filled with both tribulations as well as triumphs, commonplace for those who make the press box their place of work.
But, you’ll never hear me complain, although if you’re of a certain age, chances are you did, for a time, hear me regularly say:
“Any use of the pictures, descriptions, or accounts of this game without the express written consent of the Houston Astros is strictly prohibited.”
This copyright disclaimer was standard spoken fair on every professional sports broadcast for many years. In theory, it provides intellectual property protection for such entities as Major League Baseball, its clubs, and its players. For years now, in the case of television, an on-screen graphic with slightly more ominous language and accompanied by a far more foreboding voice than my own, offers fair warning to those who might intend to steal or pirate the sights, sounds, names or logos of the billion-dollar business that baseball has become.
In writing this book, it occurred to me to see if anyone had copyrighted the copyright disclaimer. Fortunately, I found, use of the term “descriptions or accounts” free and clear from legal encumbrance, and thus was born, with a slight modification, the title for this book. I’d like to think the title also serves as a road map for the content you’ll find on the pages which follow. Content which is also copyrighted, I might add!
“Descriptions” are those most important, historic, humorous, and sometimes embarrassing events which have shaped the course of my life and career. The “Accounts” contained within are vignettes about the people who have been most inspiring and influential to me, some of whom you already know and some you may be meeting here for the first time.
And, after a 2011 season filled with so many forgettable moments, I thought readers might enjoy a Top-Ten list of my most memorable broadcasts. Some of the choices will surprise you but all have special meaning to me.
My decision to write this book ultimately was inspired by one of the most influential and memorable people I’ve had the privilege to meet in recent years. Zach Hamm is a go-getter and a do-gooder. Any room he walks into instantly becomes his own through his combination of charm, personality and spirit. He’s the founder of and driving force behind the aptly name “Don’t Sweat It Golf Classic” played each year on his home course at Gleannloch Pines Golf Club in far northwest Houston. The event benefits the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias.
I’ll share more about my good friend Zach and his most worthy cause later in this book.
The past 12 months have been quite a year for those of us who follow the Houston Astros. During the 2011 campaign I was regularly reminded of the words of Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, one of the most interesting and charismatic people I’ve encountered during my time in baseball. I grew to become friends with Sparky during his tenure at the helm of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”
Those Reds teams didn’t lose a lot—in fact, they won back-to-back World Series championships during my time in the Cincinnati broadcast booth—but when they did lose, Anderson had a strong conviction about the best way to cope with defeat:
“I cannot get rid of the hurt from losing, but after the last out of every loss, I must accept that there will be a tomorrow. In fact, it’s more than there’ll be a tomorrow, it’s that I want there to be a tomorrow. That’s the big difference, I want tomorrow to come.”
For Sparky Anderson, it was never a matter of waiting until next year. He looked ahead one day at a time and that mindset made him one of only two managers to win World Series in both leagues. As for me, this book is a collection of my most notable yesterdays. It’s my desire that the descriptions and accounts of a few of those yesterdays will be of interest and that you, the reader, will discover inspiration and instruction from these tales as you seek the blessings to be found in the hope which I pray springs eternal in your own life.