|Wednesday, May 21
Updated: May 22, 11:54 AM ET
Gowdy's voice prominent part of sports history
By Mark Simon
Special to ESPN.com
In the introduction to the book "The Way it Was," Curt Gowdy wrote:
Even at 83, the memory of the Wyoming-born "Cowboy at the mike," as Gowdy dubbed himself, is still pretty sharp. This Wednesday, he'll be a guest in the broadcast booth on ESPN's Red Sox-Yankees telecast to share some of those memories.
Gowdy was one of the most well-known baseball play-by-play voices, first locally for the Yankees and Red Sox, and then nationally for NBC. After learning the sport from Casey Stengel and broadcast partner Mel Allen during the Yankees' championships of 1949 and 1950, Gowdy left for Boston to become that team's signature voice for 16 seasons.
It was there that he became friends with one of the sport's greatest icons, Ted Williams. The two bonded over a love of fishing and baseball. There were so many great moments in The Splendid Splinter's career that it was hard for Gowdy to pick one favorite.
"In 1954, he broke his collarbone on the first day of spring training," Gowdy said. "They put a steel tin in his shoulder, a graft. He didn't swing a bat or do anything for a month. In the second week of May, he joined us in Washington and in his first at-bat he flew out to deep center. We went to Detroit next for a doubleheader on a chilly, rainy day. I was on the field while he was taking batting practice. He said 'I shouldn't even be playing.' Well, he went 9-for-11 with three home runs that day. I never saw such a batting exhibition."
There were plenty of those in Williams' 19-year Hall of Fame career in which he hit .344 with 521 home runs -- the final one a fabled part of baseball history. Gowdy was there to broadcast it.
"I went in the clubhouse (before the game) and the clubhouse boy, John Orlando calls me over and says 'Don't say anything, but this is The Kid's last game.' I said 'What do you mean? We have a series in New York.' He said that Ted had a chest cold and they've given him permission to skip that series," Gowdy said. "They did a ceremony before the game and I got up and ad-libbed four or five minutes about his pride, because that's what made him great. I got through and he hugs me and says 'I want a copy of that.' I told him I didn't have one, that I ad-libbed it. 'Aw (bleep)' he said.
"His last time up, there were maybe 10,000 people at Fenway. It was a cold, gray day. He ran the count to 2-and-2. Jack Fisher threw him a letter-high fastball and Ted hit it high and far and it landed in the right-field grandstand. He rounded the bases with his head down as he always did, crossed the plate and ran into the dugout. The fans were screaming for him to take a bow, but he never did so. I remember the last line of John Updike's piece in the New Yorker, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. 'Gods don't answer letters.' Whatever he did, he was the best. He was the best fly fisherman I ever saw. John Glenn said he was the best pilot he ever saw. And he was the best hitter I ever saw."
Two years after leaving the Red Sox to be NBC's top voice, Gowdy had the opportunity to call Boston's miraculous run that came up one win shy of beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series. The headlines in the newspapers the day of Game 7 read "Lonborg and Champagne" in anticipation of a Boston victory.
"But I knew there was one man they wouldn't beat," Gowdy said. "When he pitched, shoot, he was mean and tough. That's Bob Gibson. He was a great clutch pitcher. Gibson and Sandy Koufax were the stars those days. I don't know how you could pick one over the other.
"(Boston's run) was an impossible story. They had one great player in Carl Yastrzemski, who was the best left fielder, defensively, that I ever saw. He had a good arm and he could hit. He had everything."
In 1969, Gowdy called two of the most remarkable upsets in sports history, the New York Jets' win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and the New York Mets' 4-games-to-1 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
"The Orioles had an All-Star at every position and a great pitching staff," Gowdy said. "How the Mets beat them, I'll never know. Those guys made catches that they would never make again. Ten years later I was doing a bird show in Maine with Brooks Robinson. We came in from the field, had dinner and went up to the hotel room. He starts pacing the floor. I asked him what was the matter and he said 'Jesus, how did those Mets ever beat us?' He was still upset over that."
Six years later, he found himself back in Boston for another fall classic.
"The 1975 World Series was the best one I ever saw and the sixth game was the best game I ever saw," Gowdy said. "I remember Pete Rose turned around at one point and said to the third base umpire. 'Do you know how lucky we are just to be in this game?'
"Harry Coyle was our director, he put a camera out in the scoreboard in left field. Carlton Fisk swung and the ball was headed down the line. Fisk was trying to wave it fair and it just made it. That's where you got the dramatic (camera) shot. I was watching the ball, but when I turned to him, he was still jumping up and down."
Gowdy also was there to make the call for one of the most memorable moments in baseball history -- April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as baseball's all-time home run leader.
"We got lucky with that," Gowdy said. "He tied the record in Cincinnati in (the Braves') opening game. Then he was going to sit out so that he could break the record at home. The commissioner wouldn't let him do that. He could have gone a month without hitting a home run. I remember the ball carried. I said 'It may be, it is going, going and it is gone for a record-breaking home run for Hank Aaron.' "
There were plenty of moments of celebration for baseball fans that watched the games Gowdy called, and plenty of lessons to be learned. Nearly every major sports announcer of this generation grew up watching Gowdy. As his son, Curt Jr., who is now a coordinating producer for ABC, pointed out, Gowdy passed on his preparation and the warmth that made his listeners feel comfortable. Gowdy Sr. might not even know the full extent of his contribution to the industry.
"I never really thought about the influence I had," Gowdy said. "I don't know whether I had any influence. I just tried to do the games to the best of my ability."
Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's Major League Baseball broadcasts. He can be contacted at Mark.A.Simon@espn.com