Friday, February 25, 2011

Radio's Boys of Summer

By Frank Absher

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born Baby Boomers have some very fond memories of baseball on the radio. For many, it played a huge part in our lives.

The prose that came out of those speakers is romanticized by many people today, but the practitioners behind it knew that they had to create pictures in the minds of the listeners. The best of those practitioners became our friends and shared their personalities with us. Yes, they were stars, just as revered as the boys of summer.

We all have memories. Mine is of “meeting” Harry Caray at Sportsmen’s Park one fine afternoon in the ‘50s. He was doing what had already become second nature to him – working the crowd before the game and signing autographs for the kids. Although I was never an outgoing kid, I actually spoke up when he took my baseball to sign, asking him who his favorite Cardinal was. “They’re all good, sonny,” was his reply, probably a standard one, but I remember marveling that he sounded just the same as he did on the radio.

In that decade, life in a small town was enhanced by the radio. The hot Midwestern summers were something you just dealt with. There was no air conditioning in our homes. I vividly remember walking down the streets of my town on summer evenings, following the Cardinal baseball games as Harry’s voice wafted through each screen door and open window.

We didn’t need a televised picture to show us what was going on. We had Harry describing it for us, and when a Cardinal flubbed a play, Harry didn’t sugar coat it.

My grandfather, who lived in the next town over, was a dyed-in-the-wool Cardinals fan.

His radio was right next to his chair in the parlor; everything from his lamp to his radio and newspaper was in easy reach. After supper he’d settle in, and by the fourth inning the lights in the room would be out, but the radio was still on.

At one point his sons and daughters decided to surprise him with a TV so he could watch his beloved Cardinals’ games, but that old dog preferred the old tricks. The TV remained dark and the radio dial still glowed late into the evening.

We weren’t alone in those rural Southern Illinois burgs when it came to appreciating baseball on the radio.

The very learned writer, commentator and avid baseball fan George Will recently reminisced before an appreciative audience about his boyhood:

“I grew up in Champaign where Major League Baseball helped shape my career. In that town we could listen to the Cardinals and the Cubs on the radio,” he said. “When I was kid I decided to root for the Cubs. About 90 percent of my friends rooted for the Cardinals. Today they are all happy liberals.”

Those disembodied voices on the radio from faraway towns made us a part of those summertime outings at the ballpark. The announcers let us watch through their eyes, and our lives were a little more interesting for it.

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