I consider myself to be an amateur baseball historian, of sorts. Baseball is a game that is so rich in history, and I must have gotten my love for the game and its history from my grandfather on my mom's side of the family. Up until his retirement a year ago, he worked for over 40 years as an over-the-road truck driver, so much of his time was spent in the cab of an 18-wheeler listening to baseball games. The happiest day of his life was when the family purchased XM Satellite Radio for his truck as a Christmas present. Up until the 2008 merger with Sirius, XM was the radio home to every Major League Baseball game every season. He could finally follow every game of our beloved Colorado Rockies as he traversed the United States of America from coast to coast. From an early age, I loved visiting my grandma and grandpa's house, as the Rockies telecasts were shown on KWGN Channel 2 in Denver, and we weren't able to receive that station at my house. My grandparents could get KWGN. While other kids were watching cartoons, I wanted to watch baseball.
I have long been fascinated by radio, particularly when it comes to baseball. The Rockies have some of the best commentators that I have ever heard, with Drew Goodman and George Frazier calling the games on television for Fox Sports Rocky Mountain. There are many summer evenings, though, that I choose to take a drive in my pickup so that I can listen to Jeff Kingery and Jack Corrigan call the games on 850 KOA. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that current New York Mets broadcaster Wayne Hagin is the one that made me fall in love with radio broadcasts. He served as the lead broadcaster, alongside Kingery, for the Rockies from 1993-2002, and he is said to be the only man to have attended every Rockies game during the franchise's first 10 years. In 2003, Corrigan came to the Rockies after 17 seasons as the television play-by-play man for the Cleveland Indians. What follows is my favorite story throughout the history of baseball.
Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey was known as an innovator, the man that provided an avenue for baseball's color barrier to be broken. In 1947, he signed Jackie Robinson to a contract, making Robinson the first black ballplayer in the history of Major League Baseball. In 1948, though, he did something else that was never done before, and hasn't been done since.
Red Barber had served as the radio broadcaster for the Dodgers since 1938. In 1948, though, he found himself in the hospital, suffering from a bleeding ulcer. Rickey, in need of an announcer, couldn't find anyone that he thought suited the position in New York. He put out an advertisement for the position, and he found a taker for the job. This 30-year-old man served as the radio broadcaster for a minor league baseball team in Atlanta from the Southern Association in 1943 after a failed newspaper career. The following year, he joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served for the next four years. He returned to his broadcasting position in 1948, but his career in Atlanta was shortlived after he learned of the Dodgers' opening. The team that he worked for, though, was reluctant to release him from his contract. So what did Branch Rickey do? He traded catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta in exchange for the contract of the broadcaster. This is the only time in baseball history that a broadcaster has been traded for a player.
Who was this broadcaster? He would go on to a very successful career broadcasting Major League Baseball games. He spent the next 55 years on the airwaves of the Dodgers, New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers, spending the last 42 years of his career with the Tigers. He retired on September 29, 2002, and, nearing his 91st birthday, still resides in Michigan with his wife, Lulu. He wrote 66 songs, once quipping that he had "more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan". He has been inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame. In 1981, he became the fifth man to be honored with the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has received the Ty Tyson Award for Excellence in Sports Broadcasting from the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association. He has written seven books about baseball, and produced an audio scrapbook about his career in 2006. He has served on national broadcasts for ESPN, NBC, CBS, and FOX, and he called two MLB All-Star Games and one World Series. He called Bobby Thomson's famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World" for NBC television, a call that has not been preserved, so you will never hear it. He has also appeared in several motion pictures.
Who is this man? He is legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell - the only baseball broadcaster to ever be traded for a player.
The video below is from Ernie Harwell's 90th birthday celebration, January 25, 2008. The excerpts in the beginning are taken from Ernie Harwell's Audio Scrapbook, an excellent album for any baseball fan.