WHEN IT WAS Chuck Thompson's time to say a few words, Fred Manfra led himto the microphone and then Chuck's wife, Betty, and his son, Craig, were thereto guide him away. Chuck doesn't see too well now. It is one of the cruelironies of our time. For so many years, his eyes supplied the vision for awhole community.
More than a thousand people gathered Tuesday night, at Martin's West, topay tribute to Thompson, the retired sportscaster, and to raise money for theWilmer Macular Degeneration Center and the International Rett SyndromeAssociation.
"To all those with macular degeneration, Chuck's a hero," said PeterCamochiaro, from the Wilmer Eye Institute. "For so many years, his gift of thespoken word let them see things even if they weren't there."
He did it across half a century, and he did it for everyone who didn't havea ticket to the game. He did it sitting in radio and television booths withthe Orioles and Colts from their earliest (and last) days here, and hedescribed the action with authority and wit and a golden voice and theremarkable ability to stay on top of the play as it was taking place.
"Also," said Lenny Moore, "a quality person. In a world of take, you don'tsee this kind of man who's always looking to give."
Moore, the marvelous Hall of Famer for the Colts, helped create a lifestylein Baltimore built around a football team. But it was Thompson up in thebooth, igniting people's imaginations, telling the stories of wondrous thingshappening in a ballpark, creating the buzz that made people want to be a partof it.
We build communities of the spirit out of such things. The sportscaster TedPatterson was there Tuesday. He has a swell new book and CD, The Golden Voicesof Baseball, with a section devoted to Chuck Thompson. As you look through thebook, and see all the familiar names - Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, RussHodges, Bob Prince - you realize how many of them became identified not onlywith a team, but a town.
"Chuck's the voice of God in Baltimore," Patterson said.
Thompson was there from the beginning of modern sports in Baltimore. Onsummer nights before air conditioning, you could walk through neighborhoodsand keep up with Orioles games by the radio broadcasts coming through openwindows.
On Sunday afternoons each autumn, Fred Manfra remembered, "You could lookout your window, and there was never a soul on the street. If they didn't havea ticket to the Colts, they were listening to Chuck on the radio."
Manfra, now one of the Orioles' voices, grew up in East Baltimore,graduated from Patterson Park High, and "lived and died with the Colts andOrioles. Chuck was my idol. He's one of the greatest ever to sit behind amicrophone. But the man who was our eyes has lost his."
"I feel good," Thompson said Tuesday night as the big crowd gathered.Macular degeneration has taken away much of his sight, but not his ability tocount his blessings. "I can't read anymore, but I feel fine."
"Chuck's voice has resonated through this city," said Ken Singleton, theformer Orioles outfielder now broadcasting Yankees games. "On cold nights inApril and October, I'd slip out of the dugout and go back into the clubhouseto listen to Chuck. It got me away from Earl." He meant Weaver, the volcanicmanager.
"The thing is," said Singleton, "Chuck's like a man who's been in yourhouse through the generations. Even if we haven't met him, we know him."
"A great man, a wonderful man," Art Donovan, the Colts Hall of Famer, toldthe big crowd. "I don't think he ever said a bad word about anybody. I'm gonnago back and have another beer and think about that."
"I think I made the Hall of Fame because Chuck made such a good case forme," Jim Palmer said. "But he had a pretty good needle, too. He watched Reggie Jackson when Reggie was traded here, and said, `There's not enough mustard inthe world to cover this young hot dog.'"
What we have here are not just tributes, but testaments to the power of theword. It wasn't just that Chuck Thompson watched ballgames for us. The gamescreated generations of good will, of characters around whom we all investcommon emotions.
Donovan can joke about beer, and we understand the joker behind the crack.Chuck told us all about this guy on the radio. Palmer can mention Reggie, andeverybody understands the hot dog line. Singy can mention Weaver, and werecall sparks flying out of Earl's cap as he chased after some poor umpire.
We remember it, even if we weren't there. Chuck Thompson brought it to usacross half a century. He was our eyes. He gave us a vision of ourselves inour most playful moments.