Save 75% - Only $49.99 for 1 full year! digitalPLUS subscription offer ends 12/1
Sports

TWO FOR THE HALL: CHUCK Thompson joins broadcast legends after having a ball for many ears

FootballBaseballVehiclesDeathGolf

Cooperstown, N.Y. -- When he walked away from retirement three years ago,Chuck Thompson didn't realize he was stepping onto the path that would leadhim to the Hall of Fame.

"To be honest, I felt if it was going to happen, it would've happenedyears ago," Thompson said. "It would've been nice, but I didn't think it wasgoing to happen to me."

He was wrong, as he found out last Feb. 9, when the announcement was made.And he has since learned what others have known for decades -- that only ahandful of the athletes whose actions he has described have had a greaterimpact on the community.

This afternoon, in the picturesque village of Cooperstown that is home tothe museum that immortalizes the greats of baseball, Thompson will betterunderstand that impact. He will be the 17th recipient of the Ford C. FrickAward and enter the broadcast wing of baseball's Hall of Fame.

"It came as a complete shock to me," Thompson said, recalling his initialfeeling after learning of his selection. "When Ed Stack [president of the Hallof Fame] called, it must have taken me two minutes to say thank you."

Coming from someone who has never been at a loss for words whilebroadcasting major-league baseball during a span that covers six decades, twominutes to summarize two words is tantamount to a career. But it is only nowthat Thompson can fully understand, and enjoy, the contribution he has made tobaseball -- and the community that has adopted him.

There are a lot of people who feel that because Thompson had spentvirtually all his career in the "burg" of Baltimore, his nomination for theFrick award was long overdue. If that is the case, the compensation is thecommunal celebration that climaxes today, when hundreds of his friends andfans witness Thompson's induction.

"Ever since the announcement, the reaction of the people has beenincredible," Thompson said.

"It has given me the feeling that a lot of people are rejoicing along withme. It's a nice feeling. To think that so many people will be up here . . .it's kind of strange. . . . I don't feel like I can really explain it."

Friend of the fans

Those who know Thompson best, for the most part, are people away from thesports mainstream who grew up with his voice. They, perhaps, can best explainthe phenomenon of the man who came to Baltimore from Philadelphia in 1949 andimmediately ingratiated himself to new surroundings.

Chick Serio was introduced to Thompson more than 20 years ago by BudFreeman, former promotions director for the Orioles. The two played golf thenext day. "He told me it was the first time he had played golf since the deathof Bailey Goss [Thompson's longtime broadcast partner and friend who waskilled in a car accident]," said Serio.

"We just hit it off. He's a regular guy. He's Baltimore. His friends meaneverything to him. I have memories that could never be duplicated."

Asked to interpret the relationship between the community and Thompson,Serio gave a three-word summation: "Pure, unadulterated love."

Cliff Van Roby, himself a veteran radio sportscaster, first met Thompsonat a banquet in Cumberland. Like most of Thompson's friends/fans, Van Robydoesn't recall a specific incident that spurred their friendship, only that ithas grown steadily over the past 25 years.

"Chuck was always very well accepted in our area and he emceed our Man ofthe Year dinner about 10 times," Van Roby said. "Golf probably had a lot to dowith our friendship, but we've become very close over the years.

"Four years ago [when Thompson was still in semiretirement], he turneddown a request to broadcast an Orioles game so he could come to a50th-anniversary party for my wife [Dorothy] and me.

"A couple of years ago, when I came to Baltimore for an operation, he tookus into his home. He took me to the hospital at 6:30 in the morning, to makesure everything was OK.

"To give you an idea how people relate to Chuck, a young girl working atthe hospital came over and said, 'I'll take good care of your friend if yougive me your autograph.' Before he was finished signing, there were six oreight people asking for his autograph -- at 6:30 in the morning.

"I feel very fortunate that we have a very close relationship," said VanRoby, who accompanied Thompson to Cooperstown on Thursday. "You don't get tomake that many -- and I consider Chuck the closest friend I have."

Buck Mann grew up and still lives on the Eastern Shore, where he is anOcean City councilman. Although he's met Thompson on several occasions, he islike the vast majority of those who identify with him -- a fan.

"Chuck is the man, it seems like he's always been the voice of sports inMaryland," Mann said. "Everybody grew up listening to him.

"When you think of Baltimore, you think of Chuck. He's a big part of thecommunity. He's just one of us, which is one reason we're so proud of him.This is a great tribute, and I think we all feel we can share in it with him."

Growing with Baltimore

Since coming out of his self-imposed retirement -- even though he neverseemed to be away because he would fill in on occasion -- Thompson'sacceptance has been greater than ever. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I think maybe a lot of people close to my generation looked at it asthough an old friend was back -- and isn't it nice he's still around,"Thompson said.

Still, it took his selection for the Frick award and a spot in Cooperstownfor Thompson to see the entire picture. "I always had the feeling that once Ispoke into the microphone, the words just disappeared on the other side," hesaid.

"But the reaction to going into the Hall of Fame has been unbelievable,"Thompson said. "On the first road trip this year I took hundreds of letters,because I wanted to try to read and answer them all.

"It was awfully hard to get through some of the letters I received. Onegentleman wrote on a legal pad and said he hoped I understood that it wasn'tthe kind of letter he wanted to put on a machine.

"I think that's when it hit me. I never knew someone like myself, doingwhat I do, could have that kind of impact on people.

"Then I think back and realize that I've been here for parts of sixdecades and crossed a few generations. It's truly been a great career."

And Thompson feels that what some considered a drawback to his nationalacclaim was one of the reasons for his success and longevity. "The best thingthat ever happened to me was coming to Baltimore," he said.

"I don't think this could have happened anywhere else. When I first gotthere, Baltimore got some bad raps, but it has grown and I was able to bethere and grow along with it.

"I've been there to see the city rebuilt to the point where it now is oneof the best in the country.

"I believe in luck, I believe in fate. I really do. And I think I was theright guy, in the right place at the right time.

"When the Orioles developed into one of the best organizations inbaseball, I was the guy behind the microphone. When the Colts became achampionship team, I happened to be the guy behind the microphone.

"It [his career] has been very satisfying, there's no doubt about it. ButI don't think it could have happened anywhere else."

Groomed by a legend

Three years ago, Byrum Saam, who broadcast major-league baseball inPhiladelphia for 33 years, went into the Hall of Fame as the recipient of theFrick award. He was Thompson's original mentor -- and the reason Thompson wentto Baltimore.

It was by accident in 1946 that Thompson first broadcast a big-leaguegame. He was working the booth while Saam was taking part in "RadioAppreciation Day" ceremonies on the field between games of a doubleheader.

"The only way to the booth was by elevator and the operator wasn't therewhen the activity on the field was over," Thompson said. "The next thing Iknew, Whitey Lockman was coming to the plate to start the second game and Ijust started talking."

Les Quailey, a broadcast executive, was in the booth with Thompson at thetime. When Saam finally got back to the booth, instead of shuffling the rookieout, Quailey instructed the veteran announcer to "sit down and work with thekid."

Thus began a career that has spanned 47 years -- all but those first threein Baltimore. After calling home games for both the Phillies and Athletics thenext two years -- "the best job in baseball, no travel," he said -- Thompsonfound himself stymied by a blossoming legend.

"Les had been advising me on money matters and told me there was nowhereelse for me to go unless Byrum took another job," Thompson said. "He was theone who arranged for me to audition in Baltimore."

The rest is history. Thompson and his first wife, Rose, who died in 1985,settled in and raised their three children in Baltimore.

Craig, whose wife, Donna, presented Thompson with his seventh grandchildTuesday, is a Maryland State Trooper living in Baltimore. Sandy Kuckler nowresides in Nashville, Tenn., and Susan Perkins lives in Westfield, N.J.Thompson is now remarried to Betty Cupp, who has a daughter, Darlene Allen ofPocomoke, and a granddaughter.

It was his desire to spend more time with the children and grandchildrenthat prompted Thompson to "retire" after the 1987 season. It didn't last fortwo reasons.

"First of all, WBAL asked me if I'd do a schedule of games," Thompsonsaid. "And second, when I retired it looked like I was going to be set to livethe way I wanted, but it wasn't working out that way."

Now that he's "unretired," Thompson, 72, has no immediate plans to alterhis schedule. "WBAL has asked me to do some games again next year, and as longas they ask I guess I'll keep on going."

Backed by generations

When he steps to the podium this afternoon, Thompson will be flooded withthoughts and emotions. One will stand out.

"In the movie 'A League Of Their Own,' the manager tells one of theplayers, 'There's no crying in baseball,' " Thompson said. "Well that's nottrue -- people cry in Baltimore.

"They cried when the last game was played at Memorial Stadium LTC and Icried right along with them."

Today there's a good chance that Chuck Thompson will shed a tear again. Hewon't have to feel alone. A few generations of Baltimoreans will cry rightalong with him.

THE THOMPSON FILE

Age: 72.

Family: Married to Betty Cupp, his second wife. His first wife, Rose died in1985. Thompson has three children: Craig, who lives in Baltimore; SandyKuckler of Nashville, Tenn.; and Susan Perkins of Westfield, N.J. He has sevengrandchildren.

Started in broadcasting: 1939 at WRAW in Reading, Pa.

Came to Baltimore: 1949.

What he's broadcast: Temple University football, Philadelphia Phillies,Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Warriors (NBA),Philadelphia Rockets (hockey), Baltimore Orioles (International League andAmerican League), Baltimore Colts (All-America Conference, NFL), WashingtonSenators, Baltimore Bullets, Navy football, NBC's baseball Game of the Week.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading