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Thompson makes the call on 'once in a lifetime experience'

Sun Staff

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Performance, longevity and a voice smoother than theconsistency of maple syrup, dripping with the rich resonance that has alwaysbeen his, has brought Chuck Thompson to a cherished and satisfying careerachievement -- enshrinement in the broadcasting wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 7 1/2 minutes of acknowledgment, Thompson tried the impossible. It wasan effort to compact and convey the pleasurable sentiments of how it felt tobe the play-by-play announcer of the Baltimore Orioles, both in their waningminor-league era and then during their celebrated ascendancy to major-leaguestatus.

It's a relationship that has endured for 44 years and counting. Trillionsof listeners have been in his audience in all that time, and his popularityhas been earned by an extraordinary skill in communication.

The Hall of Fame is a coveted honor that is most meaningful in theprofessional context and important, too, in a personal way for the selectedrecipients.

As he addressed the gathering of an estimated 8,000 sun-kissed fans beforehim on an athletic field in this village where the sport of baseball wasconceived 154 years ago, Thompson called the occasion a "once in a lifetimeexperience."

He said he naturally felt comfortable with the microphone and the crowd.Then he proceeded to offer a presentation that he termed "a baseball talkwithout statistics."

Chuck referred to the start of his career as one of "hit or miss,"explaining how a classmate dared him to take a radio audition in Reading, Pa.The acceptance was so immediately successful he never went back to singingwith a dance band.

Thompson, after service in World War II and action in the Battle of theBulge, went on to become a Baltimore staple, offering a crisp, fresh deliverythat contained jack-hammer rapidity, clarity and a homey, friendly demeanor.He didn't know it at the time, but he broadcast a Navy-Missouri football gameat then-Baltimore Municipal Stadium in 1948 that led to his hiring by theGunther Brewing Co., and, in turn, an opportunity to cover the Orioles as oneof the most-listened-to announcers the city ever heard.

In the crowd applauding Thompson yesterday in Cooperstown was JerryHoffberger, former owner of National Brewing Co. Hoffberger was wise enough tominimize Chuck's association with a rival product, and made a handshake withhim that lasted for 23 years.

The Hall of Fame ceremony opened with awards to sports writers LeonardKoppett of the New York Times and the late Bus Saidt of the Trenton Times.Then Thompson was introduced by a Hall of Fame baseball player, Ralph Kiner,an announcer for the New York Mets. TC In his remarks, Chuck emphasized how important his children had been tohim, despite the fact he was often on the road in his special line of work. Hepraised his wife, Betty, and what she has meant to him in their marriage thathappened five years ago, after the death of his first wife.

Then he directed his comments to the crowd. "Without you this wouldn'thave happened," he remarked. "I accept it for you and my on-the-air partners."A sizable segment of followers from Baltimore, some wearing T-shirts with hispicture on the front, cheered his appreciative message.

He also mentioned associates such as Bill O'Donnell, Herb Carneal, FrankMesser, Jon Miller, Joe Angel and his latest associate in the booth, FredManfra. After Thompson's remarks came the main focus of the program -- theinstallation of Reggie Jackson into the Hall of Fame -- and the partisan NewYork gathering was getting restless, even though it offered respect toThompson while he talked.

There were other things the Baltimore announcer intended to say, but hissense of timing told him to cut it short, and he did. Asked later if he wassatisfied with the Cooperstown experience, he answered, "Gosh, yes, in everysense."

The Orioles' organization, headed by general manager Roland Hemond andvice-presidents Bob Aylward and Frank Robinson, plus other staff members, werehosts to a party for Thompson and guests from Baltimore when the ceremonyconcluded.

While much has been offered about Thompson's in-depth vocalizing and thevivid picture he paints, don't overlook his high degree of accuracy. Herarely, if ever, makes a mistake, regardless of the pressure of the moment,and to his credit and the appreciation of the audience he habitually gets itright the first time.

Chuck Thompson is the 17th play-by-play announcer since 1978, when Mel Allen and Red Barber were so named, to win the award. Succinctly put, it's allbecause he talks a great game.

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