They called tens of thousands of Major League Baseball games from the broadcast booth, and some of their voices are still heard far and wide on a typical summer night. On Tuesday, one of those 10 broadcasting greats will be immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 2005 Ford C. Frick Award will be announced by the Hall of Fame, an annual tradition that began with the honoring of Mel Allen and Red Barber as the inaugural award winners in 1978.
This year's winner will come from these nominees: Tom Cheek, Jerry Coleman, Ken Coleman, Dizzy Dean, Gene Elston, Tony Kubek, France Laux, Graham McNamee, Dave Niehaus and Ron Santo.
Dean and Santo are in position to become the first to be honored by the Hall both as a former player and as a broadcaster. Dean was enshrined in 1953 as a player; Santo also is on the Veterans Committee ballot that will be announced on March 2.
This year's balloting process marked the second time fans had the opportunity to be a part of selecting the final ballot for the award through an online vote. They added Niehaus (14,490 votes), Cheek (6,958) and Santo (5,848) to the ballot. The remaining seven candidates were chosen by a Hall of Fame research committee which contains a mix of pioneers, early radio stars and present-day broadcasters.
"Because baseball broadcasters have been one of the strongest links between the game and its fans since the 1920s, we wanted to give the fans a say in which broadcasters advance to the final ballot," said Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "In addition, the board felt that the voting body needed to be expanded. Those who have been honored with the Frick Award, as well as the six historians chosen, have a superior knowledge of broadcasting history, and we are delighted they will bestow this honor annually to a legendary voice of the game."
Cheek has been Toronto's broadcaster since the Blue Jays' inception in 1977, and he had never missed a game (more than 4,000 in all) until the 2004 season. His resume, which includes a stint as the Montreal Expos' broadcaster from 1974-76, spans 31 seasons.
Jerry Coleman, a Yankees infielder from 1949-57, has spent 41 seasons in baseball broadcasting, including 32 with the San Diego Padres (1972-79, '81-present). He also covered the Yankees and Angels, and many fans have grown up with his expression, "Oh, doctor!" -- just like Barber used to say it.
Ken Coleman spent 35 seasons with the Indians (1954-63), Reds (1975-78) and Red Sox (1966-74, '79-89) -- and he would have loved how the 2004 season turned out. Coleman's work included the 1967 "Impossible Dream" season, when the Red Sox made it to Game 7 of the World Series. He also called the 1986 World Series. Was Boston's 2004 title a good harbinger for Coleman?
His former broadcast partner, Johnny Pesky, once said: "He should be in the Hall of Fame. The first thing that strikes you with him was his voice. [He] had a voice as good as any of them."
Dean pitched the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1934 World Series championship with a 30-7 record and he transitioned from the playing field to the radio booth, spending 24 seasons broadcasting in St. Louis and nationally. Dean, with his inimitable style and former player's insight, helped revolutionize the baseball broadcast.
Elston spent 43 seasons broadcasting the Cubs and Astros and calling the Mutual Game of the Day (partnering with Bob Feller), the NBC Game of the Week and the CBS Game of the Week. With his straightforward, non-homer style, he became the first broadcaster when Houston was awarded its National League franchise in 1962.
Kubek, a three-time All-Star during his playing career with the Yankees from 1957-65, spent 30 seasons behind the microphone nationally and for the Blue Jays and Yankees, primarily as a color commentator. Many fans grew up watching him and Joe Garagiola -- a former Frick winner who is on the voting committee now -- as the TV broadcast tandem for the national Game of the Week.
Laux often has been called the "pioneer baseball voice" in St. Louis -- working for KMOX to broadcast the Browns and Cardinals for 18 seasons -- for setting the table for such St. Louis voices to come as Harry Caray and Jack Buck. Laux also called games for CBS and Mutual Game of the Day. Laux's list of broadcast-booth sidekicks included Gabby Street, Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher and Frankie Frisch, and Laux often boasted that he had worked for 20 years without missing a broadcast or arguing with a player or umpire.
McNamee was a national pioneer in broadcasting, with baseball and sports only a part of the mix. He called Major League games for 13 seasons for Westinghouse and NBC, also calling the first 12 World Series that were on radio. He also worked the first Army-Navy college football broadcast in 1923, the first Republican Party Convention to be broadcast over the radio in 1924, and a national radio music broadcast in the weeks after Charles Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris.
What McNamee did in 1923 at the World Series between New York's Yankees and Giants launched his career. Original plans called for legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice to describe the action over WEAF, and McNamee, a former concert singer, to assist him. McNamee provided what would eventually be known as "color commentary" during the first three games. But his descriptions were so vivid and listeners so compelled that McNamee was an instant star and by Game 4 he was the full-time play-by-play announcer for that Fall Classic.
Niehaus has broadcast games for 36 years, including all of the Mariners' 28 seasons. Known for his signature calls like, "My, oh, my!" and "That ball will fly, fly away!" Niehaus, in the recent words of broadcaster Dick Enberg, "could take an ordinary losing game and make it a poetic winner."
Santo, who played for the Cubs from 1960-73, has been a color commentator for Cubs games for 15 years for WGN radio. He is one of four active broadcasters on the ballot, along with Cheek, Jerry Coleman and Niehaus.
Frick Committee voting members were asked to cast their votes by mail in January. The 20-member electorate, which is comprised of the 14 living Frick Award recipients and six broadcast historians/columnists, includes Frick honorees Marty Brennaman, Herb Carneal, Joe Garagiola, Curt Gowdy, Ernie Harwell, Jaime Jarrin, Milo Hamilton, Harry Kalas, Felo Ramirez, Vin Scully, Lon Simmons, Chuck Thompson, Bob Uecker and Bob Wolff, and, historians/columnists Bob Costas (NBC), Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News), Stan Isaacs (formerly of Newsday), Ted Patterson (historian), Curt Smith (historian) and Larry Stewart (Los Angeles Times).
Voters were asked to base their selections on the following criteria: longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans.
The Hall of Fame added online voting to the nomination process in 2003, and more than 65,000 online votes were cast last fall at the Hall of Fame website to add Niehaus, Cheek and Santo to the ballot. To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service with a ballclub, network, or a combination of the two. More than 160 broadcasters were eligible for consideration for the award.
The annual award is named in memory of Hall of Famer Ford C. Frick, renowned sportswriter, radio broadcaster, National League president and Major League Baseball commissioner. Last year's Frick winner was longtime Bay Area broadcaster Lon Simmons.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.