Elston the consummate professional
Longtime Astros broadcaster honored with 2006 Frick Award
When word came down from the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday morning that Gene Elston would receive the Ford C. Frick Award, my first reaction was wondering what Elston's old partner on Houston broadcasts, the late Loel Passe, might have said.
The news would have undoubtedly prompted a few of Passe's trademark reactions, the ones he regularly dished out with unbridled excitement after witnessing a great play by an Astro: "Hot ziggity dog and ice cold sassafras tea" or "Now you chucking in there!"
Elston wasn't colorful or boisterous on the air like Passe, and he wasn't as well-known nationally as some of his contemporaries like Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully or Jack Buck, but to those who had the good fortune to listen to Elston call a game, he was a consummate professional who gave you the game without getting in the way.
For a generation of Houston fans, Elston's mellow voice was welcomed into their homes via the radio each summer night. His no-nonsense approach eschewed melodrama and hyperbole in favor of telling us what happened when it happened. During his 47 years behind the microphone, that made Elston a rarity.
Though he was not as well known outside Texas as some of his contemporaries, Elston's mellow voice and clear calls kept Houston baseball fans well informed from 1962 through 1986. Elston also broadcast for CBS Radio's Game of the Week, the Chicago Cubs and Mutual Radio's Game of the Day.
For years, Elston's voice was Houston baseball to thousands of listeners across the southwest. He had many broadcast partners, including Passe, Al Helfer, Harry Kalas, Bob Prince, Dewayne Staats and Larry Dierker, but Elston was the constant that stayed with Houston fans over the years.
Critics claimed he was boring, but Elston's standard reply to that opinion was he was a reporter not a homer. Elston wouldn't cheer, yet Houston fans considered him one of their own anyway. There were those who questioned his style, yet his voice and delivery always seemed a perfect match for calling a baseball game.
"I set up my own style, and it was one of No. 1, reporting what was going on and giving a word picture as if I was a fan sitting in the stands watching the game instead of just screaming for every home run," Elston said. "I can't take that today.
"I was never a yeller or a screamer. I tried to keep a tone so that everything would balance with the engineering part. I got excited, but I got excited in my own way. A lot of people said I never got excited enough. It's such a great game you can work yourself into it."
Elston will forever be associated with a number of memorable moments in baseball history. He was at the microphone when the Astros and Mets played a 24-inning, 1-0 game on April 15, 1968. He was there when Eddie Mathews hit his 500th career home run and when Nolan Ryan passed Walter Johnson on the all-time strikeout list on April 27, 1983.
Elston was there for 11 Major League no-hitters, including Mike Scott's National League West-clinching no-no against San Francisco on Sept. 25, 1986. Through it all, Elston never wavered in his method, which was letting the drama on the field set the tempo and simply giving the fans the facts. He wanted the Astros to do well, but he was too much the pro to risk being perceived as compromising his objectivity.
Elston and the Astros parted ways following the 1986 season. He went on to work the CBS Radio Game of the Week from 1987-95 and CBS Radio postseason games from 1995-97. A Texas Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and a Texas Sportscaster of the Year award winner numerous times, Elston also created a unique scorebook, "Gene Elston's Stati-Score Baseball Scorebook," and has authored three books, including the 2005 release, "The Wild World of Sports."
Good things eventually come to those who wait, and for Elston, the wait for Cooperstown is finally over. High time, too. Elston got the call on his cell phone while he was in the car on Tuesday.
"I was just leaving the doctor's office on the way back home -- they had a lot of trouble tracking me down," Elston said. "I thought it was just absolutely great. I wondered if this would be the year for me. I was very excited and I still am."
Still the professional at 83 years old, Elston couldn't let that excitement go too far. Even now, the cheering will, as usual, be up to the fans.
No doubt many of them will react like Elston's old broadcast partner Passe: "Hold me boys, chain me to my chair!"
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.