07/23/11 11:30 PM ET
Frick winner Van Horne often a part of 'magic'
Former Expos voice stands alongside Cooperstown heroes
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
"As one who is blessed to have spent the last 43 years talking baseball, telling stories and trying to paint pictures, you'd think the words would come a little more easy," Van Horne said on stage at Doubleday Field, with Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer seated in rows behind him. "They don't. However, one word does come to mind for me, and that is, 'Magic.'"
Eleven no-hitters and three perfect games not only witnessed but chronicled would be difficult to describe as anything else.
Van Horne was one of three venerated by the Hall on Saturday, along with Bill Conlin, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for writing excellence, and Rolan Hemond, the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
The speech that Van Horne -- an Easton, Pa., native -- delivered on Saturday matched his play-by-play style: perfectly paced, no overbearing exclamations but nonetheless carrying palpable excitement, a clean tone. It was the quickest of the day at a crisp nine minutes.
Even if they don't match his regular style, Van Horne has delivered one-liners in his career, none more famous than "El Presidente -- El Perfecto!" after the Expos' Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game against the Dodgers on July 28, 1991. That was a call, Van Horne said, that just happened.
"I have never broadcast to make highlights and to make quick little quirky comments," Van Horne said to reporters earlier in the day. "If I've done that along the way, that's fine; that's part of broadcasting. But I don't broadcast any piece of play-by-play -- whether it's a ground ball to short or a spectacular catch in the outfield or a home run ball -- I don't broadcast and select the words thinking about, 'What's this going to sound like on the radio tomorrow or next month or a year from now when they replay it?'"
Van Horne began his career in the International League in Richmond, Va., in 1966, and before he joined a Major League broadcast team, he had twice been named the state's sportscaster of the year. His debut with the Expos coincided with their debut to the world, on April 8, 1969, and from there the highlights came.
Van Horne saw Willie Mays' 3,000th hit and Nolan Ryan's record-setting strikeout to pass Walter Johnson for the all-time lead. He called games on ABC and NBC, and he shared a booth with the likes of Don Drysdale and Tommy Hutton. Drysdale, Van Horne said, taught him more about pitching in his first year in the booth than he learned every year after.
Van Horne never saw a World Series title, though, until he left Montreal -- something he never thought he'd have to do.
"I had already expressed to the general partner there my willingness and desire to move with the team if indeed that's what they did," Van Horne said of his mindset as relocation talk heated up at the end of the 1990s. "I had envisioned all those years spending a lifetime broadcasting Expos baseball."
It was in 2003, two years after departing the Expos because "the writing was on the wall" (and one year before the Expos themselves would leave) that Van Horne covered his first his World Series title-clinching team. The Marlins downed the Yankees in six games.
"Those no-hitters and playoff games, they're all very very special," Van Horne said of what stands out most in his career. "That's what you live for. And in 2003, finally to get to a World Series with the Marlins was thrilling and exciting, and I'll never forget that."
Moved as he was on Saturday, it was not Van Horne's first Hall of Fame ceremony. In 1996, the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame bestowed on him the Jack Graney Award, the Frick Award's equivalent to the North.
Van Horne's legacy with one of two franchises to bring Major League Baseball to Canada is just one facet of a weekend filled with a Canadian influence. Roberto Alomar is going in with a Blue Jays cap, with Pat Gillick, the architect of the 1992-93 Toronto World Series championship teams, going in alongside him. Hemond, who shared a stage with Van Horne on Saturday, has a French-Canadian background.
"I've had as many people from Toronto and throughout Canada stop me as Montrealers on the streets here," Van Horne said. "It's very special, and I was touched by the fact that in the Hall of Fame program, the Blue Jays took out an ad paying tribute to Robbie Alomar and Pat Gillick, and they included me in that ad. I thought that was a real classy touch by the Blue Jays."
It was in part because of a 1990 Frick Award winner that Van Horne made it to Cooperstown himself. By Saam, who passed away at age 85 in 2000 and called more than 8,000 games, was the first broadcaster Van Horne idolized. But the influence of all the greats is inextricably there.
"For me, there's always been something special about baseball on the radio," Van Horne said near the end of his speech. "I was 8 or 9 years old when I began to listen to By Saam call games in Philadelphia. They called By 'The Man of a Zillion Words.' Season after season, I hung on every one of them.
"I got to hear Mel Allen in the fall. That was magic. Mel didn't know it; neither did By Saam or Gene Kelly or Chuck Thompson or Bill Campbell or any of the other great voices I heard as a kid. ... They all opened up a whole new world for me growing up."