First off some housekeeping; yesterdat the O’s optioned pitchers Brad Bergesen, and Jason Berken, along with infield Matt Antonelli to triple-A Norfolk. Pitchers Dontrelle Willis and Armando Galaraga, infielder Steve Tolleson, catcher John Hester, and outfielder Scott Beerer were also reassigned to minor league camp. Second baseman Brian Roberts and pitcher Zach Britton were put on the 15-day DL, however Buck Showalter said that Roberts would begin the season on the bench with his teammates and accompany the team on their first road trip of the season rather than stay back in Sarasota.
As we move towards the baseball season I always enjoy the constant reminders of the voices of the game. I’m not sure what one might consider the “golden age” of baseball, however I think it’s one of those things whereby “you know it when you hear of it.” Part of that era was the fact that the games were largely on the radio and not television. In your hometown you have one guy that became your best friend all summer describing the action. Every town had one, and I would submit that the only one of that stock who’s left in the business is Vin Scully of the L.A. Dodgers. However the likes of Scully, Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers), and Mel Allen (NY Yankees) are from a wheelhouse that is no longer seen in broadcasting.
Baltimore had it’s own version of those men and while he may not be as well-kown nationally, he was equally as well-loved and respected in his field. To me, and to countless other Baltimore Oriole fans (mostly of previous generations) the Orioles will never “sound” quite the same without Chuck Thompson behind the mic. Admittedly I came along well after Thompson had become a legend, and in essence as he entered the twilight of his storied career. However I spent many a summer night at my grandparents’ Cecil County farm listening to the storied announcer magically call the final innings of Oriole games on my walkman. (Yes folks, on my walkman…this was the late 1980’s and I was very much a kid of my time!) Years later I would find out how Thompson’s smooth delivery was so legendary amongst Oriole fans of previous generations.
Everyone remembers Thompson’s two trademarks; when the Orioles would win game’s he’d sign off the air with his signature “ain’t the beer cold” line. During games when the O’s would homer or do something exciting he’d say “go to war Miss Agnes!” These lines were all part of a summertime tradition in Maryland from the late 1940’s until 2000. Thompson became the play-by-play man for the International League’s Baltimore Orioles in 1949, working games on WITH-AM (he was also the play-by-play voice of Baltimore Colts football). In 1954 the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the current installment of the Orioles; Thompson worked the broadcasts (in essence as the #2 man) with future Detroit Tigers’ broadcaster Ernie Harwell on WCBM-AM.
Thompson moved down the road to Washington, DC from 1958-1961 and called Washington Senators’ games with Bob Wolff on WWDC-AM, but returned to Baltimore in 1962 to become the full-time #1 man on the Orioles’ radio (and some TV appearances). Throughout that period the O’s were heard on WBAL-AM (1962-78), WFBR-AM (1979-82), and again on WBAL from 1983 onward. Throughout that period Thompson was paired primarily with Bill O’Donnell, and the pair called Oriole games together for a span of 17 years. On the football side, Thompson called games with Vince Bagli, and in 1958 it was Thompson’s voice that everyone remembered on NBC yelling “The Colts are the World Champions!” as Allan Ameche crossed the goal line to beat the Giants.
Thompson retired in 1987, however he came out of retirment in 1991 to call games part-time when needed. Chuck Thompson “was” the Orioles; as the players came and went over the years, there was Thompson still calling the games. I’m not sure that the game is quite the same anymore due to big television contracts, advertising dollars, etc. In Thompson’s heyday it was easy for people to associate summertime with that one voice because the games weren’t televised as often if at all. Not to mention that many more of the games were under the blonde Baltimore sunshine as opposed to only the Sunday afternoon matinee or token weekday afternoon game now. Kids grew up listening to Thompson calling the games, just as I did years later at my grandparents’ house.
Chuck Thompson retired in 2000 for good after macular degeneration caused him to in essence go blind. In 1993 he had received the Ford C. Frick Award from the MLB Hall of Fame, and had been named Maryland Sportscaster of the year on numerous occasions. I remember in October of 1996 when I was a sophmore in high school; the Orioles were to play the Cleveland Indians in the wild card round of the playoffs, and the first few games were weekday matinees. I had biology right after lunch, however I was able to run the wire of my earpecs from a small AM/FM receiver up the back of my shirt so I could listen to Thompson calling the action. (A far cry from my 1980’s walkman with big headphones!) I repeated the same stunt the next year when the O’s drew a similar schedule in the playoffs.
Chuck Thompson represented much more than just the summertime and the Orioles, he represented an entire city and the good times that were associated with it. Thompson passed on in March of 2005, only five short years after retiring for the final time. However his golden voice and the games associated with it will never go quiet so long as the best fans in baseball – Oriole fans – remember him. I thought of Thompson last year when I heard that 2011 would mark the return of the iconic National Bohemian beer to Oriole home games. Chuck Thompson may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten. And for the record, the beer’s still cold in Baltimore!
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