Baltimore Orioles: The beer’s still cold after all these years
Yesterday was the lone off day for the Baltimore Orioles during Grapefruit League play. Their next day off will in theory be Sunday April 5th, however if the past is any indication they’ll probably have some sort of team workout at Tropicana Field in Tampa prior to the opener on April 6th. So with no game about which to write from yesterday, I thought it would be a timely moment to tip our caps to the past.
I write a version of this column every year, and it’s one of my favorites. I’m the first one to tell you that I wasn’t around for the heyday of Chuck Thompson calling Orioles games on the radio. However I heard his voice a great deal during my childhood in the 1980’s, as well as my adolescence in the 90’s. My father refused to pay the up charge for a premium cable package which would have included Home Team Sports, which meant I could only watch select few games on TV (when they were carried over-the-air, that is).
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Courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
So in that sense I was a kid similar to those a generation or so before me, who’s draw to the games was primarily through the radio. Chuck Thompson was as much a part of my summers as days on the beach at the Delmarva shore. By the time I came along, Thompson was in the twighlight of his career, however from hearing him first hand along with the stories my father and uncles would tell, I knew he was someone special.
Thompson first came to Baltimore in 1949 where he worked games for the International League Orioles, as well as the Baltimore Colts football team. Once the St. Louis Browns became the current Orioles in 1954, he moved down the pike and worked Washington Senators games with the legendary announcer Bob Wolfe for a few years before coming back to Baltimore to work for the Orioles full time in 1962.
Thompson was the primary play-by-play voice (some radio and some TV) until his first retirement in 1987, however he returned to work part-time from 1991-2000 before an eye condition which ultimately took his sight made it too difficult for him to continue. Chuck Thompson received the Ford C. Frick award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. (Click here for a video of his incredibly moving acceptance speech.)
Thompson of course was also noted for his NFL broadcast work, working Baltimore Colts games for years, along with national football and baseball broadcasting work. However he was probably at his absolute best when calling Orioles or Colts games for the local audience. Speaking for myself, Chuck Thompson IS Orioles baseball. He’s as much a part of the great tradition of the Oriole Way as are the likes of Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, and of course the great Cal Ripken Jr. Thompson calling Orioles games was part of the deal when it came to summer in Maryland and across the mid-Atlantic region.
And that really captures the essence of why Chuck Thompson and thus the Orioles are so special. We associate baseball with summer, which means vacation, good times, and lazy afternoons. And yes, those of us who are “lifers” associate it with our childhood. It reminds us of being seven years old and hearing the crack of the bat and Thompson’s voice while knowing that Brooks, Frank, Eddie, or Cal had gone deep. In sum, that’s what makes baseball such a nostalgic game, as it leaves us excited for the future but longing for the past – as summed up by James Earl Jones‘ quote (as Terrence Mann) at the end of Field of Dreams:
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again."
That part of our past might well look different in every city. However in Baltimore and for Orioles fans, Chuck Thompson is as much a part of it as anyone else. Perhaps he and thus the Orioles represent a more innocent time in life, or an era when things just seemed easier. And it’s for those same reasons that the Orioles’ 2014 division crown was so special to so many people. All once was good – and suddenly was again.
I said this when I wrote last year’s version of this column, however Thompson is the only person from the Orioles’ organization who’s in the Hall of Fame but not memorialized in some manner at Camden Yards. The six Hall of Fame players have statues in the left field picnic area; why not dedicate the press box behind home plate as the “Chuck Thompson Memorial Press Box?” I think it would be a fitting manner by which to honor a man who brought the joys of Orioles baseball to generations of fans. I would call on the team to make this happen in some manner.
The Orioles return to Grapefruit League play this afternoon after a day off yesterday. They’ll head to Bradenton, FL to take on Pittsburgh, with Ubaldo Jimenez making the start on the bump.