I write a version of this column every spring, and it’s one of my favorites to write each year. The name Chuck Thompson is one that invokes a lot of memories to any Baltimore Orioles fan. Even those who never heard Mr. Thompson’s mastery behind the mic firsthand know what he is and what he meant to Orioles fans and the people of Baltimore. When you think of the great voices of the game, the names Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, and others come to mind. However I would submit that the name Chuck Thompson should be right up there as well.
When the Orioles came to Baltimore in 1954, future Detroit legend Ernie Harwell was the lead radio voice. However Thompson was part of the coverage of Baltimore’s new big league club, until he departed for Washington DC to call Washington Senators games alongside the legendary Bob Wolff in 1957. In 1962 Thompson returned to Baltimore, and was the voice of the Orioles until 1987 when he retired for the first time. However Thompson came out of retirement and called games part-time for the team until 2000 when he was forced into retirement permanently due to muscular degeneration in his eyes.
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Chuck Thompson was also the voice of the Baltimore Colts, and he did an immense amount of national work in both
Courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
football and baseball over the years. He called arguably the greatest game ever played, the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Colts and the NY Giants, as well as the 1960 World Series in which Bill Mazeroski hit a walk off home run in game seven to defeat the NY Yankees. When back in Baltimore, Thompson would often rotate between calling games in radio and TV, however I would submit that he was at his best while calling Orioles games in the radio booth.
Of course, all Orioles fans know his trademarks: ain’t the beer cold, and go to war, Ms Agnes! As much as anything else, these lines were synonymous with Thompson, as well as with various generations of Baltimore sports fans. Heck, 15 years after Thompson called his final game, I’m still titling this column the beer’s still cold! But as much as those lines were representative of Thompson, he himself was representative of all of the great Orioles that fans remember growing up. Thompson was their ticket to see the likes of Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr. play without actually being in the park. His smooth delivery and crisp voice was one of the many marks of summertime in the mid-Atlantic region.
When I was a kid in the 1980’s, my father wouldn’t pay the extra money to upgrade our cable package to include Home Team Sports (which carried most Orioles games) simply out of principle. A few games a week would be carried over-the-air, but other than that I’d follow the team through the radio. In that sense, perhaps I’m a bit of a throwback to previous generations – when radio was truly the only way to follow games. However while Thompson was in his later years as a broadcaster, I immediately recognized his talent and his tie to the Orioles (with the help of lessons from my father and uncles).
So yes, Chuck Thompson still serves as a link to the past for Orioles fans who remember him. When they see old videos of the team, his voice is always there. I was a bit dismayed last year during the formal 50th anniversary celebration when there was no mention made of him. However his voice was omnipresent throughout the film footage that was shown.
Nevertheless, Thompson (who won the Ford C. Frick award in 1993 at the MLB Hall of Fame) is the only Oriole Hall of Famer that’s not recognized in some manner at Camden Yards. I said this when I wrote my tribute to Thompson last year, however I’ll say it again. Since the on-field hall of famers are memorialized with statues, I would call on the Orioles to dedicate the press box at the yard as the “Chuck Thompson Memorial Press Box.” Chuck Thompson is as much a part of the franchise’s history as anyone else, and he’s the common link between the generation that watched Frank and Brooks, and those of us who grew up with Eddie and Cal.
Regardless of anything else, the great Chuck Thompson wowed Orioles fans with his prowess behind the mic for years. Not every city has such a legendary voice by which to remember their baseball memories. In that manner, Baltimore is blessed given that Thompson spent his summers calling Orioles games and his autumn Sunday afternoons with the Colts.
In terms of this season’s beginning, the beer seems to get colder each day we come closer to Opening Day. This afternoon the Orioles will take another step in that direction, as they head to Tampa to take on their AL East rival, NY Yankees. C.C. Sabathia will start for New York. The 2014 Orioles’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Tyler Wilson, will make the start for the Orioles. The game will be shown nationally on MLB Network.