HOUSTON -- Unlike many other broadcasters, Bill Brown never developed a signature call or catchphrase during his career. He preferred to call games organically, watching things play out in real time and letting the description flow from his head and through the airwaves. Brown doesn’t think scripts for milestones work very well and ultimately could wind up setting him up to blow the call.
In June 2007, with Astros legend Craig Biggio bearing down on 3,000 hits, Brown was having lunch in Denver with Rockies broadcaster Wayne Hagin, who asked him if he had a call ready when the big moment happens. Brown hadn’t, and he began to panic. He felt he needed to have something deeper ready to say to help capture the moment.
Brown, who spent 30 years as the Astros’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster (1987-2016), started wracking his brain to come up with something meaningful to say when Biggio reached 3,000 hits. Pulling up to Minute Maid Park after the conclusion of a nine-game road trip that ended June 27, 2007, Brown got the idea to try to mention Biggio’s hometown of Smithville, N.Y., and Cooperstown, N.Y -- site of the Hall of Fame -- into the call somehow.
“I went in the house and I wrote it down before I brought in the suitcase and everything from the car, and that is what I wound up tagging on,” Brown said.
The next day, Biggio entered the ballpark for a game against the Rockies needing three hits to join the 3,000-hit club. And Brown was ready. Biggio set the stage with singles in the third and fifth innings and reached the mark with a seventh-inning single off Aaron Cook, making him the 27th player to reach 3,000 hits. Biggio wound up with five hits in the game, which the Astros won, 8-5 in 11 innings, on a walk-off grand slam by Carlos Lee.
When Biggio hit a line drive into center field for 3,000, Brown said: “Line drive into center field; that’s No. 3,000. And he drives in a run and he’s going for second. … He’s out, but that’s 3,000 hits, Craig Biggio.”
Biggio was thrown out by former teammate Willy Taveras at second base attempting to stretch the hit to a double, but it did little to diminish the moment. And Brown’s call, which continued with what he had written down weeks earlier: “He arrived 20 years ago from Smithtown, N.Y., with Texas-sized dreams, and now as he’s mobbed by his teammates, those dreams are becoming reality. And they’ll be recognized some day in another town in New York -- Cooperstown. Three-thousand hits for Craig Biggio, the 27th man to reach that figure.”
“People aren’t going to really remember that anyway, because it was maybe 30 seconds after the actual hit, so that’s not going to be prominent in the memories of too many people, but I just wanted to put it out there for something to add on to the call,” Brown said. “It was kind of a compromise of just letting the moment play out with whatever words happen to come along and just doing something scripted.”
Getting the opportunity to call a perfect game or a milestone like 3,000 hits is rare and something announcers cherish nearly as much as the players do. Some of the greatest moments in Astros history during Brown’s time as an announcer, though, took place during the playoffs, which meant he wasn’t on the microphone. National TV broadcasts forced Brown to the sidelines in October.
“That eliminates a lot of the most interesting moments and exciting moments in the team’s history, so when you eliminate all those, you get it down,” he said.
One of the smoothest things about Brown’s call was how he didn’t let Biggio getting thrown out at second define the moment. He glossed over it, quickly turning his attention to Biggio’s family and teammates coming out onto the field to celebrate with him.
“I tried to move on past that,” he said. “I didn’t want to deal with that there. I didn’t think it was that important with the whole lifetime achievement of it.”
When he reflects upon the call nearly 13 years later, Brown isn’t content. He knows his opinion doesn’t matter as much as others, and Brown’s call is unforgettable to Astros fans.
“I’m probably not as happy with it as I was earlier,” he said. “The test of time is a hard test to pass. I think it was decent, but not great. But it’s not my perception that matters. It really isn’t.”