All these years later, Al Michaels still remembers the sights and sounds of his first trip to Ebbets Field with his dad.
“I was probably 6 years old,” he said. “The Dodgers were playing the Cardinals. I remember walking in and was just enamored with the colors, the signage on the right-field scoreboard, just the way it looked.
“We sat in the the upper deck behind the broadcast booth, and I looked down, and I saw these guys announcing the game. And I thought to myself, 'You know, I want to be here like every day for the rest of my life and get in for free.' And those are the first thoughts I ever had.”
That day was among the memories that came flooding back to Michaels on Wednesday as he received the highest honor in baseball broadcasting after he was named the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award winner, which was announced on MLB Network.
He was enamored then and there with both baseball and broadcasting, and by the time he enrolled at Arizona State University, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He has done that better than almost anyone.
He became one of baseball’s most enduring and respected voices during a 25-year career behind the microphone, and he will be honored July 24 as part of Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The award, voted on by a panel of 12 living Frick Award recipients and three broadcast historians/columnists, is given annually for “commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans and recognition by peers.”
Michaels, the 45th Frick Award winner, has an iconic body of work in an assortment of sports, but baseball has always been a significant part of his career, and his broadcasting reflects his love of the game.
He began his MLB broadcasting career with the Reds (1971-73), followed by stops with the Giants (1974-76), NBC (1972), ABC (1976-89) and The Baseball Network (1994-95).
He was a mainstay on ABC’s national baseball broadcasts in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and he has called seven World Series, six All-Star Games and eight League Championship Series.
He recalled a string of broadcasting heroes from his youth, from Curt Gowdy to Vin Scully to Lon Simmons. He remembered a handwritten letter of encouragement from Ernie Harwell.
“This is able now to take me back to the beginning because I really feel in a way, since it's been so long since I have done baseball, that it's like an out-of-body experience, like somebody else did this,” Michaels said. “But it takes me now back to the beginning, to the formative years to doing all of that all those games through the decades. And it's like the circle is complete. And believe me, when I was named as the winner of the Ford Frick Award, it was very special. I'm deeply honored by it.”
He said one of the best pieces of advice came from Gowdy when the two worked a postseason game together in the ‘70s.
“Just remember one thing,” Gowdy told him. “When you get a little bit older and you've been in the business for a while, don't get jaded.”
Said Michaels: “I didn't understand it at that time. But that made me think that I am doing something that I dreamed of doing as a kid. Appreciate it. And those words have always been paramount in my brain. Right now, I'm more appreciative, maybe than ever.”
The Frick Award rotates every every three years among the following groups: team announcers, national broadcasters and pioneers. Broadcasters, active or retired, are required to have at least 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service with a team, network or a combination of the two.
Michaels played baseball and football in high school in Southern California before enrolling at Arizona State University with the goal of becoming a broadcaster.
He landed his first baseball job in 1968 as the voice of the Pacific Coast League’s Hawaii Islanders and the University of Hawaii football and basketball teams.
His Major League break came with the Reds broadcast team in 1971. With ABC and NBC sharing Major League Baseball games, Michaels called World Series games in odd-numbered years from 1979 through 1989, then again in 1995 as part of The Baseball Network
He’ll be forever remembered for his “Do you believe in miracles?” call of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, but Dave Henderson’s two-out, two-strike home run in the 1986 ALCS remains one of his best memories.
One of his finest hours came after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck San Francisco moments before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Michaels immediately transitioned from doing sports to breaking news and kept an entire country abreast of the unfolding scene.
“I just had to remain very calm,” he said. “And I remember thinking, 'Just talk about the things you know for certain, don't speculate, don't guess, don't receive outside information that's not been corroborated.'"
He’ll be inducted into the broadcast wing of the Hall of Fame along with 2020 Frick winner Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, who’ll get his formal induction after the '20 induction weekend was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“For a generation of fans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Al Michaels delivered the narrative for some of baseball’s most memorable games during a time when cross-country broadcasts were communal experiences for millions of fans,” said Tim Mead, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Combining a love of the game with a unique ability to quickly distill moments in time into powerful word-pictures, Al also was masterful at pacing the broadcast to allow his partners the chance to shine. In the heyday of national network broadcasting, Al Michaels was the voice of the baseball.”