COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bob Costas was the first to arrive in Cooperstown. He came a week before accepting the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. He walked along Main Street before the madness, before the celebration, before the parade. He toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame before the
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bob Costas was the first to arrive in Cooperstown. He came a week before accepting the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. He walked along Main Street before the madness, before the celebration, before the parade. He toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame before the crowds arrived. Costas has lived a life of extraordinary moments, of Olympic Opening Ceremonies and Super Bowl craziness and interviews with United States presidents.
But this, well, this was even bigger. He wanted to crawl inside this moment and experience it in the fullest color and vividness.
"I've been here many times before," he said, "but, obviously, this time is different."
Costas readily admits he's different from any of the other winners of the Frick Award, the highest award for any baseball announcer. Announcing baseball was just one thing he did as America's most versatile sports broadcaster. For years, because of various circumstances, he did not even get to broadcast baseball at all.
"I was never the voice of a local team," he said. "I never did Minor League baseball, though I happily would have. I added it up; I've done somewhere around 500 baseball games, which is -- think about this -- that's three seasons for a guy who is the voice of the Minnesota Twins or Kansas City Royals or whatever team you like. Basically three seasons."
But his baseball broadcasting was never about quantity. As Hall of Famer Joe Morgan said in his introduction, Costas broadcast at the heyday of network television, when there was often just one game on television a week, when "a single baseball broadcast thrilled fans and created legends."
Baseball always inspired Costas, whether it was in the booth or simply in conversation when he could always, off the top of his head, go back to almost any moment in baseball history and relive it play by play. He wrote a book about baseball. He gave the famous and moving eulogies for Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial. He appeared in virtually every baseball documentary, blurbed a huge percentage of baseball books. Costas was the baseball voice for a generation even when he wasn't broadcasting.
"I was so lucky because I always had people around me who knew of my love of baseball," he said. "Don Ohlmeyer, when he was running NBC Sports, he was a little bit like Dick Ebersol, kind of a television genius, and he just put me on network television to do baseball. I'd only been there a year, and he said, 'You're going to do the backup game.'
"And so I get to do baseball with Tony Kubek, who has won this award. And the first team is Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, who have both won the award. So NBC does a pretty good job with baseball. And then NBC loses baseball in the late 1980s, and Dick Ebersol takes over. And Dick said to me, 'If we ever get baseball, you'll do the World Series.'
"Of all the people, Dick Ebersol had the greatest impact. We got baseball back, and those are the only World Series that I've ever done. With Dick, it goes so far beyond baseball. He created [the interview show] 'Later' for me. He made me prime-time host on the Olympics. He makes me NBA play-by-play man in the Michael Jordan era. So it's much more than baseball, but he always knew and appreciated my love of the game. … I've been so fortunate that way."
There is a funny thing about the Frick Award. It is given by the Hall of Fame, and its winners are often called "Hall of Famers." In technical terms, though, they are not. Hall of Famers are voted in by the Baseball Writers' Association of America or one of the Hall's various veteran's committees; they are honored in the plaque room. Frick and J.G. Taylor Spink (for sportswriters) Award winners do not get a plaque.
But the winners tend to be treated like Hall of Famers and introduced as Hall of Famers, and most of the Hall of Famers graciously welcome them into the club.
"Bob Costas is a genius," said Jim Thome, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday after 22 seasons in the big leagues. "He's just so incredible at what he does. Now that I'm doing television [for MLB Network], I'm in awe of how good he is, how smart he is, how prepared. I mean, he's truly great. It's an honor to go into the Hall of Fame with him."
Costas said it has been like this all week.
"Technically, broadcasters and writers are not in the same category," he said. "But hearing from Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin -- I'm leaving out so many -- it's like they are saying, 'Welcome to the club.'"
As Costas said that, Hall of Famer Tim Raines walked over.
"Can't wait to see that speech, man," Raines said.
"I better not screw it up," Costas said.
"No, I'm sure you won't. … I'm sure you won't," Raines said.
"I don't get another time at bat," Costas said, laughing.
It goes without saying that Costas didn't screw it up. Nobody in the history of sports television has been asked to rise to so many big moments. His speech was beautiful and moving as he spoke about being a child sitting behind the wheel of his father's 1962 Ford Galaxy while it was parked in the driveway.
"I turned the ignition to the right, just enough to light up the dashboard," he said. And he turned the radio dial going "from city to city, ballpark to ballpark."
And that's when he fell in love -- not just with the game, but with the voices of the game. "It wasn't just what was said," he told the crowd, "it was how they said it that gave the game a melody."
Costas never lost that feeling for baseball, that yearning to be one of those voices, the sort who can give a baseball game its melody. Even now, he talks about going back to the Minors, broadcasting a week in, say, Asheville, N.C., a week in Chattanooga, Tenn., a week in Norfolk, Va.
"You know," he said, "if they would let me."
"With baseball, you like the fact that there's enough time to go off on a tangent, or toss in something parenthetical and still get back in time," he said. "You like that the history matters more than it matters in other sports, and also the audience is more conversant with the history than they are with other sports.
"And you love the pace and rhythm of the season; until you get right down to the crunch of the pennant race, or if a guy is pitching a no-hitter, every game is not a spectacle, like a football game, or a once in a lifetime, like an Olympic event. It's one of 162, which allows for a little more whimsy and a little more lightheartedness and a little more goofiness, not at the expense of the game, but as part of the game's natural charms and joys."
In his acceptance speech, Costas told his favorite story about broadcasting partner Bob Uecker. At the 1995 World Series, Costas was in the booth with Morgan, famous for his greatness as a second baseman, and Uecker, famous for his .200 lifetime batting average, and for once leading the league in passed balls. Morgan talked about his World Series experience as a star of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s.
"Were you ever in a World Series?" Costas asked Uecker, who said that he was on the roster for the 1964 Cardinals, but was on the disabled list.
"Why were you on the disabled list?" Costas asked.
"I contracted hepatitis," Uecker said.
"What?" Costas asked. "How did you get that?"
Uecker explained: "The trainer injected me with it."
Costas never tires of that story, not just because it's funny, but because it represents what he has always wanted to bring to baseball: Irreverent reverence or reverent irreverence, some combination of treating baseball with respect and delight.
"I stand here as excited and thrilled as a kid going to his first big league game," he said.
With Costas, you know that's exactly right.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.