Exacting Enberg accepts Frick honor at Hall
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Folks in this business, members of the fraternity Kappa Delta Press Box, usually have time to gather their thoughts, second-guess themselves and maybe backspace, insert words or even phrases. And on those glorious and treasured instances when the game has been staged in daylight, they even can purge and start anew. Writing need not be an exercise without flaws until the finished product.
The demands are greater for the folks in that business, the ones armed with wires, earpieces and headphones and tethered to their ballpark surroundings. They don't have the same face-saving luxuries. Cough buttons are for congestion, not correction. Ahem.
On-the-spot precision is for the folks who paint the word picture and speak it to the radio and television audiences. They have no means of privately correcting mistakes. Baseball has changed so much in the last 30 years, but the backspace key still is unavailable to the people who provide the play-by-play. They can apologize if they stumble or misspeak. But they can't purge. And not since the days of Les Keiter doing recreations of San Francisco Giants games for the abandoned Giants clientele in New York, have the play-by-plays guys been able to start over.
So it comes down to this for them: big league precision or the smaller ponds in Double-A and A ball.
Dick Enberg always has been precise. No need for erasers on his mike. We can count his on-air faux pas on the right hand of Mordecai Brown. He is exacting. His elocution, his eloquence, his choice of adverbs and adjectives. His timing. Check the knots of his ties -- perfect. His shirt collars are beyond wrinkle-resistant. And he wears a blue blazer with the same grandeur that DiMaggio wore a blue suit. Farm boys aren't usually so careful about appearance.
So there was Enberg on Saturday afternoon in, appropriately, the perfect setting -- Cooperstown, to be exact; at Doubleday Field, to be precise. Enberg was there to receive the 2015 Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding work as a baseball announcer and deliver salutes and words of appreciation for those had ushered him to this point in his life.
He shared the first afternoon of Hall of Fame Weekend with Tom Gage, the longtime Tigers beat reporter for the Detroit News who received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding performance as a print journalist. Gage hasn't made many mistakes either. Instead, he made the News required reading for anyone who has cared about matters involving Trammell, Fidrych, Kaline, Sparky, Lolich, Verlander and Cabrera.
The guys Gage and Enberg have spoken and written about for decades get their chances Sunday.
Enberg was characteristically dressed to the nines Saturday, neat in every sense of the word. He remains the Vada Pinson of baseball announcers. No one wore a baseball uniform so splendidly as Pinson.
At 80 and wearing a red tie, blue shirt and blue blazer, Enberg spoke of baseball's "place in American heritage." With all the Hall of Famers in town seated behind him, he saluted them for how "they honored the game I love" by "playing it properly." The grandstand appreciated that thought.
He said baseball exists in his DNA and that it pulsates in him "for a lifetime." He recalled his first big league game -- Indians at Tigers, Freddie Hutchinson vs. Bob Feller at Briggs, later Tiger Stadium in 1947 -- and how his father prepared him for the large, flat expanse of green and noted the difference between a park and a ballpark. He regularly recalls that distinction even these days, he said.
Enberg spoke with the passion of the 12-year-old farm boy he was. The game already had appealed to him by that age. The final seduction happened that day in pre-Motown Detriot.
Sixty-eight years later, the game still has a strong hold on him. So he identified his induction into sports' premier Hall of Fame as "the culmination of a privileged career." Perfectly put by a man who already had plaques in basketball and football halls of fame. His trifecta is complete.
Earlier, he had characterized one of Nolan Ryan's no-hitters -- the 17-strikeout one in Detroit in '75 -- as the "most omnipotent piece of pitching" he'd ever has seen. So wonderfully put. He embraced ground-ball double plays because of the precision and the touches of ballet required for their successful execution. He said he "relishes day games" and made clear his distaste for the designated hitter rule.
So good for him. Enberg works these days in the league that offers real baseball with pitchers batting -- even if they're eighth in the order. He is in his seventh summer working Padres games and entertaining and educating their SoCal followers, that after he after he covered the Angels in the 1968-1978 and did national baseball broadcasts for NBC. He identified baseball as "the best announcer-game, the best and most challenging announcer-game." That he was there on the dais speaking was evidence he had met the challenge.
Enberg returned to his first-love sport after working golf, football, basketball, Wimbledon and the Olympics. He still abides by the advice afforded him by Fred Haney, then an Angels executive and previously manager of the World Series champion Braves of 1957. Haney urged him to "report the ball. Not what should have been done or could have been done."
If his speech was flawed in any way, the error came early. Enberg may have heeded the advice afforded him in December when he learned of his election but he couldn't put it into practice. The great Vin Scully -- the sixth Frick recipient and "the game's poet laureate" according to Enberg -- had called and urged his friend to control his emotions when he delivered his speech. "There's no crying in Cooperstown," Scully said.
Enberg was no more than 15 words into his remarks when his voice cracked. But professional that he is, he recovered nicely and pitched a complete game.
His first two words had been his signature comment about big moments for decades -- "Oh my!" But he made his fatigue and the wonder of it all evident by his tone.
Later, he recalled Red Barber's "Oh, doctor!" and Mel Allen's "How about that!" He saluted others among his play-by-play brethren. He called them "the holies" -- holy cow, holy mackerel and holy Toledo."
He expresed admiration for his hero Ted Williams and for Brooks Robinson and for the "simple arrogance" of Rod Carew when he drag bunted. And he playfully knocked Al Kaline. Enberg's childhood goal had been to play right field for the Tigers. "Kaline took my job," he said.
And he acknowledged whatever influences had directed his career and made it so rewarding. His work in baseball, he noted, has been with the Angels and the Padres.