Nadel once thought his future was calling hockey
Ford C. Frick Award winner started his broadcasting career with Muskegon Mohawks
ARLINGTON -- Eric Nadel wanted to be a broadcaster from the time he was 7 years old, but the Brooklyn native's dream almost died at the outset in a small industrial town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
He started filling out applications to law school rather than facing a fourth season of Muskegon Mohawks minor league hockey. But a young announcer who is about to receive the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in baseball still believed hockey was in his future back in the mid-1970s.
"Yes, I loved doing hockey and I thought the future of the sport was bright," Nadel said. "The NHL had expanded from 6 to 12 teams, the World Hockey Association was just beginning as a rival major league. It looked like the land of opportunity and it was exhilarating to do the play-by-play of a sport that fast and exciting."
Nadel might now be arguing cases before the Supreme Court rather than sitting in upstate New York this weekend, where he will take his rightful place among the great broadcasters of the game, including boyhood idol Mel Allen.
But Muskegon turned out to be just one stop for Nadel on the long road from Brooklyn to Cooperstown, N.Y., and baseball's version of immortality as he prepares to receive the Frick Award with dozens of family and friends prepared to be there with him.
"Eric's been my friend all those years ever since, and I always appreciated his professionalism and his passion for it," said Giants broadcaster Jon Miller, who was Nadel's first mentor with the Rangers. "I am always astonished when, 25, 30 years later, he was still doing all the same preparation, all the same way and never gave that up.
"He's had chances to leave the radio booth and go do the television, chances to make a lot more money doing that, but always he's said, 'This is the fun part of it, this is what I enjoy,' so he's always resisted the idea of just going ahead and making the extra money because he felt that'd ruin the whole thing that makes it so special for him. So I respect that of him, and I'm really thrilled for him."
Saturday promises to be an overflowing emotional day amid the pastoral setting of the mythical birthplace of baseball.
"I really don't know," Nadel said. "I am trying to stay in the moment and just let everything come. But my overwhelming emotion through all of this so far has been gratitude. I am grateful for the fact that I get to do this for a living and now people are honoring me for it. It's all quite mind-blowing and I am constantly aware of how blessed I am.
"I asked my Dad when I was seven if Mel Allen was getting paid to broadcast the Yankee games. When he told me that he was, that broadcasting the games was his job, I instantly decided that would be a fun way to make a living. I have wanted to do this ever since. Hard to believe but I am living out my childhood dream. My dad was a dentist and he loved it, so he always encouraged me to do something for a living that I enjoyed doing."
He was advised at a young age by Bill Mazer, a legendary pioneer in the broadcasting business, to go to a college that had a great radio station and would allow him to get plenty of air time. He chose Brown University in Rhode Island.
"WBRU-FM was a professional radio station where we learned from the upperclassmen," Nadel said. "Without any broadcasting classes at Brown, we got great training and produced many fine broadcasters who had long radio-TV careers."
Nadel is high on the list even if he committed one especially embarrassing on-air gaffe during a Brown football game that was so bad it can't be repeated public. All Nadel can say is that it resulted in over two minutes of dead air and giggling. But he got the training needed even while the Bruins went winless in football during his senior season.
Nadel was ready to take the broadcast world by storm except for one problem encountered by many graduating seniors, even those at a prestigious Ivy League school.
He had trouble finding that first job, and that doesn't count sweeping and mopping floors at Brown. Hello Muskegon Mohawks.
"It was the only job offer I had in radio when I graduated from Brown," Nadel said. "In fact, when I graduated I had no job offer, although I had sent my audition tape to every pro hockey team in the US. I was working as a janitor at Brown when I got a call in late June from the owner of the Muskegon Mohawks, whose broadcaster had just quit. The next day he called back and offered me the job."
He spent three years in Michigan and was saved from a career of torts and briefs by getting a Triple-A hockey job in Oklahoma City. The next year the team moved to Dallas, and Nadel had finally arrived in Texas.
He also got a job broadcasting the Dallas Diamonds, the women's professional basketball team in town. Nadel called it a phenomenal experience.
"I had never done basketball before so it was a good entry for me into that sport," Nadel said. "I enjoyed the games even though the level of play wasn't nearly as good as it is now in the WNBA. The girls were such fun to be around, playing for the love of the game for almost no money.
"The team went broke in midseason and the players kept playing anyway until we got a new owner. But we lost every road game we played that year and sometimes there was crying on the bus after the game. That was something different."
With the basketball team broke and the hockey team moving to Canada, Nadel's career appeared stalled again. Then fate intervened and baseball came calling.
"A man named Roy Parks was running the Rangers Radio-TV Network and liked the way I did hockey," Nadel said. "He was looking to add a young announcer to their three-man team in anticipation of more telecasts and the approaching retirement of Bill Merrill. He also needed help selling advertising and managing the network. Although I had never broadcast baseball, he let me audition by recording a four-game series and hired me based on that ... largely because I could also help him sell and he didn't have to pay me moving expenses."
That was in 1979, as Nadel started as a partner with Miller and spent the first three years doing both television and radio. Then, in 1982, the Rangers teamed him with Mark Holtz on the radio, and Nadel has been there ever since with no interest in doing television again.
"I just don't enjoy doing television as much as radio. You don't get to describe things, which is the main joy of radio ... painting the word picture," Nadel said. "On television you have to follow the monitor and the director, while on radio I am completely independent. There are no rehearsals on radio, we just wing it. And the TV dress code is a deal breaker for me. I have never understood why the stations want their baseball announcers wearing a coat and tie to portray fun at the ballpark."
Holtz was the one who went to television and Nadel, who had been the No. 2 guy on the broadcasts, moved up to the lead position in 1995.
"I would have been fine forever as the No. 2 guy to Mark, but when he left to do TV, it seemed like the time to accept the challenge of the added responsibility," Nadel said. "It is more fun to do the dramatic moments of the game, and also to have the feeling of being the host of the game broadcast, welcoming the audience and saying good night to them at the end."
Nadel has also never attempted to leave the Rangers. He and his wife Jeannie love living in Dallas and have been active in the community beyond just being the voice of the Rangers.
"When I was the No. 2 guy, there were a few times that I was approached about another job or toyed with the idea of applying for one," Nadel said. "But I never really got serious about it. I love living here and nothing ever seemed like a better opportunity than the situation I had here."
Nadel didn't set out to do baseball. But, like many, his career path has taken some surprising and unexpected turns. Now the road leads to the ultimate destination for a baseball broadcaster, and that will be Saturday in Cooperstown.