Michaels' wild ride began on Big Red Machine
Sportscaster a legend for many reasons, but 'She's gone!' call started it all
Yeah, I know. Al Michaels is huge these days. It's because of several things, but I'll always remember him for one thing: That home run call. Oh, I'm getting chills again. But let's go from the present to the past regarding this sportscaster with seven Emmy Awards in his trophy case.
Did you hear about that little football game last Sunday in Arizona? Courtesy of a controversial finish between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, it was the most-watched television show of all time. Well, Michaels was the play-by-play announcer, which only made sense.
According to Michaels' NBC bio, he is the only person to call the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals and host the Stanley Cup Finals for network television. He is the lead broadcaster on NBC's Sunday Night Football after performing the same role for 20 years with ABC's Monday Night Football. He was speaking live on camera when that killer earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1989 World Series. Nine years before that, he posed a question to millions of TV viewers regarding Team USA in Olympic hockey, and then he gave the answer: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
If that isn't enough, Michaels did the local TV broadcasts in Los Angeles for UCLA basketball during the Bruins' record 88-game winning streak under the legendary John Wooden. He also is a best-selling author for his recently published autobiography "You Can't Make This Up."
Well, forget all of that. I'm claiming Michaels as my guy. I discovered him more than four decades ago when folks weren't paying attention to this Brooklyn native who would evolve into a broadcasting icon.
Actually, Michael is the guy for all of us who lived and died with the Big Red Machine. We remember Michaels joining the Reds in 1971 as a 26-year-old nobody. Before that, he called games for University of Hawaii athletics when he wasn't broadcasting high school sports on the island. He almost had a chance to join the White Sox that same season before accepting the Reds' job. It's just that, at the last moment, White Sox ownership had issues with his youth and inexperience. They decided to pick a veteran.
Somebody named Harry Caray.
Then along came Michaels' three years during the rise of the Big Red Machine. He covered Hall of Fame players Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, and charismatic Reds manager Sparky Anderson also reached Cooperstown. In addition, there was Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, and there were others such as Ken Griffey Sr., Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo helping to build the foundation for a dynasty that would win back-to-back World Series championships later in the 1970s.
In the midst of it all, Michaels made the greatest home run call in Major League history that few people remember beyond Big Red Machine diehards. Nevertheless, it ranks somewhere between Russ Hodges screaming, "The Giants win the pennant," and Milo Hamilton declaring, "It's gone. It's 715. There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron."
Here was the scenario: In the bottom of the ninth inning of the fifth and decisive game of the 1972 National League Championship Series, the Reds trailed the Pirates, 3-2, in Cincinnati. With shutdown closer Dave Giusti on the mound at Riverfront Stadium, Johnny Bench climbed into the batter's box before a slew of nervous Reds fans.
Moments later, Giusti prepared to deliver a 1-2 pitch toward the outside part of the plate against the right-handed-hitting slugger.
Michaels took it from there:
"One and two. . . . The wind, and the pitch to Bench. . . . Change. . . . Hit in the air to deep right field. . . . back goes Clemente. . . . AT THE FENCE. . . .
Excuse me while I get the smelling salts.
Michaels said in his book of the call, "Bench was a dead pull-hitter, so an opposite-field homer was rare. In my call, I think I reached an octave I'd never struck before."
The Reds won the pennant that inning after a wild pitch scored the winning run from third, and Michaels won our hearts as the voice of the Big Red Machine. It took awhile, though. Before Michaels, the Reds' play-by-play man was Jim McIntyre, whose hometown-rooting style fit nicely with radio partner Joe Nuxhall, the self-proclaimed "Old Left-hander." Not only was Nuxhall popular in Cincinnati since becoming baseball's youngest player in history at 15 with the Reds in 1944, but he was from nearby Hamilton, Ohio.
Then the unthinkable happened. After the 1970 season, when all of us listened to every syllable of "Jim and Joe on the Radio" describing the Reds storming their way into the World Series over the 50,000 watts of WLW, Nuxhall was retained for another year, but McIntyre was fired. At 14, I was crushed. I even wrote a letter of protest to the Reds.
Worse, McIntyre's replacement was that nobody from Hawaii. Even worse, he was only slightly more than a decade older than me -- an underclassman in a Cincinnati high school. Michaels also had sort of a nasal sound, and in contrast to McIntyre, he was more objective than partisan. Plus, whenever a Reds player slammed a home run, he always said, "She's gone."
You know the rest.