Remember Graham McNamee

Graham McNamee

This whole subject begins with a column I wrote quite awhile back on Graham McNamee, the true Father of the Play-By-Play in baseball and other sports broadcasting. You may want to take a look at it now as the next step in making sense of the point I’m trying to make this morning. Here’s the link:

My contention has always been a frustratingly easy position to defend. That is, that baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame, as the mind of Milo Hamilton conveys in the long ago talk I had with him about McNamee, is incredibly dull and short-sighted. To put aside McNamee’s “invention” of the real-time, in the present moment description of a baseball game over the radio airways as an unworthy single reason for awarding him the Ford C. Frick Award for Baseball Broadcasting because (1) he didn’t do it long enough; and (2) he did things other than baseball broadcasting is simply put, just plain stupid.

We may as well ignore Thomas Edison for his invention of the electric light bulb because he didn’t use them long enough and spent way too much time on other things. How dull do the Baseball Hall of Fame voters have to be to keep ignoring the man who invented the genre that makes their award even plausible?

Fortunately, the National Radio Hall of Fame inducted Graham McNamee into their broader based entity of honor in 2011, but is still only a partially compensatory amends for the fact that he continues to be ignored by the very people he invented in baseball broadcasting.

Everyone out there needs to know the McNamee story. His life is also a testament to those who take the risk of knocking on doors that others leave closed – and the possibilities that may open from there when one does try.

Remember the story? McNamee was a 25-year-old college graduate in NYC back in 1923, with no defined career path beyond his desire to become a professional singer. One day, while he was walking down the street on the way to jury duty, he passed radio station WEAF and saw a sign that advertised they were looking for help.

McNamee could have blown the thought off with the excuse that many of have used at one time or another that “they are probably looking for someone with more experience than me” and just kept walking away into obscurity, but he did not. He went inside to check things out.

The next thing he knew, he was auditioning. The station loved him enough to hire him on the spot. And his life  was moving in a direction that would eventually lead me, this total stranger of some 89 years later, to be writing to the world about him on a quiet Saturday morning in Houston, Texas through a medium that was far beyond even McNamee’s wildest dreams in the early 20th century.

The ancient lesson?

Run the risk. Knock on some doors, folks. The ones you pass today, may be closed or even gone tomorrow. And also, please stay alive among the folks who think we need to save our real awards for those who have made the biggest contributions to our better life – and not just mindlessly join company with those who politically hand them out to those with the biggest egos and the most connections.

Graham McNamee was an innovative baseball broadcasting creator, but he also happens to be an ego-less dead man with few remaining connections to his very large contributions. Let’s give him a boost in the Frick vote that he so richly deserves.

Maybe someday, the Ford Frick voters will wake up and select Graham McNamee for the award that should be bearing his name in the first place.


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5 Responses to “Remember Graham McNamee”

  1. Mark Says:

    Well said, and well done.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I think the Frick voting process favors the current and recently retired broadcasters with substantial fan bases over the pioneers of the industry. With 30 teams and 30 fan bases, there will always be a deserving “legend” retiring soon that will trump those like McNamee whose fan base has long ago died with them.

  3. mike Says:

    And then there are those who got the Frick award who personally called the voters over a period of several years and asked them to vote for him. As you said, McNamee’s ego isn’t around to lobby. He obviously made a huge contribution to how we know the game.

  4. Greg Lucas Says:

    Bill, I am mixed on this. Most I have read of McNamee was that he was a pretty poor baseball announcer and he really did very little of it even though he was the first. The old line by a noted sportswriter lives on, “I was part of two games yesterday. The one I was watching and the one Graham McNamee was calling.” If he should be honored only for being the first then inclusion makes sense. But only for that. Having the award named after him as the first makes more sense than the Ford Frick Award, though. Unfortunately, once the Frick Award became a marketing tool by adding a public vote it lost much credibility. Longevity should matter, but so should quality of work even more so. With fewer and fewer “national” voices and more and more local ones it is truly very hard to judge the “best.” Perhaps the era is simply gone. When I think baseball announcers I primarily think radio where everything must be described through the voice. TV is not the same, but it is the dominant media now.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Greg, I understand your ambivalence, but remember too – that noted sportswriter was probably one of those who had called radio games in his “past tense, happened yesterday” style, even though the play had just unfolded. i.e., “Traynor hit the ball to Koenig at shortstop. The shortstop then threw the ball to first base for the second out of the fifth inning.” McNamee’s “in the moment” style was simultaneous with the action in a descriptive present tense mode: “Traynor swings … he hammers a hot one to short …. Koenig’s up with it … wings it to first … Traynor’s out … Two away in the bottom of the fifth … as the sun starts to stream onto the field through the rafters over my right shoulder.”

      Of course, we don’t know if Graham McNamee was as good as my perceived example, but we do know that his style was innovative and bound to generate envy and misunderstanding among even some of the best old style print journalists. McNamee apparently did call a different game – one that was live in the moment to his listeners.

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