Finally! Graham McNamee Takes Frick Award!

Graham MacNamee 2016 Ford Frick Award Winner The Father of Baseball Radio Play-By-Play Interviewing Babe Ruth during the 1923 World Series

Graham McNamee
2016 Ford Frick Award Winner
The Father of Baseball Radio Play-By-Play
Interviewing Babe Ruth during the 1923 World Series


It almost was enough to restore my ancient innocent belief that justice over time is inevitable.

What is disturbing to me is that it took this long for me to get the news that became public on December 9, 2015, a full two and a half months ago. I finally got it today, February 23, 2016, when I picked up my Spring 2016 copy of “Memories and Dreams” and read the wonderful story by Bill Francis on Page 29.

And my attention tardiness soon didn’t matter. The man who invented play-by-play finally got in – finally got the Hall of Fame honor he always has deserved. After this long parade of broadcasters – who all benefited from the traction he left on the road of telecommunications via radio – McNamee brought baseball to the fore as one of the great “theaters of the mind” that ever longed for the company of human ears.

Here’s an interesting sidebar: I just ordered a few copies of McNamee’s 1926 book, “You’re on the Air,” for a little project I had in mind – without knowing a thing about the play-by-play pioneer’s selection for the 2016 Frick Award. And Francis, the article writer, turns around and uses the very quote that caught my eye:

“You must make each of your listeners, though miles apart from the spot, feel that he or she, too, is there with you in that press stand, watching the movements of the game, the color and flags; the pop bottles thrown in the air….Gloria Swanson arriving in her new ermine coat; McGraw in the dugout, apparently motionless, but giving signals all the time.” ~ Graham McNamee, “You’re on the Air”.

I’ve never known if my favorite McNamee story was actual or symbolic, but I like it, anyway, because all the other things I’ve read elsewhere suggest that, indeed, Graham McNamee was the man brought real-time, present tense description of game action to life for the radio audience. The story goes that McNamee started working as a side man to the great early 20th century, Grantland Rice, as the latter tried his hand at translating his reflective writing eloquence into something fun and useful to voice business of describing a live baseball game.

Apparently, it wasn’t much fun or Rice’s cup of tea. Let’s say the play was a ground out to shortstop.

Rice’s style was to call it as he might have written it – after the game and in past tense. The radio might hear the bat contact and some audience cheers or boos as the play unfolded. Rice waited in silence for the play to be completed and then reported something like: “Brown hit a ground ball to Jones at shortstop, who then threw to ball to Johnson at first for the out.” – It was not engaging, at all.

As the story goes, real or symbolic, one day, Rice got fed up doing this thing in the middle of a game. “Here,” Rice supposedly said to McNamee, “you take over, I’ve had enough of this business.”

Supposedly again, Graham McNamee then took over like a silent co-pilot with a better flight plan and McNamee began his groundbreaking real-time coverage:

“Ruth stands in there. …. He swings hard … and it’s a long and high fly ball to right field … right fielder Tobin turns and waves … bye-bye … and the Yankees take a 1-0 lead over the Browns in the bottom of the fourth … as the Babe smiles and waves to the home crowd … What a guy!”

For years, I’ve been one of those people who felt that McNamee’s omission from the Frick Award stood as one of the great “overlooks” in the business of baseball awards. Then I talked it over once with 1992 Frick winner Milo Hamilton and got one of the two worst reasons for the absence of Graham McNamee from serious Frick Award consideration.

According some, (1) Graham McNamee wasn’t a pure baseball man. He did other sports and non-sporting events. – And how spurious is that kind of thinking? Look at the long row of excellence we get from broadcasters today who understand the differential process of doing sports on radio versus television. A play-by-play person has to be grounded with an understanding of each sport he or she does, but the TV/radio differences are the real litmus test on versatility for most – not the sport in itself. Of course you have to know the game.

Milo Hamilton gave me a reason that made no sense. Milo felt that Graham McNamee didn’t broadcast baseball long enough to deserve serious consideration. Really, well, if that’s the litmus test, I guess we had better take down the historical plaques at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Like Graham McNamee in baseball radio broadcasting, the Wright Brothers didn’t fly long enough to be recognized and honored for their contributions to the science of manned flight.

Congratulations, Graham McNamee! ~ This summer, you will finally get the recognition in Cooperstown that you always have deserved!


 eagle-0range Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas



3 Responses to “Finally! Graham McNamee Takes Frick Award!”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    Excellent news. This is very deserving, and I know you’ve been wanting this for some time, Bill.

    Now what reason did Milo give for HIM getting the Frick Award? Still haven’t figured that one out.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    By Milo Hamilton’s reasoning, Vin Scully would be excluded from Ford Frick Award consideration, since he also announced pro football, tennis, and golf.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    I obviously can’t comment directly on MacNamee’s skills or ability as a baseball announcer but he had one thing going for him that qualified him for the Frick Award. His was the first voice associated with announcing baseball on the radio. No, as Milo pointed out, he didn’t really work that many games and was not primarily a baseball man. However, he was the first. Every FIRST should get some credit. Harold Arlen was the first to ever announce baseball on the radio, but in his case it was one game as a trial. Not the same. McNamee was the voice of the World Series for several years. Baseball has now almost caught up with the backlog of great announcers from the history of radio so McNamee’s honor this year is not keeping many who are still alive from receiving the honor down the line.

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