Elston's baseball journey ends at Hall
Longtime voice of Astros honored by Frick Award
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The last game for which Gene Elston was behind the microphone in a quarter-century as the original voice of Houston's National League franchise was one of the greatest games ever played.
The Astros' 7-6, 16-inning loss to the Mets at the Astrodome in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series not only ended Houston's bid for its first World Series appearance but also Elston's days as the connection through the airwaves between the team's fans with the club originally known as the Colts .45s dating to 1962.
Elston, still revered in Houston as the voice of baseball there, continued in other booths with CBS Radio Game of the Week and postseason assignments for the network, a journey that reached conclusion Sunday with his being honored with the 2006 Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting as part of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"To me, this award is truly awesome, and I feel blessed to have been a part of such a great game for so long a time," Elston told the sun-baked audience at the Clark Sports Center.
Elston's broadcasting career spanned more than 50 years and like many had humble beginnings, with the Waterloo White Hawks of the Three-I League in 1946. He made it to the Majors with the Cubs in 1953. Five years later, Elston teamed with future Hall of Famer Bob Feller for Mutual Radio Game of the Day, which aired over 350 stations nationwide.
But it was with Houston's expansion franchise that Elston earned the credentials that led to his being named the 30th recipient of the award that has been presented annually since 1978 for broadcasting excellence. In 25 seasons in Houston, Elston teamed with previous Frick Award winners Harry Kalas and Bob Price as well as Loel Passe, Al Helfer, Dewayne Staats and Larry Dierker.
Elston, 84, called 11 no-hitters, including the fifth of Nolan Ryan's seven. Among his other notable calls were Mike Scott's NL West-clinching gem in 1986; Ryan's 3,509th strikeout in 1983 that broke Walter Johnson's 55-year-old record; the first game at the Astrodome in 1965; the 1-0, 24-inning Astros-Mets marathon in 1968 and Eddie Mathews' 500th home run.
"This opportunity to see and feel the pulse of the fans face-to-face," Elston said, "has been very uplifting following years of talking to unseen audiences."
Elston acknowledged the Negro Leagues veterans inducted Sunday by reciting a portion of Ted Williams' induction speech of 40 years ago in which he expressed hope that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson would someday be honored, "as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren't given the chance."
Elston also reminded the crowd that broadcasters and writers at one time were adversaries.
"Writers and broadcasters were, to say the least, overly unfriendly," he recalled. "Years ago, broadcast booths were referred to by the writers as 'earache alley,' and the announcers looked upon the press box as the home of the ink-stained wretches."
Sunday's experience forced Elston to alter his favorite baseball memory.
"I said it happened on Labor Day, 1953, when I walked through the press gate at Wrigley Field, up the ramp and into the Cubs' broadcast booth to announce my first Major League game," he said. "Can there be anything more memorable for a young man after spending eight years in the Minor Leagues? With all my heart, I would like to amend that moment and announce that first place is now occupied by Cooperstown. This place is my field and my dreams."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.