Milo's broadcast voice one to cherish
Hamilton, on cusp of retirement, has created six decades of memorable calls
Surely, you've heard one of the radio calls for the ages. More than 38 years later, it remains fresh, dramatic and magical.
"I'll admit it," said Milo Hamilton, nearly giggling over the phone from his home in Houston, where he thought of the call that rolled from his distinctive tongue that April night in 1974 after Hank Aaron strolled to the plate at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. "Whenever I hear it, the hair still kind of rises on my forearms a little bit."
And the call ...
"Henry Aaron, in the second inning walked and scored. He's sittin' on 714. Here's the pitch by Downing ... Swinging. There's a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be ...
"... outta here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all-time, and it's Henry Aaron!"
Nice, really nice. And, no question, Hamilton's call ranks somewhere at the top of the greatest sports calls, with "The Giants win the pennant!" "Do you believe in miracles? ... Yes!" "I can't believe what I just saw!" and "Down goes Frazier!"
That said, what about some of Hamilton's other calls?
Hamilton's broadcasting life didn't just begin after Aaron did what was considered impossible, when he passed Babe Ruth as baseball's all-time home run leader. Hamilton's broadcasting life also didn't end after Aaron's moment, especially since the Ford C. Frick Award announcer is finishing his 28th season with the Houston Astros.
This will be Hamilton's last season, by the way. Not only with the Astros, but with anybody, because he is retiring.
"I still have a lot of commercial accounts, and I'll still be doing some work for the club -- maybe showing up once a week to do parts of a game," said Hamilton, who turned 85 earlier this month. "[The Astros] kind of want me around. And I want to stay on the air for three more years in some way until 2015, because that would give me 70 years on the air."
Seventy years? Wow.
That means there were more than a few dandy broadcast moments for Hamilton beyond "He's sittin' on 714."
Consider, for instance, that Hamilton was a radio announcer for football and basketball games at the University of Iowa in his native state as far back as the mid-1940s. Then, in 1953, he became the voice of the St. Louis Browns. Later, after stops with the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs (twice), Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, he joined the Astros in 1985.
So we're talking about six decades of Hamilton describing Major League Baseball over the airways. Not only that, he did so well enough to reach Cooperstown with Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Willie Stargell, Aaron and others he covered on a regular basis.
"Even so, some people think I was a better basketball announcer," said Hamilton, who also did college football for 25 years in addition to all types of hoops for 42 years. As for the latter, he called everything from DePaul basketball during the golden years of Ray Meyer to Michael Jordan's rookie season with the Chicago Bulls.
About those other calls.
Which were the best that didn't involve Mr. Aaron?
"Well, I thought the [Craig] Biggio 3,000th hit was among them," said Hamilton, referring to the former Astros slugger who joined that exclusive club in 2007. "You know, he hit a lot of doubles, and I think he wanted to hit a double for his 3,000th. And I think the moment got the better of him, because they threw him out at second base."
Hamilton laughed, saying, "And that was the emotion I had in that call. If he had just gotten a hit, that would have been enough. But the fact that I was caught up in it, knowing how much he wanted that 3,000th hit to be a double, I think that added to that call."
It did. Just like the Cubs' history of disaster added to Hamilton's energetic call in 1984, when the Cubs clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since the end of World War II in 1945.
Five years before that, Hamilton was at the microphone on a daily basis for the Pirates of Chuck Tanner, Dave Parker and Stargell during their "We Are Family" run to a World Series championship.
Still, that was just one of Hamilton's favorite calls during his four years with the Pirates. There was 1976, for instance, when the Pirates' John Candelaria pitched with teammate Bill Robinson at third base instead of his normal spot in the outfield. Hamilton said former Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh was forced into the situation due to a favorable pitching matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Added Hamilton, "Robinson made two errors early, because he hadn't played [third], but Candelaria went on to pitch a no-hitter."
Hamilton covered 11 no-hitters, including a crazy one involving the Cubs' Sad Sam "Toothpick" Jones. "The rule of thumb was that, if you were going to Wrigley Field, you'd better be in your seat before the National Anthem, because he didn't last long," Hamilton said, laughing, before recalling the exception to the rule.
The exception came in 1955 at Wrigley against the Pirates. After Jones walked the bases loaded during a 4-0 game, he "struck out the next three hitters to preserve a no-hitter, and there were about 4,000 people in the seats," Hamilton said, laughing some more.
As for other calls ...
"There's a Northwestern football call, when Parseghian is coaching, and they're playing at Notre Dame," Hamilton said, referring to Ara Parseghian, who eventually left Northwestern to become one of Notre Dame's iconic coaches. "I had a touchdown call that was kind of exciting, and Northwestern beat Notre Dame that day in South Bend."
Then Hamilton jumped ahead to 2003. The Astros opened a road trip at Yankee Stadium, where Houston ace Roy Oswalt left in the first inning with an injury. Said Hamilton, "We thought, 'Oh, boy. Who's going to pitch now?' And five relievers came in, and between the six pitchers overall, they pitched a no-hitter."
Hamilton laughed again.
Mostly, Hamilton will be remembered for shouting, with No. 715 heading toward destiny to make at least two people famous -- the hitter and the announcer.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.