LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — As a boy, Bob Costas took a cross-country drive with his dad, delighting in spinning the radio dial and listening “through the crackle and static” to broadcasts from far-flung ballparks.
He pulled in the big stations — WJR in Detroit, KDKA in Pittsburgh, WBAL in Baltimore and beyond — mesmerized by the games.
And the great voices that called them.
On Wednesday, Costas joined their rarefied air. Familiar to fans for four decades, he won the Ford C. Frick Award presented by the baseball Hall of Fame for broadcasting excellence.
“Even if you’re coming off the bench, you’re on the same team as Jack Buck, Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Red Barber, Harry Caray and Mel Allen,” he said, naming a few famed announcers.
The honour was announced at the winter meetings. A 28-time Emmy Award winner who’s called the Olympics and several other sports, the 65-year-old Costas said he was humbled by the award.
“Because of my love of baseball and because of the other names that (won the Frick Award), this is at the top of the list,” he said on a conference call. “No disrespect of all the other awards, because they all mean a lot to me, but this means the most.”
Mixing history, anecdotes and analysis, Costas is popular with viewers and listeners, using his words to paint pictures from the parks.
“For almost 40 years, Bob Costas has presented an incredibly thoughtful and informed voice on every game he calls for NBC, The Baseball Network and MLB Network,” Hall President Jeff Idelson said.
“But it’s Bob’s pure affection for baseball that has made him a national treasure. From the first day he entered our living rooms, Bob became one of the national pastime’s greatest friends,” he said.
Said Costas: “It’s always been my favourite sport to broadcast.”
In fact, his passion is so strong that many years ago, his name was floated as a possible candidate to become the baseball commissioner.
Costas has long carried a 1958 Mickey Mantle card in his wallet, a nod to his boyhood hero, the star whose games he listened to on his transistor radio growing up in New York. They eventually became friends, and Costas delivered the eulogy at Mantle’s funeral. Costas later did the eulogy for Cardinals great Stan Musial.
Costas also calls St. Louis home, dating to his days at KMOX radio and his time doing play-by-play for the Spirits of St. Louis in the American Basketball Association on KMOX-AM.
He didn’t do baseball then — the Cardinals had the revered Jack Buck at the microphone — and Costas said he soaked up those broadcasts.
Costas’ first chance to baseball came after he moved to NBC. And a lucky break let him get on the air for the first time.
He was assigned a Saturday game at Yankee Stadium on the final weekend of the 1980 season, working with Bobby Valentine. But there was a catch to that Tigers-New York tilt on NBC: It was the backup game, meaning it would only be seen if the main game didn’t get on the air.
In fact, he said the featured game was delayed for four hours by rain, so Costas made his big league broadcasting debut.
“I’m sure there was some fan in Tacoma scratching his head and wondering who the hell is this kid doing this?” Costas said, laughing.
Over the years, Costas has handled play-by-play and pregame assignments at the World Series, post-season and regular season. He’s called games and been a documentary host for the MLB Network for nine seasons, and praised John Smoltz, Jim Kaat, Tony Kubek, Bob Uecker and others he’s worked with throughout his career.
Costas was a first-time candidate among eight broadcasters on the Frick ballot for their work on a national level.
Among the others considered by a 15-member panel were Al Michaels and Joe Buck, along with Hall of Fame players Joe Morgan, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale and Pee Wee Reese. Costas said they all were equally deserving of the award.
Costas will be honoured on July 28 during induction weekend at Cooperstown, New York.
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Ben Walker, The Associated Press