Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We Might Be Gonna Miss Him


George Kell.

For 39 years, he called Tiger baseball, most memorably the last 20 with Al Kaline. Two Hall of Famers, thoroughly schooled in the game, and terrifically nice guys. Even when the Tigers lost, it was reassuring to hear George's voice and familiar, soothing twang.

Detroit sports has and has had its share of tremendous announcers in my lifetime. Van Patrick for the Lions, George Blaha for the Pistons, Bruce Martyn and Sid Abel for the Red Wings (I include Mickey Redmond in there, too), but none compares to the Tiger greats -- Ernie Harwell, Paul Carey, Al Kaline, and George Kell. Perhaps it's the fact that the Tigers broadcast twice as many games as the Pistons or Wings, or the fact that baseball is the greatest sport ever contrived by man, but for me the Tigers' announcers stand apart from the others.

I have such indelible memories of Tiger baseball, bound up in the images and sounds created by the announcers. My grandfather, always smoking his cigars, with his transistor ear plug planted firmly in his ear so he could listen to the game while he watched something else on television. My grandmother, whom I took to a game every year at Tiger Stadium, who absolutely delighted in seeing the games in person. My mother, who was as rabid a fan as I've ever known, who, along with my father, taught -- no, trained -- me to never, ever leave a game before the last out, a lesson I have now passed on -- no, imposed -- on my son.

Through it all, Ernie, Paul, George, and Al were constants. As much as I loved listening to Ernie, Paul, and Al, though, George Kell was my favorite. He played my favorite position, third base, was a 10-time all star, was a great hitter and a great fielder, and he never had a cross word. In fact, the words he did speak were legendary.

George had such a great twang, his simplest statements were poetry. Things like, "Back to you, Eli (pronounced Ee-lah)," "he might be gonna make a pitching change," and "you are so right, Al (pronounced "you are so rahht, Al") were so real, so human, so right for baseball, that you thought, "This is what a baseball announcer is supposed to sound like."

George's twang was a source of amusement of course, as we often joked about his pronunciation -- "Joe-ah-kwin Ann-doo-jar" for Joaquin Andujar -- and I think he was aware of it to some extent, since he often spelled the names of the players, perhaps a habit from his radio days, but a courtesy nonetheless.

I enjoy most baseball announcers, but George and Ernie represent the end of an era. Two southern boys who wound up in Detroit, in the booth, and in the Hall of Fame.

George Kell. I might be gonna miss him.

Rest in Peace, George. You were a dandy!

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