To Cooperstown and Back
by Gary McKillips
It's easy to speak of Milo Hamilton in terms of baseball history. The voice of the Houston Astros is one of six living members of the Broadcasters' Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hamilton has called some 9,000 games, worked for six major league clubs and has, arguably, the most famous play-by-play call of all-time -- Aaron's number 715.
While Milo is about yesterday, he is also about today. His voice, crisp delivery and pre-game preparation are the keys to his success.
They call him"Mr. Briefcase." His bulging black bag rivals that of an old-time country doctor. It is filled with statistics and other bits of information used to spice up his calls. "Stats are very important to baseball," Milo said. "When I started, stat sheets were not all that detailed. So I began keeping my own. I tell everyone the briefcase is what got me to where I am today."
Hamilton began calling games for the Davenport, Iowa, Triple A League franchise in 1950. Two years later he made the jump to the St. Louis Browns. Then it was over to the Cardinals to work with Jack Buck until St. Louis management decided they wanted to bring in an ex-ballplayer. Joe Garagiola's arrival in the Cardinal booth meant Hamilton would have to go back to Triple A or find another major league slot. Enter the Chicago Cubs. Milo was teamed with the late Bert Wilson for two seasons when the hiring of another ex-ballplayer, Lou Boudreau, meant he was off again, this time across town to call games for the White Sox with the legendary "Commander" Bob Elson.
"I listened to Bob when I was growing up in Iowa," Hamilton said. "We could hear WGN in my home town of Fairfield, Iowa. The opportunity to work with Bob, one of the first three Hall of Fame broadcasters (Mel Allen and Red Barber are the others) was a dream come true."
But Milo wanted the top spot and in 1966 headed for Atlanta. Hamilton spent nine years in Atlanta, calling it a place where "I really came into my own. Everyone wants to occupy the Number 1 Chair, and that's what the Braves allowed me to do. They also had the largest network in America."
The Atlanta gig soured after years of futility on the part of the Braves. "Things were deteriorating there and attendance was poor," Hamilton said. "They were looking for a change and I was ready to move." In 1976, after flirting with a return to St. Louis, Hamilton accepted the unenviable position of succeeding Bob Prince of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"The fans were great," said Milo, "but the Pittsburgh media just couldn't understand how anybody could replace Bob Prince, and probably they were right." Hamilton returned to the Cubs in 1982, where he was teamed first with Jack Brickhouse and then with Harry Caray. "That was a no-win situation," Milo said. "There was no way Caray and I were going to live under the same roof, let alone the same booth." Caray won out and in 1984 Hamilton left because of, the official statement said, "personality differences" with Caray.
It was then that Hamilton landed his current position. "The opportunity to come here (Houston) has been fabulous," said Milo, now in his 17th year with the Astros. " Houston has been terrific. Great things have come my way, including the Hall of Fame. It's a wonderful place to close out my career and I hope that's the way it happens."
Milo has been in the booth for many great moments. He called a five-home run, 11 RBI double-header performance by Hall of Famer Stan Musial in 1954. Ironically, in 1972, he called a similar five-homer outburst by the Padres' Nate Colbert against Atlanta.
Hamilton also called Roger Maris' 61st via re-creation (re-creations of games in the studio were common practice even into the '60's).
But the signature call for Milo Hamilton was this: "There's a drive to left-center field! That ball is gonna be...outa here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all time! And it's Henry Aaron! Henry Aaron's coming around third! His teammates are at home plate! Listen to the crowd!"
Hamilton remembers that Babe Ruth himself thought that the 60-home run single season record would be broken because peers like Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx both hit 58. But according to Milo, the Babe thought the 714 mark was out of reach. As did most fans until 1972 when Aaron announced he was going for it. Becoming a pull hitter, Hammerin' Hank took dead aim on the record at the "launching pad," Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. On April 8, 1974, Henry was primed and Milo was at the microphone. "Knowing you were going to be the announcer to do it, and have all winter to think about it, and now to know that it is the most rebroadcast (highlight) of all time, is really something," Milo said.
"It's a good call mainly because of the type of home run it was." Milo said. "When McGwire hits one, it goes half way to the moon. Many of Aaron's home runs were just over the fence." Hamilton recalls that Bill Buckner almost caught Aaron's 715th, so there was a reason to wait to make sure it was gone. "But the call has stood the test of time."
And so has Milo Hamilton, who has made the trek to Cooperstown and back and remains one of baseball's most familiar and popular current day broadcasters.
(Gary McKillips is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and an ASA Advisory Board Member)