When he arrives at the spring training camp of the Houston Astros Feb. 29, Milo Hamilton will begin his farewell season as a regular baseball broadcaster.
Hamilton announced Wednesday that the 2012 season will be his last as the radio voice of the Astros, though he has signed a professional services contract that will keep him tied to the club for three more seasons. He told ThePostGame.com that he'll not only emcee events at Minute Maid Park but also fill in when needed in the broadcast booth.
By the time he hangs up his mike for good, the Fairfield, Iowa native will have worked 70 years as a baseball broadcaster and broadcast from 63 different ballparks (more than double the number of clubs in the big leagues today). Thanks to expansion, shifting franchises, interleague play, and stadium construction, his broadcast from the new Miami stadium April 13 will come from Hamilton’s 63rd different broadcast booth.
One of four octogenarians still broadcasting major-league baseball, Hamilton turns 85 just before Labor Day. He has been Voice of the Astros since 1985 and a member of the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1992. He is also a member of the Radio Hall of Fame, and Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, among others.
Hamilton has already worked longer than he had planned.
"I was supposed to retire at the end of 2010 but (former Astros owner) Drayton McLane asked me what my plans were," he says. "I said I’d probably come to a lot of games. He said, ‘Why don’t you come to all the games, do the games, and get paid?'"
Although he normally works only Houston home games because the travel schedule has become too rigorous for him, Hamilton went to Toronto last year, working from the Rogers Centre for the first time, and will make this year's trip to Florida.
He hopes his health won’t handicap his plans. Hamilton has had leukemia since 1974 and has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy. He has also had a heart attack that left him with stents plus a hip replacement and back surgery. He blames the back problem on an overstuffed briefcase that has underlined his reputation as one of the best-prepared broadcasters in the business.
"A lot of guys I worked with lost their timber in their voices when they reached their 60s," he says, "but I was lucky. I started as a singer and a mimic -- I even had a nightclub act in college and later worked as a disc jockey in Chicago. I’m not a sports announcer who does commercials; I’m an announcer who does a lot of different things. That versatility has enabled me to stick around longer than maybe a lot of guys would have."
Hamilton broke into professional baseball in 1950, the same year Vin Scully began with Brooklyn, but spent three years in the minors before reaching the majors with the 1953 St. Louis Browns. He has also worked for the Cardinals, Cubs, Braves, Pirates, Cubs again, and Astros.
Best known for his WSB radio call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run on April 8, 1974, Hamilton not only witnessed that record-breaker but also Aaron's first home run, against Vic Raschi of the Cardinals in 1954. He did not see Roger Maris break Babe Ruth's single-season record in 1961 but broadcast that event while recreating the game with Western Union reports for Chicago’s WCFL.
"I was with the White Sox," he says, "but we closed our season on Saturday because the Baltimore Colts needed to use Memorial Stadium on Sunday. We were obligated to provide a game every day so it wasn’t hard to pick which game we were going to do.
"When Maris hit the home run, I told my engineer to give me all he had with the various sound effects. But Maris was kind of a shy guy and didn’t want to go out for a curtain call. We had to wait a long time for him to come out of the dugout and tip his cap. I kept telling the engineer to give me all he had since I wanted to make it sound like I was actually at the game."
A product of Depression-era Iowa, Hamilton grew up listening to Ronald Reagan broadcast baseball games on Des Moines station WHO. "His sponsor was Kentucky Club Pipe Tobacco and he had a closing line that read, 'Look for the blue pack with the red-coated rider.' Years later, I met him when he was in the White House. When I shook hands with him, I said, 'Look for the blue pack with the red-coated rider.' He said, 'How do you remember that?' I told him I grew up listening to his broadcasts on WHO."
Because of his longevity, Hamilton has called 11 no-hitters, including a Yankee Stadium gem performed by a record six Astros pitchers. "That never happened before and will never happen again," he says. "Jimy Williams, the manager, didn’t even know there was a no-hitter in progress. He changed pitchers so many times, he didn’t realize it was a no-hit game."
Hamilton also called the no-hitter Mike Scott threw to clinch the 1986 National League West title for the Astros, the 18th-inning home run Chris Burke hit to win the 2005 Division Series against Atlanta, and the arrival of a skinny infielder who would become the career home run king.
"Aaron got into the lineup when Bobby Thomson broke his leg,” Hamilton recals. "Charlie Grimm made him an outfielder. He had a goofy batting grip and never pulled the ball. Only when the Braves moved to Atlanta did he become a pull hitter."
Ruth thought his career record would never fall, the announcer says. "He thought 60 would be broken because some of his peers -- Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and Hack Wilson -- had come close. But he thought 714 would stand forever."
When Ruth played, there were two leagues of eight teams each. "Expansion was the biggest change I’ve seen in baseball," Hamilton says. "Right behind that would be the role of the relief pitcher and how important the closer has become. In the old days, the pitcher worked every fourth day and tried to finish what he started."
Hamilton still remembers interviewing Jackie Robinson at Wrigley Field in the ‘50s. "I’d only been in the big leagues about three years and was just 27," he says. "I broke in at a pretty good time: Mickey Mantle had just started, Mays and Aaron were young players, and there were only eight teams in each league."
He's only been with one world champion, the 1979 Pirates, and one other World Series team, the 2005 Astros. But Hamilton has no regrets.
Along with fellow old-timers Jerry Coleman (Padres), Ralph Kiner (Mets), and Vin Scully (Dodgers), broadcasting big-league baseball keeps him young. The Astros have even honored him by naming the street in front of Minute Maid Park "Milo Hamilton Way."
According to Milo, "Scully is the greatest of all time. I don’t think there would be any argument there. If you think of the thousands of guys who have done what I do since Harold Arlin started at KDKA in 1921, finishing second to Scully is not bad at all."
Dan Schlossberg is the author of 35 books, including "Making Airwaves: 60 Years at Milo's Microphone" and "The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball's 300-Game Winners." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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