No Retirement in Site for Ageless Milo
As a broadcaster, Milo Hamilton doesn’t have to worry about his arms or legs giving out. He can still read his voluminous notes and talk about baseball with the best of them. Plus his voice still projects the dulcet tones that accompanied his call of Hank Aaron’s record 715th home run on April 8, 1974.
Never mind that the long-time voice of the Houston Astros turns 84 just before Labor Day.
One of four octogenarians still broadcasting big-league baseball, Hamilton has been the 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.
His own concession to age is cutting road games out of his personal schedule; the long plane trips and wee-hours arrivals started to take their toll on the venerable mikeman.
Asked how long he’ll continue in the Houston booth, Hamilton isn’t sure. “I guess it will depend on what [Astros owner] Drayton McLane does,” he said. “I was supposed to retire at the end of 2010 but Drayton asked me what my plans were. 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?’ So the plan now is for me to work this season and next season.”
That would enable Hamilton to broadcast from 60 different big-league parks before he hangs up his microphone. He’ll visit Toronto this year and Miami next year, adding the Rogers Center and the new Marlins ballpark to his glittering broadcasting resume.
He also 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 the timbre in their voices when they reached their ’60s,” he said, “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 Aaron’s home run, Hamilton not only witnessed the fall of Babe Ruth’s career record but Aaron’s first homer, against Vic Raschi of the Cardinals in 1954. He did not see Roger Maris break Ruth’s single-season mark in 1961 but broadcast the event while re-creating the game via Western Union reports for Chicago’s WCFL.
“I was with the White Sox,” he said, “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 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 said. “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 recalled. “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 said. “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,” Milo Hamilton suggested. “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 said. “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), Hamilton says 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.”
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author or co-author of 35 baseball books. His e.mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.