The passing of Baltimore Orioles announcer Chuck Thompson on Sunday meant that the true old guard of baseball broadcasting, those whose careers are older than most of their listeners, has shrunk to a precious few.
Herb Carneal, the original voice of the Minnesota Twins, and who worked five seasons with Thompson in Baltimore from 1957-62, will be spending his 50th year behind the mike at age 81. Carneal, who only works the first five innings of home games, has indicated this season will likely be the last.
Then the Los Angeles Dodgers have some guy named Vin Scully, who has managed to stick around painting the word pictures for 56 years. And even at age 78 and a reduced travel schedule, don't expect Scully to park himself on a fairway anytime soon. This 2003 interview with the Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsburgh doesn't sound like a man thinking about retirement.
I guess my body is my thermometer as far as interest in the game. I still get goose bumps when a good play is made. I still really feel the excitement. I think the day that I don't would be time to hang it up. It's been a long, endless love affair right up to this moment.
Millions of Dodgers fans across four generations feel the same.
Which brings us back to Chuck Thompson, as sure a Baltimore sports legend as Ripken or Unitas, both of whose exploits he chronicled for decades. The Sun carried five articles about his death yesterday to underscore just how much he meant to his adopted town. Even though he had left the booth in 2000, Baltimore is a city that doesn't forget its friends and in Thompson they found nobody more loyal.
Thompson could be an expert, no-nonsense storyteller and every bit the homer as well, although that's something fans in most cities don't seem to mind even if TV sports columnists do. Unlike Harry Caray, who could be his team's top booster and venemous critic at the same time, seldom was heard a discouraging word from Thompson, as these clips from Orioles flagship WBAL can attest:
Even if Thompson's legacy is burnished with the patina of excess nostalgia, so what? Looking back allows you to slip back into a moment in time when basebal l was different somehow, more accessible, more innocent, more fun. And Chuck Thompson was a part of all of those moments.