Yankees fire Mel Allen on this date

When I was growing up, he was my broadcast hero.  But it was on this date, Dec. 17, 1964, that the New York Yankees made the firing of their "voice," Mel Allen, official. 

Allen, who broadcast Yankees games since 1939 - a stint interrupted by military service - was once tabbed by the trade magazine "Variety," as having one of the nation's most recognizable voices.  He ranked right up there with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.  And why not.  At his height, he not only broadcast the New York Yankees games, but he could be heard on the World Series, the All-Star game, the Rose Bowl and was the sports voice of "Movietone News," a newsreel film shown in movie theaters back in the day.   It seemed Mel Allen's voice was everywhere.

Sports announcing is very subjective.  I know, having been a sports announcer for more than 40 years.   But despite his critics, Allen was among the best to grace a sports microphone at the height of his career.  Don't believe me?  Just listen objectively to one of his Yankees broadcasts from the 1950s, readily available on the internet.  Of course, critics will say he was a "homer" for the Yankees, but the fact is, the Yankees always won.  What was Allen to do, not report the score?

By 1964, criticism of Allen mounted, especially within the Yankees organization.  On Sept. 21 of that year, the Yankees informed Allen his contract would not be renewed for 1965.  However, the "Voice of the Yankees" was never given a reason for his dismissal. Furthermore, the Yankees did not announce that Allen was out.  Instead, Phil Rizzuto - Allen's broadcast partner - was tabbed to broadcast the World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals with former Cardinals announcer and NBC Game of the Week broadcaster Joe Garagiola, like Rizzuto a former ballplayer.

Speculation mounted as to why Allen was not tabbed for the World Series and after the series the public and media wondered if he would be back with the Yankees in 1965.  Still no announcement from the Bombers, until Dec. 17.   That's when the Yankees introduced Garagiola as the newest member of the 1965 broadcast team, joining Rizzuto, Jerry Coleman and Red Barber, the only non-player on the crew.  (Barber would be fired after the 1966 season, but unlike Allen, informed the NY Times of his firing the day new Yankees president Mike Burke gave him the pink slip.)  The Yankees rolled out the red carpet for Garagiola, introducing him at a news conference at the legendary Toots Shor saloon and restaurant in Manhattan.

Yankees General Manager and vice president Ralph Houk made the following announcement:
"We are happy to add Joe Gargiola to our top-notch team of broadcasters. Joe has developed into an outstanding sports personality in New York and around the country and we are confident that Yankee fans will enjoy his warm, personal interpretation of the game."

Allen never returned to full time baseball broadcasting, after 1964.  In 1965, with the Milwaukee Braves scheduled to move to Atlanta the following season, Allen broadcast some of their games back to that region of the country, but was not selected to join their broadcast crew in 1966.  He also broadcast some Cleveland Indians games on television in 1968.  Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees brought him back on a part-time basis, broadcasting games on cable TV.  In fact, Allen made the call, when Dave Righetti pitched his no-hitter against the Red Sox on July 4, 1983.

Allen also became the host of the popular "This Week In Baseball" weekly television program, with many fans hearing his legendary voice for the first time, not knowing of his historic past.

But it was on this date that the New York Yankees officially let it be known that the true "Voice of the Yankees" would not be brought back. The Yankees would only say that they and the sponsor of the games, Ballantine Beer, had decided it was "time for a change." 

After Allen's departure, both the Yankees and Ballantine Beer floundered.  In 1969, Allen returned to Yankee Stadium for Mickey Mantle Day, receiving the loudest ovation after Mantle.  Houk was gone after 1973, having been a disaster as GM and mediocre, when he returned to manage the club.  Garagiola left the broadcast crew after the 1967 season, and Ballantine Beer & Ale, in one last gasp, brought Allen back for a television ad campaign, before it was finally sold to Falstaff Beer.

In the end, it would be the Yankees who were sold by CBS to George Steinbrenner and Allen would return to some broadcast glory with the only club he truly loved.

Patriots will not win another Super Bowl under Brady

As the New England Patriots bask in the glow of another big victory, this one over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, 24-10, I am reminded of the prediction I made last season, after they lost the Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles.  I predicted on a morning radio program where I was a co-host: “The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era will never win another Super Bowl.”

Despite a tremendous win over the Vikes, I am sticking by that prediction.  Nothing against Brady - one of the all time great quarterbacks - nothing against Belichick - arguably the greatest NFL coach - but the clock has run out on this dynamic duo.  Brady is 41 years old.  I don’t care what diet he is on, what lifestyle regimen he follows.  You cannot stop age and 41 is 41 no matter how you slice it.

It pains me to write this, because I like Belichick and Brady.  They are one of sports all time great duos.  It’s just that Brady - despite the Pats 9-3 record - has lost a step.  And the Pats - who play in a weak division - have flaws.  That’s why I picked the Pats to beat the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl.  I thought it was the duos last great chance.  A final moment to ride out in a blaze of glory.

Now the Pats are poised to make another run, but other clubs are looming.  The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, are younger, lurking and ready to unseat the defending AFC champs.  Don’t count out the Pittsburgh Steelers.  And the Houston Texans are a team with which to be reckoned.

It’s not that the Pats aren’t good.  They are better than good and playoff bound once again.  But Brady is a year older and the Belichick-Brady magic, once a certainty, has lost its glow, despite that impressive win over Minnesota.

I hope I am wrong, but the only area immune to Father Time, is Father Time.  Everyone else is fair game and the clock is ticking on Tom Brady, who I predict has won his last Super Bowl.

Baseball looked to speed up game 51 years ago

It seems a baseball season doesn’t go by without talk of speeding up the pace of play.  Who knew that 51 years ago the topic was a focal point at the annual winter baseball meetings being held in 1967 in Mexico City?  The stewards of the game were concerned over three-and-a-half hour ballgames and the fact fans were changing the dial to watch football.

At a joint meeting of managers and general managers, it was agreed - without players’ input - batters would no longer be permitted to step out of the box to request that the umpire put in a new ball; pitchers could not ask for another ball if they did not like the feel of a new ball put into play; pinch hitters would have to be on the bench ready to go and not summoned from the bullpen; and teams would be encouraged to use motorized carts to bring in relievers.  All this would supposedly speed up the game.

At the same meeting, the group also agreed to strengthen the ban on the spitball.

More than a half century later, at this year’s winter meetings, look for baseball to once again talk about speeding up the game.  Maybe more clubs should join Arizona and bring back the bullpen carts.

No special treatment for pols at Army-Navy game

This is the way it was supposed to be, right?  No special treatment for politicians, no admission to luxury boxes, sit among the common folk.

And so it was that on Nov. 26, 1960 at the Army-Navy game, there seated in the general admission seats were Vice President Richard M. Nixon - just off a razor thin election loss to Sen. John F. Kennedy for the presidency - Attorney General William P. Rogers and former Army coach Earl Blaik.

As for the game, a crowd of 98,616 jammed Philadelphia Stadium to watch Navy beat Army 17-12.  One of the primary side notes to the game was the size of the program printed for the contest.  It was 200 pages thick, the largest program ever published for an Army-Navy game.  One reporter joked fans did not have to bring seat cushions to the game, all they had to do was buy and sit on the program.

After the game, Navy received a bid to the Orange Bowl, where any pols attending the game would presumably have to purchase general admission seats, a system some would suggest should still be in existence today.

NFL’s Rozelle widely criticized 55 years ago

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was widely criticized 55 years ago for not cancelling the league’s games the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The AFL wasted little time in announcing its games would not be played on Nov. 24, but Rozelle reportedly made the decision to go forth with the regularly scheduled games, even though rights holder CBS announced it would not carry the games.

“It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy.  Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game.  He thrived on competition,” Rozelle stated in a press release.

The commissioner supposedly lobbied the team owners on whether the games should be played but there is no evidence to back up that claim.   What is known is that many fans protested, some who had tickets stating they would boycott the Sunday contests.  Philadelphia Eagles president Frank McNamee told the Associated Press: “Simply and flatly the game is being played by order of the commissioner.”  McNamee added he would not attend the Eagles-Redskins game but would go to a memorial service in honor of President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the nation continued to mourn.  The president’s body was taken to the great Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where it would lie in state for 24 hours.  Among those who stood in line with his son and nephew was former Major League Baseball club owner Bill Veeck.  When members of the Kennedy family suggested he move to the front of the line, Veeck appreciated the gesture but declined, stating he was a “common man” who deserved no special treatment.  Standing for 15 hours on one artificial leg, Veeck’s pants became blood-soaked but he and his family endured.

As for Rozelle, years later he stated playing the games on that Sunday was his biggest regret as commissioner.  And for the record, the NFL was not the only sporting event to go forward on that tragic weekend.  The NHL continued with its slate - Boston at Toronto - as did the NBA.  And several college football games were played on the Saturday after the assassinaton, although others were cancelled.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  In case you’re wondering, as I write this from my home in Torrington, Connecticut this morning, it is 11 degrees - not counting windchill factor - or 13 degrees colder than Anchorage, Alaska.

Good luck to all my friends at the Manchester Road Race this morning.  I had the privilege of broadcasting that race for 20 years.  Where does the time go?  It is a great event.

Finally. thank you to our Veterans.  We have so much for which to be thankful, but their successful efforts to preserve our freedom to observe this day can never be repaid.

Vin Scully's radio debut was a football game at Fenway

When Harvard beat Yale in "The Game" at Fenway Park last Saturday, I could not help but be  reminded that the iconic Vin Scully made his radio debut at Fenway.

The year was 1949 and in addition to his role as the "Voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers," Red Barber was the Director of Sports at CBS radio.  In those days, college football was still king and every Saturday, during the season, CBS would host a football round-up of games.  Barber would assign broadcasters to the top five or six football games of the day and would switch back-and-forth to the various games, as key plays unfolded. 

Scully caught his big break, when another announcer fell ill and Ernie Harwell had to be reassigned to the Notre Dame-North Carolina game at Yankee Stadium.  That left a vacancy for the Maryland-Boston University contest at Fenway and Scully got the call.

Thinking he would be positioned in a broadcast booth for the November game, Scully did not bring an overcoat.  It turned out they located Scully on the Fenway rooftop on a cold afternoon, sans overcoat.  Scully impressed Barber by doing a superb job in his debut, and when he never complained about the accommodations - someone else told Barber he worked the assignment without an overcoat - that impressed Barber even more. 

When Harwell left the Dodgers to join Russ Hodges in the New York Giants broadcast booth for the 1950 season, that left a vacancy Barber had to fill.  Once again, Scully got the call.

"It's interesting to note," that 1950 marked the first of 67 seasons for the iconic broadcaster in the Dodgers booth.