“He’s sitting on 714.” Most baseball fans believe it’s one of the top five calls of all-time. These two guys are forever joined in baseball lore by less than forty words, spoken into microphone one early evening on April 8, 1974, by Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton, forty years ago. It was the first game of the new season. The Atlanta Braves were at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here’s how the call sounded as Henry Aaron settled into the batter’s box.
“He’s sitting on 714! Here’s the pitch by Downing, swinging, there’s a drive into left centerfield, that ball is gonna beee…OUTTA HERE! IT’S GONE! IT’S 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time and it’s HENRY AARON!”
It was “pure” Milo Hamilton. For some of us, baseball is life. I still wonder about the places he’s been, the players he’s interviewed and the scores of fans he’s entertained. For most of us, he’s Uncle Milo. He was family; he came into our homes 162 times a year, until these last couple of years. I even listened to his call when I was at the Astros game. He always stirred my imagination. One of the secrets of baseball is that you play almost every day. Therefore redemption was only hours away. Milo used the game to help people discover themselves. They could use those discoveries to confront anything in their life. Baseball is a teacher; it reveals your heart and soul and the game is designed to reveal it to you.
There will never be another like him as far as I’m concerned; I love the old man. As he got older, he began to look tired, frail, and almost sickly until he found his way into the announcer booth or onto the field of play. It was like flipping a switch. A microphone made his eyes light up like lanterns. The game simply turned him on. Milo could sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and make you laugh. He walked every day into his radio booth intoxicated by the promise of that day’s game. He didn’t like being surprised; he studied and saved his information in a satchel that may have been as old as him. He loved baseball so much; even his computer wore batting gloves. No one wanted to talk to Milo Hamilton about another announcer or player; they wanted to talk about Milo Hamilton. The longer an announcer stays with the same team the more the fans identify with that team. Fathers, sons, and sons of sons, we all become a part of his history.
His educated eyes could fill books with the magic of the grand old game. Most of us know about his calls of eleven no-hitters, the grand slams, and historic home runs. For sixty-seven years, he opened his scorecard and charted baseball history. He taught us how to figure batting averages, told us how players got their nicknames and why. He described routine double-plays, the importance of a bunt single, why stealing third increases the chances of scoring by nine, and the reason so many players strike out looking. He taught us about Uncle Charlie, twin killings, chin music, and frozen ropes. Seeing-Eye singles, right down Kirby and “Holy Toledo, what a play!” became his signature calls. Every play reminded him of days gone by, when only the player, the city, and the circumstances were different. I would love to see through his eyes, if only for a moment. Listening to him call a game made me feel like a hundred dollar bill in a two dollar wallet. Writer Phil Hirsh once wrote, “Baseball is the only game you can see on the radio.” Milo made it easy for all of us. His canyon deep voice was unmistakable. He was always “in” the game. You could never tell by his tone of voice whether his team was behind or ahead. Everybody wanted to be connected, to be a part of him. Let’s call that a professional.
Baseball looks so easy to play from your seat. It is, in fact, the hardest of them all. The game moves at a pace where a grandfather can talk about what’s happening on the field with his grandson. They see and experience virtually the same game. Milo taught me how to score a game, what to look for, how to anticipate a great play. He gave us a history lesson every night and allowed us to dream about what it would be like to play Major League baseball. All words seemed better to me when spoken by Milo Hamilton.
What you saw was what you got with Milo. Not many of us find our true place in life; that does not hold true for Milo Hamilton. I can’t imagine him doing anything else. Milo has been a part of the Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session radio show for almost twenty years. Twice every year he joins us on the air, live from Houston, Texas. My partner Dennis Quinn always referred to our interviews as “Milo unplugged.” On two different occasions, we took our show on the road to Minute Maid Park, and Milo was nice enough to join us there, in the booth, talking baseball. We talked old school baseball; from “Stan the Man” and “Hammerin’ Hank” to “The Ryan Express.” We covered everything from the disappearance of the hook slide to the tragedy of steroids and everything in between. There is never a time I did not learn something. It has been said that the greatest classroom often lies at the feet of the elderly. How true.
Milo was inducted into the Broadcast Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2000. He has been an announcer for 67 years. His first job in Major League baseball started in 1953, with the St. Louis Browns. He has also announced for six other Major League clubs.
I once told him how much he was loved as I was leaving his company. I think it may have surprised him. He didn’t know how to respond, but he smiled. I’m absolutely sure he knows he’s loved, but does not hear it enough. We are always more appreciative of something we had and have now lost.
Milo visited Corpus Christi, January 24, 2014, with the Astros caravan. I couldn’t wait to see him. When he walked into the room he was surrounded by the TV guys like Custer at the Little Big Horn. We sat and laughed and talked about the call. He and Hank still speak with each other quite often. Milo looked good as he is winning his battle with cancer. I’ve never met a more giving individual. There will never be another Milo Hamilton.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.