Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you will see.” This fellow must be able to see for miles. He never acted his age his whole life. He was born mature and remained young. The heavens are weeping today in Houston, Texas, because 84-year-old Milo Hamilton announced he will be retiring from the daily broadcasting of the Houston Astros at the end of the 2012 season. I had tears the size of hubcaps streaming down my face. We became friends over the years. For some of us, baseball is life. He realized that the only thing we get to decide in life is what to do with the time we are given. I believe he has used his time wisely. He always believed that the best announcing does not come from your memory; it comes from living through your experiences. And he had experience in spades.
I wondered 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. He doesn’t travel as much as he once did. 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, all become a part of his history.
There I sat in the booth next to his; looking out at the glory of Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. The sun was setting in the west and the afternoon shadows moved across the field like a first baseman creeping toward home plate with the bunt sign on. So this is what he sees, far different than from my regular season seats, or so I thought. How untrue. 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. I know I can’t run the hundred yard dash in under ten seconds. I can’t jump high enough to dunk a basketball; but let a ground ball go through the shortstops legs, and I’m all over that guy like horseflies on spareribs. I know I could have caught it. The game also 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.
He lost his wife, Arlene, a few years back, and now his days in the booth are numbered. Every man needs someone to tell him how wonderful he is or that they did well or said the right thing. It may be the wife’s number one job. Without Arlene and baseball, what does he have left? He has us, legions of fans who grew up listening to him.
As we sat together at Minute Maid Park, I saw him stare at the field as if he were lost in thought. The one thing we can never do is get inside a person’s head completely. No one knows exactly what you’re thinking. A lot of people don’t want to be different and, if they are, they hide it so no one judges them badly. Will Roger once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much what people thought about you if you knew how seldom they did.” 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 over fifteen years. Twice every year he joined 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. We had spent some time together in a suite at Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Class AA affiliate of the Astros. 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.
During our most recent interview that occurred last week, Milo informed us that he would stay on with the Astros as a consultant to the owner, Jim Crane, for the next three years. “Seventy years in baseball is the rabbit I’m chasing now,” said Milo. Crane will also give him a chance to call a game or two and perhaps create a day during the week where we can relive the memories of Milo Hamilton and this great game. He will also travel with the team to new parks that he has not yet visited.
Milo will be visiting Corpus Christi on January23, 2013. He will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hooks Winter Baseball Banquet held at the Omni Hotel. I can’t wait to see him then. Afterwards we will have a laugh or two and I’ll pick his brain and try like heck to see the past through his eyes. What wonderful visions of a great game.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" 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 email@example.com.