Anyone who has ever heard Gary Cohen broadcast a baseball game fully understands and recognizes why the Mets longtime announcer was recently named as a finalist in the running for the Hall of Fame’s annual Ford C. Frick Award, an honor in recognition of an individual’s “excellence in baseball broadcasting.”
A committee comprised of former Frick winners – which included Dick Enberg, Tim McCarver, Eric Nadel, Bob Wolff, and longtime baseball broadcasting historian Curt Smith – who has written several books on the subject – created the list of eight nominees for the award, which will be announced on Dec. 7 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in National Harbor, MD.
The nominees include: Cohen, who will soon be entering his 29th year of broadcasting Mets baseball; Jacques Doucet, who spent 34 years broadcasting for the Montreal Expos; Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, a legend in Chicago, with 26 years calling White Sox games; Pat Hughes, who has been calling major league baseball games for 34 years for the Twins, Brewers, and Cubs; Bill King, who enjoyed 25 seasons as the radio voice of the Oakland A’s (1981-2005); Mike Krukow, the former pitcher who has flourished in his second career calling Giants games the past 26 seasons; Ned Martin, Red Sox broadcaster from 1961-92; and Dewayne Staats, who has been behind baseball mics for 36 seasons, the last 19 as the voice of the Tampa Bay Rays on television.
So the competition is strong and hard to predict, although past committees have tended to lean toward the longest or oldest tenured finalist for the award. This year, a 13-man committee, headed by the aforementioned and including other past Frick recipients – Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Tony Kubek, Marty Brennaman, Jon Miller, Dave van Horne, Jaime Jarrin, Felo Ramirez, Denny Matthews, and sportswriter/historians David Halberstam, Ted Patterson, and Barry Horn – will vote to determine the honored recipient.
Last summer, Graham McNamee, a legendary baseball broadcasting pioneer, who was calling games when radio was in its infancy, was remembered posthumously with the award at the annual Induction Ceremonies in Cooperstown. McNamee, who passed away in 1942, joined an illustrious group of now 40 current and former broadcasters named to the award, many of which are quite familiar to New York area baseball fans, the aforementioned, and…Mel Allen (honored in 1978), Red Barber (1978), Russ Hodges (1980), Jack Buck (1987), Curt Gowdy (1984), Lindsey Nelson (1988), Joe Garagiola (1991), Bob Murphy (1994), and Jerry Coleman (2005).
Changes to the award process allowed voices such as Cohen to be nominated while they were still broadcasting games. Although it wasn’t a hard and fast rule, previous winners tended to be those already retired, just like ballplayers deserving a plaque on the wall. But the Hall has now decreed that the Frick Award can be broken down into three categories which will be rotated on an annual basis– Current Voices, National Voices, and Pioneer Voices.
Qualifications for the award were simply a minimum of ten years of continuous broadcasting service to baseball, which allowed over 200 candidates to be considered. They narrowed it down to the eight finalists.
Who was Ford Frick, you ask? And why do they insist upon including his middle initial, C? As if there were other Ford Fricks that led to some sort of identity confusion?
Seriously, Ford C. Frick, ironically, was only briefly a pioneer baseball radio broadcaster in the 1920s, but actually a former baseball sportswriter who eventually became the National League’s public relations director (the Jay Horwitz of his day), the National League President from 1934-51, and from 1951-65, baseball’s Commissioner, succeeding Happy Chandler.
Frick covered Babe Ruth and was his “ghostwriter” in the ‘20s. His career led to calling games for fledgling station WOR. As NL president in the ‘30s, Frick endorsed the creation of the Hall of Fame to honor the game’s history and great players, and in the ‘40s, he supported the signing of Jackie Robinson. He threatened any ballplayer with suspension who chose to be disruptive of having Robinson in the league.
To preserve his history in the game, the Hall named the broadcasting award in his honor in 1978 following his passing.
Cohen, 58, actually has a good shot at winning this year, but there are other voices with longer tenures. If he doesn’t make it, you can bet the ranch he will be named eventually, perhaps in three years, as he has become one of the game’s highest regarded broadcasters.
These days, Cohen sits as the pilot in the three-man SNY TV booth, directing traffic between the two also highly regarded former Mets now serving as brilliant analysts, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. Anyone who has had the occasion to hear broadcasts in other cities know that the SNY trio is as good as they come, and a challenge to any other broadcast team in the sport.
Cohen grew up a Mets fan a stone’s throw – or actually, one bus ride – from Shea Stadium in Queens. At Columbia University in 1981, he began his broadcast career at the college station WKCR, where his radio partner was future Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos.
After graduating Columbia in ’81, Cohen served his baseball “apprenticeship” in the minors, calling games for the Spartanburg Spinners (1983-84), Durham Bulls (1986), and Pawtucket Red Sox (1987-88).
In 1989, Cohen “graduated” to the Mets radio booth, joining legendary voice Bob Murphy, the man Cohen has drawn inspiration from ever since.
In 1994, the duo was joined by fellow Queens native Howie Rose, who also will someday be honored with the Frick Award – and that’s a personal guarantee. Rose, who had been hosting the pre and post-game shows on flagship station WFAN, eventually became Cohen’s primary radio partner after Murphy retired in 2004. And they made quite a team, two kids who grew up as Mets fans nearby, with a wealth of knowledge about the history of the franchise, calling games and loving every minute of them.
Cohen succeeded Tom Seaver, ironically, as a TV voice in 2006, and made a seamless transition to the different medium.
His work has been enjoyed by more than just Mets fans. Cohen also has been called upon by ESPN and CBS Radio for postseason games. He was the voice of St. John’s basketball from 1995-2002, and in recent years, he spends his winters calling basketball games for Seton Hall University. He also has broadcast hockey games at the Winter Olympics in 1992, ’94, and ’98. And NCAA tournament games for Westwood One Radio.
Cohen is known for several signature phrases, but we can’t wait to shout, “It’s outta here,” in positive exultation when he is named as the 2017 Ford C. Frick winner.
Good luck, Gary!