Foul Balls, Fist Fights and Stray Dogs.

Back in the 60s, the Hawaii Islanders were a big deal in Honolulu. A lot of former big leaguers either played for Hawaii or came to town with visiting teams: Don Larsen, Moe Drabowsky, Hector Lopez, Gene Freese, Don Buddin and Diego Segui, for example. Weeknight crowds averaged 2-3,000 and two or three times that many people would show up for games on weekends. 

Both home and away games were broadcast on radio, with the late, great Harry Kalas doing the play-by-play.  I was the sidekick who read commercials, gave scores of big league games and occasionally took over for an inning or two to give Harry a breather. (The photo is Harry as I remember him from those days.)

Of course there was no budget to send us on those extended road trips, so the away games were “re-created” in the studios of radio station KORL.  Harry did play-by-play on the re-creates, of course, while my job was to call a local contact wherever the Islanders were playing to get a recap of the game. Usually it was a sportswriter for the local newspaper who would not only have attended the game, but scored it as well and could tell us what happened, batter by batter.

My first call would usually be at the end of the 6thinning of the actual game. I would jot down the bare-bones information, then type it up for Harry:

            Islanders – Top 5th

            Cottier grounds out short to first

            Valentine doubles to right

            Hirtz pops to catcher (foul)

            Hartman strikes out

That was usually all Harry had to work with when we went on the air and he would invent all the details. For instance, on Fred Valentine’s double, he might have described it as a hard ground ball down the right field line … or as a long fly ball that just missed being a home run. All we knew for sure was that Valentine hit the ball and ended up at second base.

A studio engineer sitting at a control panel on the other side of a plate glass window, generated pre-recorded crowd noise, taking his cues from Harry’s gestures. Harry himself provided one of the sound effects: he would tap a pencil on a block of wood for the sound of bat hitting ball. (“Freeze swings – tok! – and lifts a high fly ball into left field.”) I’d stand in a corner of the little studio, cup my hands over my mouth, and assume the role of public address announcer: “The batter … number 15 … third baseman … Dave … Hirtz.” We got to be pretty good at it. Harry was stopped on the street occasionally by someone who would say, “Hey! I thought you were in Tacoma!”

About the time Harry got to the 5th inning, I’d make the second call to get whatever happened during the final two or three innings. But one night – the team was in Fort Worth, I think – the game had ended quickly and our sportswriter had already left the ballpark. I tried his office, but he wasn’t there and no one answered his home phone.

I gestured the bad news to Harry and went back to the phones … this time trying to find someone – anyone– who had been to the game and had filled out a score sheet.

In the meantime, Harry was starting to slow things down. Every batter worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off several pitches. Catchers began going to the mound for conferences with their pitchers.  Long conferences.

Then, with just a half inning of material left, Harry began to get inventive. A dog ran onto the field and eluded the grounds crew for at least two minutes. (The engineer provided thunderous applause when the imaginary dog was finally caught.) An altercation among some rowdy fans behind the Hawaii dugout bought Harry a few more precious minutes. And the weather suddenly turned ominous, prompting a lengthy discussion between the umpires and the head groundskeeper.

At that very moment, somewhere back in Fort Worth, our missing sportswriter opened the door to his apartment and heard his telephone ringing. Instantly realizing what had happened, he grabbed the phone just as I was about to hang up. Thankfully, he had his scorebook with him. I scribbled down what had happened in the final two innings, and the re-created action resumed, although at a comparatively brisk pace.

After the final sign-off and in recapping what had happened, I realized that while I was on the verge of panic, Harry had been enjoying every minute … a pro from the very beginning.

Harry, my boy, it was fun. And a privilege.