A Voice Missed, Moments Remembered

These days, it can be comforting to re-visit moments that help restore your faith in the goodness I’d like to think we all have.

So why the hell was I at home, wiping the tears away in front of a computer, at 5:30 AM on a Friday morning? And why were the YouTube emotional keywords of the early day: “Erstad says he’s got it?” It’s a medium-to-long story.

Dick Enberg died at home yesterday at age 82.

And in and around LA, we’ve been blessed with sports announcers who’ve done so much more than paint masterpieces with words, charge our spirits with pure unbridled enthusiasm, and conduct master classes in the study of the sports toy department. They’ve created relationships with viewers and listeners.

And even though the treasured likes of Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, and Bob Miller graced the local landscape for decades, my favorite was always Dick Enberg. And in 2017, I appreciate Enberg even more.

Today, it just seems really easy to be cynical. When leaders can’t be role models or even display a sense of integrity or decency, it can be comforting to re-visit moments that help restore your faith in the goodness I’d like to think we all have in us. And when I think of Dick Enberg, I can find several moments; and to make them even more profound, they remind me of my dad.

One moment goes all the way back to 1971. Enberg was the Angels announcer along with Don Drysdale and, together, they remain my all-time favorite sports announcing team. I was a second year dental student and really just a kid.

As we watched an Angel away game on TV, Enberg announced the firing of Halos’ outfielder Alex Johnson, the defending American League batting champion. The gifted and troubled Johnson had been criticized for lack of hustle; he also carried a deserved reputation for being a poor teammate. He’d even been booed by Angels fans. But when Enberg commented on the air the next day, he also found something good to say…and that still reminds me of my dad. Enberg shared Alex Johnson had always been cooperative with him and had always been good and generous with kids; he just wanted people to know there was a good side to Alex Johnson. And it’s been 46-years and it still remains a moment.

Dick Enberg was probably the greatest all around sports announcer of all-time. He provided play-by-play for Major League Baseball, the NFL (including the Super Bowl), college and NBA basketball, Wimbledon, horse racing, boxing, the Olympic Games, and even the Rose Parade. I remember, as a teenager, staying up late for tape-delayed UCLA basketball, the Walton Gang, and the first of many “Oh my” exclamations.

Play-by-play doesn’t do Dick Enberg’s job description or career justice. “Play-by-play” just doesn’t do enough to convey preparedness, warmness, fairness, knowledge, and story-telling. Even though Enberg was on TV and my dad and I were watching, it always felt more like we were old friends sharing the experience together.

On YouTube or over the radio, when I hear Rory Markus call “Erstad says he’s got it”, making the Angels 2002 World Series champs, it always gets me and invariably brings a tear. My dad and I were Angel fans from Day One. My first ballgame ever was a Triple-A Angels game in old Wrigley Field in South Central. When Erstad catches that fly ball in deep right center, it remains one of those moments.

Just this year, I saw Dick Enberg interviewed with regard to his reaction on hearing the Angels had won the 2002 World Series. Dick had been on a plane on his way home from an NFL broadcast; the pilot came back to tell him the good news. The now in his early 80s Hall of Fame announcer confessed he just broke down in tears, and he did again as he remembered the moment and told the story. This morning, so did I.