Like so many other American boys growing up I loved the game of baseball. I would take in everything I could about the game. I would do everything from study the box scores and statistics from the previous day’s games in the USA Today or The Sporting News to listen to post game interviews with players. In 1984 I kept track and wrote down for a whole year (162 games) three key statistics for the Chicago Cubs (my team), the winning pitcher, score of the game, and who hit a home run.
There is one other fond memory that still stands out to me as a young admirer of the game–the voice of Mel Allen. I remember getting up on Saturday mornings looking forward to not only watching the game of the week that NBC so chose to air, but I also loved watching This Week In Baseball and hearing Mel Allen host the show. Mel’s voice was as unique as his style. His colorful commentary and resonant Southern tones combined with some catchy “classical” music in the background still evoke sentimental feelings to this day for me. I reminisced recently over some of these more joyful times upon a desire to recall Mel Allen’s voice and by going over to Youtube.com. Click here to recall or learn about him if you are unfamiliar with his voice.
Each of us have a unique set of indelible impressions and sentimental memories that we walk away from our childhood with and while each of us are “stamped” by something different, the feeling of being in touch with something eternal (spiritual) from our past or regaining a closeness to ourselves that we haven’t felt in years the moment we relive a particular memory is a powerful human experience that each of us can identify with and feel illuminated by. I say all this to tip my hat to God for making Mel Allen, whose voice evokes a plethora of deep attachments to what the long ago wonder years of the past should encapsulate.
Mel Allen was actually born Melvin Allen Israel in Johns, Alabama on February 14, 1913 to second generation Russian Jewish immigrants. Mel would later drop his last name after CBS felt it was too Jewish. Mel’s father, Julius (also known for being a great storyteller), became a traveling shirt salesman after his clothing store closed during the Depression. Mel was the oldest of three children and was extremely bright. In fact, Mel’s destiny as a sportscaster could be traced very early on as he could talk even before he was a year old and could read the following year.
Career jump–educated as a lawyer:
In utilizing his academic brightness, at the young age of 15 Mel enrolled at the University of Alabama to study law. Being a broadcaster was not even on the radar. He later completed law school and passed the Alabama bar exam. The closest hint of Mel having early seeds planted for a different path were two opportunities that presented themselves during his student life at Alabama. First, Mel served as a public-address announcer and secondly, during law school the Alabama football coach at the time (Frank Thomas) asked Mel to be the team’s radio announcer.
In 1936, having his sights still set on practicing law Mel decided to first take a vacation in New York during Christmas with some friends. While there, on a whim, he decided to stop in at the CBS studios for an audition as a broadcaster. He was hired immediately and from 1937-1943 Mel Allen covered the following:
1) In 1937 he was the first to report the Hindenburg explosion.
2) In 1938 he was the first to interview Howard Hughes’ achievement of flying around the world.
3) In 1941 he reported President Roosevelt’s inauguration.
As more and more listeners and producers noticed his giftedness in public speaking he became more in demand and his original dream of being a lawyer began to fade.
Broadcaster for the New York Yankees:
Mel received another monumental break when in 1939, six weeks into the baseball season, Mel was pursued by the New York Yankees to replace their assistant broadcaster for all the home games. In 1942 he became the exclusive broadcaster for both the Yankees and the Giants. For almost 25 years, until 1964, Mel was the voice of the Yankees until they mysteriously fired Mel. Some of the theories that abounded were that he was homosexual (since he never married), drug addict, and contractual differences over money. All of them have been unfounded as of today and the real reason remains a mystery.
However, to put into perpsective what Mel Allen meant to the Yankees, famous owner George Steinbrenner was quoted as saying this:
“No man in the history of the Yankees has ever meant more to the Yankees than Mel Allen”
This Week In Baseball:
From 1977 until almost his death Mel Allen became the voice of one of the most popular shows covering Major League Baseball to date in This Week In Baseball. The show covered the previous week’s of baseball highlights, records set (if any), bloopers, strange incidents, and team standings. Mel would always start off the show with his famous catchphrase greeting, “Hello there, everybody, this is Mel Allen.”
Among Allen’s many other catchphrases were “How about that?!” after a great play or “Going, going, gone!” to frame a home run and “Three and two. What’ll he do?” These were his famous signature phrases.
Coined Joe DiMaggio’s name “Joltin’ Joe”…Mel admitted he cried like a baby after Lou Gehrig, a shadow of himself with ALS said to him, “‘Kid, I never listened to the broadcasts when I was playing, but now they’re what keep me going,” according to nytimes.com…buried at Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut with a plaque that reads at the end, “How about that?”