Musings by Dick Flavin ~ Being Dick Enberg

By Dick Flavin ~ Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate, New York Times Best Selling Author and Honorary Poet Laureate of the BoSox Club

BEING DICK ENBERG

When Dick Enberg, the great hall of fame sportscaster, died unexpectedly just before
Christmas, he was putting the finishing touches on one last project - a tribute to his
boyhood idol and, later, his good friend, Ted Williams. Fortunately for all of us, his
collaborator, Tom Clavin, tied the loose ends together and the result is "Being Ted
Williams," a book to be released for publication on May first.

Last week an unexpected valentine arrived in the mail: an advance copy of Enberg's and
Clavin's book. Being a sucker for any and everything that's written about Teddy
Ballgame I dropped whatever I was doing and immediately devoured its contents. It's
might tasty.

The book interweaves the story of Ted's career with that of Enberg; his growing up on a
farm in Michigan, his love of baseball, and his fixation on the great Williams even
though he played for Red Sox and not the young farmboy's team, the Detroit Tigers. The
material on Ted's life breaks little new ground and draws heavily on the treasure trove of
previously published material on him, chiefly two excellent biographies, one by Leigh

Montville and the other by Ben Bradlee, Jr.; but Ted's many accomplishments and
occasional stumbles are gracefully recounted, due in large measure to Tom Clavin's fine
hand. Clavin is himself a prolific, New York Times-best- selling and Pulitzer Prize-
nominated author. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of his "The DiMaggios," the
story of Vince, Joe and Dom from the perspective of three brothers who all grew up
sharing the same bedroom, just up the street from the Fisherman's Wharf in San
Francisco. (Full disclosure: I am cited a few times in the pages of "Being Ted Williams"
but you should get it when it comes out anyhow.)

I cannot get enough of reading about the Splended Splinter but where "Being Ted
Williams" really comes to life is in the telling of being Dick Enberg. He never set out to
be a sportscaster; but, little by little it happened anyhow.

He realized, as most of us eventually do, that he wasn't going to play baseball for a
living, so as an undergraduate at Central Michigan University he set his sights on
becoming a teacher and coach. In order to make ends meet while in school he applied for
a part-time job as janitor at a local radio station. While interviewing for it he discovered
there was also an opening at the station for a weekend disc jockey. That's the job he got;
it paid a dollar an hour. Shortly thereafter the sports director at the station got fired. Dick
took over his duties and found himself doing Central Michigan's football and basketball
games, high school games, and a nightly sports show – all for a dollar an hour - and all
while being a full-time student. He grew up on a farm, though, so he was no
stranger to hard work.

Upon graduation he decided to further his education by attending graduate school at the
University of Indiana. He liked broadcasting so while there he applied for and became the
voice of the school's Big Ten football and basketball teams on the university's radio
station that syndicated the games to other stations around the state. He not only earned a
master's degree at Indiana, but also he stayed on to get a doctorate degree. Question: in
the history of sports broadcasting how many play-by- play guys do you suppose also held a
doctorate degree in public health? My guess is just one – Dick Enberg.

His formal education complete, Dick accepted a job in California as teacher and assistant
baseball coach at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northbridge. The job
didn't pay very much so, now married with a growing family, he found weekend work as
a radio sports reporter. Los Angeles is the largest media market west of the Mississippi
and Enberg, with his articulateness and golden baritone voice that had an almost musical
quality, found himself more and more in demand. After four years he took a leave of
absence from his teaching job and never looked back. Soon he was doing UCLA
basketball during the halcyon days of the former Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, when
the Bruins won eight national titles in nine years. He also did Los Angeles Rams NFL
games, nightly spots reports on television, and covered myriad other events.

When he was asked to do the then California Angels' baseball games, it would mean
giving up some of his other assignments but baseball was his first love and he was
reminded that all the great announcers of his time – Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully, Red Barber,

Mel Allen – had done baseball, so for thirteen seasons he was the voice of the Angels.
Can you imagine the embarrassment of riches for Los Angeles baseball fans, having the
choice between Dick Enberg doing Angels baseball and Vin Scully doing the Dodgers?
Years later Dick would be coaxed out of retirement (it didn't take much to persuade him)
to announce the San Diego Padres' games.

It was inevitable that the paths of Enberg and Ted Williams, his boyhood idol, would
eventually cross, and so they did. His first year with the Angels was Ted's first year as
manager of the then Washington Senators, and Enberg was determined to get Ted as a
guest on his pregame show. The moment of truth came. As Dick approached the dugout
before the first Angels/Senators game, there was Ted, regally gazing out at the field as a
scrum of print and broadcast reporters waited at a safe distance, hoping against hope that
the Great Man would take a few steps in their direction and deign to answer a question or
two. Dick screwed up his courage and walked straight up to Ted, introduced himself as
the new Angles' announcer and said he'd like to have him on his pregame show. Ted,
unmoved, continued gazing at the field. Then Dick cast his baited hook -- he said he
didn't want to talk about hitting but about the time, in 1940, when Ted had pitched two
innings against the Tigers. Ted turned toward Dick, threw an arm around his shoulders,
and told him to turn on his tape recorder. In fishing, the term strike has a completely
different meaning than in baseball. It means a fish has hit your line, and Dick Enberg had
hooked a big one.

The other reporters, waiting just out of earshot, wondered what Dick's secret was in
getting Ted to talk. It wasn't a secret at all; in all those years spent in the classroom he'd
learned the value of doing one's homework. He'd studied Ted, figured out what would
pique his interest, and when the opportunity came he was ready. That's the way he
approached every game he ever called. He never walked into a classroom or a broadcast
booth unprepared. Ted appreciated what Dick had done in that first encounter and always
gave him access after that. Later, when Ted would occasionally pay visits to his old home
town and Dick was living in the La Jolla section of San Diego, they would get together
and a warm friendship evolved.

Eventually the TV networks came calling and Dick reluctantly gave up announcing the
Angels games and instead called the action for a national audience at venues such as
Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, and the World Series. The Angels' loss was the whole
country's gain.

Sports announcers often spend inordinate amounts of time searching for a signature
phrase, something for which they will be identified and remembered. Often those phrases
sound stilted and pre-planned because that's just what they are. Enberg's signature phrase
came about naturally. On the farm back in Michigan, whenever something out of the
ordinary happened, his mother would simply say, "Oh my!" One night during the
broadcast of an Indiana game when Dick was still in school the Hoosiers finished off a
fast break with a spectacular basket and Dick reacted like his mother would have. He
exclaimed, "Oh my!" It sounded and felt natural, so he used the phrase again from time to

time in other games. Soon, when friends would see him around the campus, they'd call
out, "Oh my!" instead of calling him by name. He made the term part of his repertoire,
and eventually millions of sports fans indentified it with him. He had found his signature
phrase and he owed it all to his mother.

"Being Ted Williams" retells the story of the great slugger's journey in search of
excellence; it also tells of Dick Enberg's journey with the same goal in mind – and it's
brought safely into port with the steady hand of Tom Clavin on the tiller. Oh my!

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