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Dick Enberg: From Armada to CMU to Cooperstown

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Cooperstown, N.Y. — "Oh my."

Of course he had to start with, "Oh my."

Those two words make up the simple, elegant call of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg, the Armada native, Central Michigan alumnus and newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Enberg accepted the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence before a crowd of thousands at Doubleday Field on Saturday afternoon.

And, of course, he started his speech with, "Oh my."

"This is why I love baseball," Enberg said. "I love the distinct sounds a ball makes against ball and glove. The call of umpires and concessionaires. Announcer punctuation calls, like, 'Oh, doctor, 'Well, how about that,' and the Holys — 'Holy cow, 'Holy Mackerel, 'Holy Toledo.'

"Actually, that does make sense. The game is religion. Hey, I've worked for the Angels and Padres!"

Enberg, 80, accepted his award in the same ceremony as longtime Tigers beat writer Tom Gage accepted his, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball-writing excellence.

Sitting behind them when they gave their speeches was another Michigan man, Lansing native John Smoltz, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday morning.

It's been quite the Michigan flavor this weekend in upstate New York.

Enberg grew up a huge Tigers fan, and always dreamed of being a starting outfielder for the Tigers — until, that is, the Tigers gave that job to another 18-year-old.

Yes, that guy. One Al Kaline.

"And how did he do?" Enberg deadpanned, as Kaline sat behind him on stage, with the other living Hall of Famers.

Enberg's dad used to tease him when he was a kid.

"Yeah, we'll all go down to Briggs Stadium someday and there will be Dick and he'll be shouting, 'Peanuts! Popcorn!'" Enberg said, to hearty laughter. "My friends in high school and college still remind me, 'Hey, Enberg, you only talk a good game.'

"I guess it all worked out.

Enberg is known for calling many sports and marquee events — including the Super Bowl, The Masters and Wimbledon.

Baseball, though, always has been his favorite — he called Angels games in the 1960s and 1970s, and left the network game in 2010 to do Padres games.

"I've tried them all," Enberg said. "Baseball is the best."

Enberg got the phone call back in December that he was going to be a Hall of Famer, and one of the first phone calls came from another broadcasting giant, Vin Scully.

Scully's message was direct.

"Enberg, there's no crying in Cooperstown!"

And Enberg kept his composure during his speech, even if he didn't earlier Saturday. He couldn't even get through the press conference without holding back tears.

"Why would I think I would ever be here?" Enberg said. "You grow up with just dreams as a kid on a farm with no one to play with. The nearest kid that was my age was two miles away on another farm. You created your own life and dreamed someday, that may be you."

Then there was a long pause.

"I can't believe it," he said, his voice trailing off.

Enberg's dad took him to his first game, in 1947, against the Indians. The pitching match was a gem — Cleveland's Bob Feller against Detroit's Fred Hutchinson. His best call, he said, was at Tiger Stadium, in July 1973, when Angels fireballer Nolan Ryan no-hit the Tigers in the game made famous by Norm Cash bringing a table leg to the plate instead of a bat late in the game.

After ump Ron Luciano told Cash to get a real bat, Cash shot back, "What does it matter? I'm not going to hit him anyway."

Enberg said calling a no-hitter is the greatest thrill in sports broadcasting; he also called a Dennis Eckersley no-hitter.

Enberg said he picked up so many traits from other broadcasters along the way, including several Detroit legends, dating to one time in the ninth grade when he was walking past a hardware store and stopped to check out the eight-inch, black-and-white TV in the window.

He gave many of them credit Saturday, including Ernie Harwell and Van Patrick, who once invited a just-graduated-from-college Enberg to Briggs Stadium in 1957, only for Patrick to miss the chat because he was wrapped up in a gin game.

While Enberg, began his speech with his catchphrase, he closed it with some others.

"My dream has taken me to a great place," said Enberg, whose speech will air at 11 a.m. Sunday on MLB Network. "'Oh, God,' 'Oh, my,' and 'How about that.'"