'Oh my': Enberg thrilled to call Saturday's Tigers game

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

He tells the story a lot, but it always brings a smile to the listener.

Dick Enberg will join Kirk Gibson in the Fox Sports Detroit booth Saturday for the Tigers-Rays game.

Dick Enberg, growing up on a 40-acre farm in Armada, always wanted to play right field for the Tigers. Problem was, in 1953, they signed a different 18-year-old kid, a chap named Al Kaline.

"I was moaning and groaning to my friends that Kaline had taken my job in right field," Enberg said over the phone Thursday. "My friends would say, 'Enberg, you thought you had talent, but you only talked a good game!'"

Well, years later it was that talking that finally granted Enberg his wish.

Working TV for the then-California Angels and with the Tigers coming to town, Kaline had to miss the call for a family commitment — and so they requested Enberg to work with George Kell for the game in Anaheim.

"Finally!" Enberg said, with a laugh. "I get to replace Al Kaline."

That was the first time Enberg, 81, got to do a game on Tigers TV. Saturday will be the second, when, for a special one-day cameo, he will join Kirk Gibson in the Fox Sports Detroit booth to do the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park.

It's part of the ceremonial farewell tour for Enberg, the voice of the San Diego Padres who announced 2016 would be his last season calling baseball.
The idea was that of Fox Sports San Diego executive producer Jeff Byle, who called his counterpart at FSD, John Tuohey, to make it happen.

And Enberg, obviously, was thrilled.

"I haven't done a game at the new ballpark," Enberg said of Comerica, which opened in 2000. "Just to reflect on my memories as a Tiger fan and the players that inspired me ... It's a typical farewell, no matter what your job. All of a sudden, people like you more."

Enberg's career in sports broadcasting is legendary, and covers almost all sports, from the Olympics to the NFL, from NCAA basketball to major golf.

But it's baseball, first as a Tigers fan, then an Angels broadcaster, and since 2010 a Padres broadcaster, that's always been the passion of a kid born in Mount Clemens and raised at 33 Mile and North Avenue in Armada, with so few friends around, he'd entertain himself by hitting rocks over telephone wires.

He'd always bat left-handed, a tribute to another of his childhood idols, Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams. Whenever Boston was in Detroit, Enberg would hitchhike down to then-Briggs Stadium, just to watch batting practice. Years later, he became friends with Williams, and asked how many home runs he would've hit a year in Detroit, with that short porch in right field.

"Without hesitation," said Enberg, "80. That's what we thought!"

Armada, where Enberg helps raise money for school projects through an annual golf outing, will be hosting a watch party Saturday at the Lions Club, with big-screen televisions and lots of old friends in attendance.

"There might be 30-40 people there," Enberg said, before rattling off his signature line. "Oh, my!"

Enberg went to college at Central Michigan University, where there's now a bust of him in the basketball arena.

From there, he went on to Indiana University, earning master's and doctorate degrees before going on to his broadcasting career, which, last summer, earned him the Ford C. Frick Award and a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was honored alongside longtime Detroit News Tigers beat writer Tom Gage, who won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

He's going back to Cooperstown, New York, this July.

"I don't have to worry about a speech," Enberg said. "Just go and hang with the guys, and just myself to rubbing shoulders with greatness."

Those Hall of Famer players, in turn, will do the same.

It's already been a fun final year for Enberg, who just got back from a two-week trip to Israel with his wife. Two weeks off during the season would've never been an option years ago, but for Enberg, in his final year, who was gonna tell him no?

And what an experience it was.

"Just a mind-boggling trip, like drinking history through a fire hose," Enberg said. "That's really one of the reasons I want to be able to hang up the microphone. I want to say 'Yes' to things again."

That's not to say Enberg plans to do nothing work-related in retirement.

A professor at Cal-State Northridge in the early 1960s, he's had overtures about teaching sports broadcasting and sports journalism, and he's strongly considering saying yes. It might be in California, though he said he has heard from Big Ten schools and ACC schools, too.

He misses his college days, which also included a stint calling legendary UCLA basketball.

"I'd love to be a sophomore again," he said, laughing. "A jacket with a leather patch on my elbow, get a phony pipe and not smoke it.

"Give back all the things I learned."

But, until then, there is still some more work to be done.

That work continues Saturday, alongside Gibson — who Enberg remembers as a "red ass" as a player and a manager, "And, hey, I respect that; I think every clubhouse needs more than one of those" — with a massive audience of Tigers fans, fans he once wished he could've suited up for.

Enberg is busy with preparation, devouring both teams' media guides, and checking the box scores. He knows some of the players, like former Padres Cameron Maybin (Tigers) and Logan Forsythe (Padres), and will, no doubt, be a quick study on the rest.

Of course, he'll tell stories, too. Without question, you'll hear about Nolan Ryan's no-hitter at Tiger Stadium in 1973, when Enberg called it from the booth — so close, he could hear umpire Ron Luciano tell Tigers slugger Norm Cash he couldn't bat with a table leg, and Cash responding, "I won't hit him anyway," Cash whiffed, then said, "See! Told ya."

"Hopefully, I won't wander too far from the game telling stories," Enberg said. "That always bothers me when I'm watching, 'Hey, there's a game going on!'"

Don't sweat it, Mr. Enberg. Saturday is your day in Detroit.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984