Russ Hodges and Gordon McLendon
The tribute to Lon Simmons at the Giants home opener, which I attended, was a reminder to me how his first broadcast partner, Russ Hodges, was terribly overrated because of a call relatively few people heard.
The call was heard by Giants fans in New York. Dodgers fans heard Red Barber’s call. For everybody else in the country, including my grandfather Dickey and myself listening in a small mountain town about 50 miles from Fresno.
McLendon was a very enterprising man who generally recreated major league games. Sitting in a studio, he would read the teletype and embellish enormously. There were no dull games when he was broadcasting, no routine plays. Outfielders were always plastering themselves against the fence or diving for balls, for instance.
This was, of course, the only way half the country had access to major league baseball, until the Giants and Dodgers moved to California in 1958 and made the “national pastime” a truly national game.
In this case, though, McLendon was not recreating. He had managed to get a media credential for the game, which wasn’t as difficult as it would be today with the proliferation of media. Even 11 years later, I was able to get a seat in the press box for the San Francisco games of the 1962 World Series, although I wasn’t even in San Francisco yet, still writing for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. In all my years at The Chronicle, I never again sat in the press box for a World Series in the Bay Area. (I did sit in the press box when I covered the 1980 Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals).
McLendon did not have to manufacture any excitement for this game, of course. It had many exciting moments, capped by the home run that probably would have been caught in another park. Dodger left fielder Andy Pafko was waiting for it to descend but it caught an upper bleacher which was jutting out.
I heard McLendon’s call. My grandfather didn’t. He couldn’t take the tension and had gone outside, only to come running back when he heard me screaming.
I knew nothing of McLendon then and wasn’t terribly curious about him. When California got two teams, there were local broadcasts and I didn’t have much free time to listen to radio broadcasts anyway, as I went to college and worked for the Forest Service in the summer.
So, I didn’t give a lot of thought to McLendon until the mid-80s when he was in San Francisco and we met for lunch. He had just sold his Liberty network for a ton of money, so I figured he could pay for the lunch.
For the first time, I learned the story behind the façade, and it was fascinating. When he had started the network and the recreated broadcasts, he called himself “The Old Scotchman”. As a result, he got a lot of mail from older women who wanted to get to know him better. They’d have had to adopt him; he was only 27 when he started.
But, that was the value of old-time radio. Listeners could create their own images of what performers looked like. On television, of course, what you see is what you get. I’m not sure that’s an advance.
Whatever, those recreated games created some great memories for me. Thank you, Gordon McLendon.
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