On Christmas Eve a few years ago, I lost a friend I had never met. You see, George Michael (yes he of the George Michael Sports Machine) passed away. While most people remember George for his television stints, I remember him more because of the time he spent on 770 WABC in New York during the 1970’s. George had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Cousin Bruce Morrow (who is still going strong on Sirius XM nearly 60 years after he began on the radio) on what was then the very desirable evening slot. You see, during that time, before kids had gadgets after gadgets our AM transistor radios were our companions as we were doing homework or during the summer being outside after supper.
George’s voice, especially when he would scream CHIIICCCAGGOO! into the mike when introducing a song by that group, became part of a generation of a New Yorkers’ (and because of WABC’s clear channel status) youthful memories. I remember a few years later when I would see George on Channel 9 WOR-TV announcing New York Islanders hockey games and thinking what an interesting mix of being able to talk about music and talk about Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy must be.
Today, in 2013, it is hard to imagine the impact any disc jockey had back in those days but as we write about fairly often, the kids who grew up in the 1970’s and before had many shared experiences which are somewhat different than the diffuse elements of today’s youths. I was reminded of “King” George Michael when I heard about the passing of Chicago-area legendary disc jockey Larry Lujack. Larry passed away last week at the age of 73 and a generation of young people who grew up listening to him are now mourning what is forever gone.
And in the 1970’s, not only were disc jockeys our friends, but also those television announcers were also our friends. Each Saturday afternoon we could hear the voices of Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek announce the NBC Game of the Week. And tell me, how many of you out there would look at your baseball cards while watching those games and imagine you were out there on the field, being asked for autographs before games and dreaming of the time where you could emulate those people whose stature you truly admired?
People like George Michael made it seem so easy to be on the radio and many of us wanted to be just like George or Larry or Big Dan Ingram and announce hit songs or be like Curt and Tony or in New York (Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson for the Mets or Frank Messer, Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto or Bill White for the Yankees) and be part of the action in one way or the other. I know for basic Topps, the tag line is “Topps Brings you Closer to the Game” but back then, the cards were our primary outlet to get closer to the players.
Whether the usage of game action shots which began in 1971 on a regular basis or some of those funky posed shots used into the 1980’s (who can forget the Lowell Palmer sunglasses, Glenn Hubbard snake or the Tim Flannery surfboard card among others?) was exactly what older collectors wanted to see, we kids always enjoyed some of the wilder cards. And while we are not talking about whether a monopoly is good for card collectors then or today, there is little doubt that the Topps monopoly area (1956-1980) was good in some ways for the hobby as we as collectors all had shared experiences. If you are a certain age, you can look at a 1968 through 1973 card and know whether it is easy to find or a toughie in the way a 1968 Lee May or Joe Sparma can be.
And we can always go back in time to places like reelradio.com to hear those voices who we grew up with that are now silenced by illness or death. We can keep hoping the voice of Cubs coach Rube Walker is found on tape somewhere so his daughter can hear it. And we can imagine hearing his voice while looking at his cards.
Memory of the past is part of what keeps this hobby alive and remembering our youth through the baseball cards we traded with our childhood friends or listening to voices of the past is and will always be an important part of the hobby. Long live the days when we all wanted to be Steve Garvey or Thurman Munson. And may your memories and imagination always run wild as our childhood dreams. As we approach 2014, it remains important to hold on to the past while remembering and keeping an eye on today and the future.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]