Leland Milo Hamilton broadcast games for seven major league teams, but in the early and mid-1960’s he joined the longtime voice of the White Sox, Bob ‘the commander’ Elson, broadcasting over radio station WCFL.
Elson, who approached broadcasting the way an M.C. would introduce personalities and musical selections at a ‘big band’ concert, had a melodious voice guaranteed to put the young listener to sleep. Listening to Elson on radio was like watching Lawrence Welk on television. I can still remember being a mere 3 or 4 years old sitting in front of an old black and white television in my great-grandmother’s living room as the host of ‘Champaign Music’ would appear. As the program droned on, I remember thinking to myself even at this early age “this too shall pass”. Little did I know that something called PBS would come along and enable Welk to dog me well into retirement long after Welk himself had shed his mortal coil. Elson was of this ilk. Professional, establishment and, to my ears, boring. When the Sox would get a hit Elson in his soft, melodious monotone would intone “and there’s a hit to center field. A frozen rope single.” If something really exciting happened he would add in similar vein “he really tattooed that ball”.
My friends and I would tune in to WCFL to catch the Sox broadcast which would customarily begin with Milo coming on the air with an upbeat flair of excitement. “It’s White Sox Baseball Time! Hello again everybody, this is Milo Hamilton, along with Bob Elson, bringing you the play-by-play account and description of today’s ball game between our White Sox and the New York Yankees….” Reading live commercials during the breaks between innings, he would intone with equal urgency: “Remember only Budweiser is ‘Beach Wood Aged’, it’s a slow meticulous process but pays in extraordinary dividends in flavor and fine taste.” Later, introduced to the word ‘mediocre’, as Milo described a particular team, I would add yet another adjective to my growing lexicon. Unlike many contemporary preachers, pundits, and politicians, Hamilton was no ‘howler’, speaking ‘up’ rather than ‘down’ to his audience. Accused of sounding like a graduate of a broadcasting academy, Milo was an old-school professional who learned from the ‘commander’ to bring no melodrama to the broadcast by saving one’s exuberance for the truly dramatic moments. Hamilton, like contemporary Howard Cosell and current White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone succeeded in making the game interesting while expanding, in the bargain, one’s vocabulary.
He called Dave Nicholson’s shot over Comiskey Park’s left center field light standard. He called pitcher Gary Peter’s walk-off pinch-hit two run home run in a game against the Kansas City Athletics. He described Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball, the speed and grace of Luis Aparicio, the gritty determination of Nellie Fox, and the pitching performances of Gary Peters, Juan Pizzarro, Ray Herbert, and Tommy John. He moved on from Chicago, going to Atlanta where he became the voice of Henry Aaron’s then record-breaking 715th home run, finishing his career with a 12 year stint as the voice of the Houston Astros.
“All things must pass”, as George Harrison famously reminded us. And so they must. Everything except Lawrence Welk that is.