No Cardboard Love for the Announcers
Baseball announcers occupy an odd space that straddles the line between team members and adoring fans. They often enjoy tenures longer than players and managers and can weather multiple ownership changes. Some broadcasters even become so connected with a ballclub’s identity that their popularity rivals the team’s Hall of Fame ballplayers. Numerous broadcasters have been inducted into team halls of fame and 47 individuals have received the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball,” an honor that includes recognition (but not official enshrinement) at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In fact, beloved announcers such as Harry Kalas, Bob Uecker, Dave Niehaus, Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, and Jack Buck have been immortalized with statuary at the ballparks where they called (or continue) to call games for their given teams. Yet, there is seemingly little love paid to announcers by card manufacturers, especially with national issues.
The Trading Card Database (“TCDB”) lists just 471 results for a search of baseball cards in the “announcer” category, with the first result appearing in 1933. This list includes cards depicting nightly sportscasters and disc jockeys, which would tend to indicate that the “announcer” label is often used as a catchall for any on-air broadcasters, not just play-by-play commentators or game analysts.
The labeling issue becomes more apparent, however, when totaling the number of cards for the broadcasters who have been bestowed the Ford C. Frick Award. This number is 580, over 100 more cards than found on the “announcer” list.
Searching TCDB by individual broadcasters’ names demonstrates conclusively that the “announcer” label (“ANN”) is not used with any consistency. For example, a search for “Vin Scully” will produce 114 results, cards spanning from 1960 through 2023, including parallel releases and autographed editions. A search of “Vin Scully” and the “ANN” qualifier, however, produces only two results.
Considering that Pittsburgh’s KDKA first broadcast a baseball game on August 5, 1921 (an event itself worthy of commemoration on a baseball card), it seems incredible how few broadcaster cards have been issued in the past 100 years. Indeed, utility infielder Tommy LaStella has had more cards issued since 2011 (586) than all of the Ford C. Frick Award winners combined (580).
Radio (Baseball Card) Pioneers
The 1933 Minneapolis Millers of the American Association were managed by future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft and featured first baseman Joe Hauser, who clobbered an incredible 69 home runs that season. Although Wheaties is best known for its collectible cereal boxes, the company also promoted minor league baseball across the country and particularly in Minneapolis, hometown of parent company General Mills. That season, Wheaties issued a set of 24 postcards (4″ by 5-9/16″) featuring the players, manager, and for the first time ever documented, a team’s radio broadcaster.
Jerry Harrington, dubbed “The Little Irish Tenor,” was a multi-talented performer for WCCO radio and was often called upon to sing and participate in dramatic productions for the station. In 1929, Harrington broadcast play-by-play accounts of the Millers’ away games from the sports office of The Star and beginning in 1930, was tabbed to broadcast both home games from Nicollet Park and the away contests. The 1933 Wheaties Harrington issue is his one and only baseball card.
A second set of similarly designed and sized postcards were purportedly produced by Wheaties for the Seattle Indians in 1933; however, only five postcards from this set have been found so it is unclear whether they were ever released to the public. One of the cards that has surfaced, however, is that of Indians broadcaster Leo Lassen. Lassen was named the publicity director of the Pacific Coast League Seattle club in 1931 and began broadcasting games for the team that season. He was a mainstay radio voice of the Indians and Seattle Rainiers through 1958 and was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. The 1933 Wheaties Lassen issue is his one and only baseball card.
In 1938 Chicago’s Sawyer Biscuit company issued a set of 52 cabinet photos depicting Chicago Cubs and White Sox players available as a mail-in promotion. The set included Bob Elson, a tireless broadcaster who handled the home games for both the Cubs and White Sox from 1931 through 1942 for WGN radio.
TCDB also lists a second “broadcaster” card for Babs Gillen, but no example of the card has ever been found. According to some sleuthing by Pre-War Cards it appears that Delores “Babs” Gillen was Elson’s broadcast partner for certain radio programming, but she was not known to announce baseball games with him. Regardless, the Elson cabinet photo appears to be the first issue for a Major League broadcaster.
The Emergence of Baseball on the Radio
As of the 1940 Census, 28 million households in the United States (82.8% of the population) owned a radio and baseball owners began realizing that broadcasting games—both home and away—was a terrific way to promote live baseball at their respective ballparks, especially on the home front during World War II. Still, very few broadcaster cards were issued in the 1940s.
The Reds sold a boxed team card set in 1940 called the “The Cincinnati Reds by Harry Hartman, Radio Sports Expert” published by the Harry Hartman Publishing Company. Coincidently, Hartman was the radio voice for the Reds on WCPO and was entering his 13th season behind the microphone in 1940, a season in which the Reds won their first World Series championship since defeating the Black Sox in 1919. A card featuring Harry Hartman was included in his namesake set.
The 1940 Playball set included a “Former Major League Star” card for Gabby Street, who had last played for Yankees in 1912 (although he had given himself an at-bat as Cardinals manager in 1931) and last managed for the Browns in 1938. The final line of his biography on the reverse of his card indicated “Today, he is doing baseball broadcasting in St. Louis.” Street was eventually paired with Harry Caray in the Cardinals’ booth, and they worked together from 1945 to 1950.
The balance of cards for the 1940s belong to Oakland Oaks announcer Bud Foster, with a string of issues in each of 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 sponsored by either Remar Bread or Signal Oil/Gasoline. Foster was voice of the Pacific Coast League’s Oaks from 1946 through 1956, as the team won three championships during his run (1948, 1950, 1954). In 1985 Foster reminisced how ballparks in the old days had no radio booths for him on the road so he would just set up behind home plate, which left him vulnerable to bombardment by cushions, peanuts, and insults hurled by the opposing fans. Additionally, Mel Allen was featured in Yankees Picture Packs in 1948 and 1949, with seemingly indistinguishable photos.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In 1950 approximately 9% of American households had a television, but by 1960 the figure had skyrocketed to 90%. Regardless, there were still just a smattering of announcer cards issued in the 1950s, even despite the rise of the national baseball card product offerings by Bowman and Topps that included non-players such as umpires and league executives.
In 1954, future Ford C. Frick Award winner Bill King was named fulltime sports director at KOLN and KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska and took over the play-by-play announcing duties for the Western League Lincoln Chiefs. Weaver’s Wafers were a potato chip brand that issued a set of cards for the Chiefs in 1954 that included a card for King that encouraged fans to follow the team on KOLN. Despite King having announced for the San Francisco Giants from 1958-1962 and the Oakland A’s from 1981-2005, the 1954 issue is the only card that appears to have been issued for the venerable broadcaster. The card itself is exceedingly rare and the distribution method is sure to send shivers up the spines of condition conscious collectors—the cards were affixed to the outside of the potato chip bags with staples!
Future Ford C. Frick Award recipients Russ Hodges (New York Giants and San Francisco Giants) and Lon Simmons (San Francisco Giants) both appeared on a number of team-issued cards at the end of the 1950s, but only in their capacity as broadcasters for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Simmons did not get a proper baseball card until 1999, the Giants’ final season in Candlestick Park. His famous home run call “Tell it Goodbye!” was a fitting farewell to the ballpark, where he had broadcast since the Giants first began playing there in 1960.
The final announcer card issued in the 1950s featured Mark Scott, host of the popular Home Run Derby television show. The 1959 Home Run Derby baseball set contained 20 cards measuring 3-1/4” by 5-1/4” and included the participants in the game show filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Scott died unexpectedly on July 13, 1960 from a heart attack and the show did not return for another season.
Vin Scully and the Rise of the Beloved Broadcaster
The first TCDB entry for Vin Scully is the 1960 Union Oil 76 “Meet the Dodger Family” booklet, which he shares with Jerry Doggett. Scully’s first proper baseball card—a whopper at 4” by 6”—is the 1971 Ticketron Dodgers issue, which also happens to feature Jerry Doggett, with whom he worked from 1956 through 1987. All told, Scully is the leader of all broadcasters with 114 different cards listed on TCDB. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Scully did not make another appearance on a baseball card until 2004, when Fleer produced a 10-card “Greats of the Game” subset that paired announcers and players, such as Scully/Steve Garvey, Harry Caray/Ryne Sandberg, and Jon Miller/Cal Ripken Jr. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Scully’s cards were issued after he had already turned 77 years old.
Vin Scully’s first inning broadcast partner for the 1989 All-Star Game was former Chicago Cubs broadcaster (and newly former POTUS) Ronald Reagan. Reagan made a cameo on a recent Bo Jackson card, as a broadcaster.
Ernie Harwell is next on the list with 80 cards. Harwell is best known for his work for the Detroit Tigers after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles. By the time his first card was issued in 1981, Harwell was already beginning his third decade of work as the Tigers’ main play-by-play announcer. Harwell holds the distinction of having been traded for a player when he was acquired by the Dodgers to broadcast in 1948 from the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers in exchange for minor league catcher Cliff Dapper. Harwell broadcast for the Detroit Tigers from 1960 to 1991 and 1993 to 2002. Detroit’s Wayne State University’s baseball team plays its home games at Harwell Field, named in his honor.
Harry Caray is third with 68 cards. Caray’s first known card is a playing card with a photo shared with another Chicago broadcasting legend, Jack Brickhouse, issued in 1985 (40 years after Caray broadcast his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals.) Caray popularized the live singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a White Sox broadcaster and made the tradition so popular at Wrigley Field that a video of him signing the song is still played for the seventh inning stretch when the Cubs do not otherwise arrange for a celebrity to handle the honors. Perhaps Caray’s most interesting baseball card is his cameo on Michael Jordan’s 1995 Upper Deck, featuring a photo taken at Wrigley Field when the White Sox visited for an exhibition game against the Cubs on April 7, 1994.
Mel Allen boasts 58 cards and was awarded the first-ever Ford C. Frick Award in 1978, along with Red Barber (the only year in which more than one award was given). Allen, a 1937 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, immediately pursued a career in broadcasting and handled CBS radio duties for the 1938 World Series. He was hired as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer in 1940 and saw 12 championship teams from his position behind the microphone through 1964. Allen eventually returned to the Yankees broadcast team in the mid-1970s, but it was his work with This Week in Baseball starting in 1977 that made Allen’s voice synonymous with Saturday baseball highlights to kids across the country. How about that?!
Rounding out the top five is Philadelphia’s Harry Kalas with 33 cards. Kalas first appeared on a Tastykake card in 1984, along with fellow Phillies broadcasters Chris Wheeler, Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn. Kalas began his broadcasting career in 1961 with the Hawaii Islanders and made his Major League announcing debut with the Astros in 1965. After moving over to Philadelphia in 1971, Kalas became a mainstay in the booth, working side-by-side with Ashburn until Ashburn’s unexpected passing in September 1997.
Comprising some of the most popular men to ever call a baseball game, Vin Scully has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (and a statue at Dodger Stadium cannot be far behind). Ernie Harwell has a statue at Comerica Park in Detroit. Harry Caray has a statue at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Mel Allen has a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in New York. Harry Kalas has a statue at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. A bust of Jack Buck is displayed outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And Bob Uecker (who has 23 cards for broadcasting and another 51 related to his role as a player) is honored with two statues at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
By contrast, Denny Matthews has just two cards, despite having been inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and having been in the Kansas City broadcast booth since the team’s inception in 1969.
Similarly, Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ Spanish-language play-by-play announcer from 1959 through 2022 (also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) only has two cards.
Felo Ramirez was the Spanish radio announcer for the Miami Marlins from 1993 until April 2017. His prior broadcasting work included calling Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit, and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Despite his distinguished career, no cards of Ramirez have ever been listed on the TCDB. All three of these men are Ford C. Frick Award recipients. In fact, 36 of the 47 Frick Award winners have nine or fewer cards, with eight having none.
Card manufacturers are seemingly content to issue the same card with a border in every conceivable color combination. Allen and Ginter issues feature eggs, spiders, and even the Taylor Ham versus pork roll debate. Yet, broadcasters remain largely ignored.
A closer inspection of the checklists for each of the broadcasters listed here quickly reveals that a large proportion of the most recent issues comprise rare, autographed cards or other limited releases for which photos are not even available.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to the craft—and provide the soundtrack for our collective summers—deserve more cardboard love. These amazing tributes by Mike Noren of Gummy Arts are a great start.
Mike Noren of Gummy Arts graciously allowed the SABR Baseball Cards Committee to include images of his cards in this article, including the Bob Uecker card, which has never been shown publicly before.
Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their typically brilliant guidance and support.
TCDB is mainly crowdsourced and there are numerous examples of cards not marked with the announcer label or otherwise improperly classified. The numbers cited herein are as accurate as possible based upon the available information. Moreover, several broadcasters cover multiple sports and may have cards that are more properly classified as a football, Olympic or multi-sport issue. Regardless of sporting classification, all cards were counted, except for those individuals who were players and had separate playing-days cards issued. Playing-days cards were not included.
John Gabcik, Bob Elson, SABR BioProject
Joseph Wancho, Gabby Street, SABR BioProject
“Became Entertainer After Radio Dare,” Minneapolis Star, March 8, 1930.
“Leo Lassen Named,” Bellingham (Washington) Herald, February 13, 1931.
“New Show at WCPO,” Cincinnati Post, April 16, 1940.
“New Sports Chief,” Lincoln Journal Star, May 9, 1954.
Charles Sarjeant, “The First Forty: The Story of WCCO Radio,” 1964.
Ed Schoenfeld, “Oaks Voice Recalls the Day Stengel was Knocked Out,” Oakland Tribune, April 7, 1985.