For those of us of "a certain age," Jack Brickhouse was our constant after-school companion.
Because of the Cubs' all-day-game schedule in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the fact that WGN-TV carried every home game, it became a routine for kids growing up with baseball in that era to come home from school and turn on the Cubs game. Most days the game would be in the late innings by the time school days ended, sometime after 3 p.m., but you could watch at least some baseball nearly every weekday afternoon, once the baseball season began, during the school year.
Of course, that whetted the appetite for watching more games on the weekends and during the summer, and created a desire to go to what Jack would call "beautiful Wrigley Field." With the Cubs not playing well for much of that time, many of the "22,000 unreserved seats" would remain unsold on most days and occasionally, you'd hear Brickhouse say on the air, "If you're in the neighborhood, come on down to the ballpark!"
That was one thing P.K. Wrigley did right in his decades of owning the team. He might have neglected the club on the field, but he realized that promoting his team by televising them every day would create fans who'd want to come to the park.In those days, many owners feared that putting games on TV would cut into their attendance -- and attendance was the primary mover of baseball revenue until the 1980s -- but Wrigley realized that TV was a great promotional tool. And Jack Brickhouse became the consummate salesman for Cubs baseball, just as Harry Caray was in a later time. Between Caray and Brickhouse on WGN both locally and on national cable/satellite TV, they might have created four generations of Cubs fans.
Jack Brickhouse was born 100 years ago today, January 24, 1916, in Peoria, Illinois. After some radio work in Peoria, he was hired by WGN radio to do Cubs and White Sox games. WGN radio dropped the Cubs for the 1945 season, so he didn't call the Cubs' only postseason appearance during his broadcasting career.
His TV announcing time with the Cubs began in 1947, before WGN-TV even went on the air. He teamed with "Whisperin' Joe" Wilson on WBKB that year, making $35 a game. (That'd be the equivalent of being paid about $60,000 to call 162 games in 2015, decent money but far less than what a team's main broadcaster would make today.)
In 1948 he returned to WGN's employment, helping launch WGN-TV when they went on the air. He began calling both Cubs and White Sox home games and would do games of both teams through 1966. A few road games were televised -- notably the White Sox' pennant clincher in Cleveland in 1959 -- but mostly, Jack was doing primarily games played in Chicago. On many days after calling a Cubs game at Wrigley, he'd race back to WGN-TV's studios to do an early-evening sportscast. One of the reasons WGN constructed their studios at 2501 W. Bradley Place in the early 1960s was its proximity to Wrigley Field, less than two miles east.
By the 1966-67 professional sports seasons, Jack was calling games for the Cubs, Sox, Bears and Bulls on either radio or TV. The Sox left for WFLD-TV in 1968, and at that point WGN began carrying 140+ Cubs games a year, doing extensive road-trip coverage for the first time, and Jack became more identified as the Cubs' voice.
In addition to all that, Brickhouse served as an announcer on many national games. He never did get to call the Cubs in the World Series, but he did call three Fall Classics, including the 1954 World Series between the Giants and Indians. It's Jack's voice on Willie Mays' famous catch in Game 1 of that Series:
Jack's rah-rah style went over well until the early 1970s, when expectations of what a baseball announcer should be began to change, and many announcers took a more critical style. In Jack's later years on the air he often fell back on many of his cliched sayings ("Aw, brother!") and wasn't seen as the great salesman that he was in earlier years.
On August 5, 1979, Jack was honored for broadcasting his 5,000th Cubs game. His 34 years (1948-81) with the Cubs puts him into a select club of announcers with that long a tenure with one club: Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Bob Uecker, Denny Matthews, Harry Kalas, Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, Herb Carneal, Marty Brennaman, Jerry Coleman and Dave Niehaus. (Perhaps someday Pat Hughes will join that group; 2016 will be Pat's 21st year calling Cubs games.)
Jack made some appearances on WGN-TV even after his retirement after the 1981 season, including being in the booth along with Caray and Steve Stone during the Cubs' 1984 playoff run. He was given the Frick Award by the Hall of Fame in 1983. Among his career highlights were calling eight no-hitters. You can also hear some of Brickhouse (as well as Vince Lloyd and longtime Cubs PA announcer Pat Pieper) on this clip from the first US broadcast to Europe via the Telstar satellite in 1962:
Jack Brickhouse died August 6, 1998, just a few months after Caray's passing. He's honored by having his trademark "Hey! Hey!" home-run call posted on the Wrigley Field foul poles and with a statue outside Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.
It's sobering to me to think that Brickhouse's last Cubs broadcast was nearly 35 years ago -- a longer span than he called games for the Cubs. You'd have to be in your mid-40s or older to have any real memory of him on WGN-TV as the Cubs' lead television announcer.
But for many of us, he was the soundtrack of our childhood, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about Jack on the 100th anniversary of his birth. If you're interested in learning more about Brickhouse's life and career, check out this special Brickhouse section on the Chicago Baseball Museum website.