Go to the Hall, Miss Agnes Thompson's being honored

February 10, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Go to war, Miss Agnes -- Chuck Thompson is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Orioles' legendary announcer was named yesterday as the 1993 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, given to a broadcaster who has made a major contribution to baseball. His legion of admirers responded to the selection with ringing endorsements, while no doubt proclaiming: "Ain't the beer cold."

Thompson, who has announced major-league baseball for more than six decades and also gained fame as the longtime voice of Baltimore Colts football, will be added to the broadcast wing during Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Aug. 1.

For the past 44 years Thompson has lived in the Baltimore area, where he became as well known as any of the athletes with whom he has been associated. For most of that time, Thompson has been a fixture in the Orioles' broadcast booth.

"Chuck's six decades as a major-league broadcaster, 33 years with the Orioles, have made him a Baltimore legend," said Hall of Fame president Ed Stack, who made yesterday's announcement. "His easygoing manner has endeared him to his listeners and viewers and his sense of humor have contributed to his popularity."

Thompson is the 17th recipient of the Frick Award, which was established in 1978. A special committee of baseball officials and broadcasters makes the selection each year.

Reached at his winter residence in Bradenton, Fla., Thompson, 71, admitted to being overwhelmed by his selection. "I'm a little better now than when I first heard the news [over the weekend]," said Thompson. "But I don't know if I'll ever get over the enormity and the prestige of this.

"I never felt this would happen -- I didn't think I was good enough," said Thompson.

Others were ecstatic over Thompson's selection. "It's richly deserved," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino. "The man has been an institution. He has been the personification of Orioles baseball for at least a few generations. I'm glad to see baseball give him the recognition he deserves."

When Thompson learned of his selection, one of his first phone calls was to Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman who was his partner on WMAR-TV for 10 years.

"Brooks has always been very public in his support for me and I wanted to share it with him," said Thompson. "He and [Robinson's wife] Connie got on the phone and all I can tell you is it was a great conversation with some wonderful people."

Robinson has long been outspoken in his belief that Thompson deserved Hall of Fame recognition, and reiterated those feelings last night. "It's been a long time coming and he's certainly deserving," said Robinson.

"He's a guy who could've done anything he wanted in the business, but he decided to stay in Baltimore. And I respect him for that," said Robinson.

"The thing that I remember most from working with him was that he always had the right words. It was amazing -- I don't know what it is, he just has the ability to say the right thing.

"Now," said Robinson, "it's time for him to enjoy it. He's going to have a ball up there [Cooperstown]. When I talked to him, I said 'you better start writing your speech.' I just think it's a wonderful thing."

Jon Miller, who has worked in an adjacent radio or television booth during most of his years in Baltimore, related a story that perhaps best exemplifies how his contemporaries regard Thompson. "It was about 12 years ago when I was with the Red Sox and I remember sitting on the bench talking with [broadcast partner] Ned Martin," said Miller.

"Ned told me if he had to pick someone to do one big game, he would ask Chuck. That shows the kind of respect he has among his peers.

"Chuck has that tremendous voice and the ability to paint a picture with words," said Miller. "But, to me, what says it all about Chuck and the regard in which he is held was that final weekend at Memorial Stadium [in 1991].

"How long was that ovation when he was introduced? It seemed like five minutes. I've never heard an ovation like that for anybody other than a former player. This [the Frick award] is a well deserved honor."

A native of Reading, Pa., where he began his career in 1939, Thompson did play-by-play of home games for the Philadelphia Phillies and Athletics in 1947-48. He came to Baltimore the next year to broadcast games of the Triple-A International League Orioles. He never seriously considered leaving.

"I think it's been a privilege to have had the opportunity to broadcast for three generations," he said of his tenure here.

It was during the early minor-league days that Thompson endeared himself to Baltimore sports fans by introducing such exclamatory phrases as "Go to war, Miss Agnes" and "Ain't the beer cold" when the local teams did something extraordinary.

It was also during those early years that Vince Bagli, who would go on to become the dean of late-night sports anchors in Baltimore, first met Thompson. Bagli marvels at the career he has watched from the start.

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