Thompson joins Hall, brings fans with him

August 02, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Almost a half-century after starting his baseball broadcasting career, Chuck Thompson received the ultimate award here yesterday afternoon.

He did so with the same style and grace that has endeared him to three generations of listeners in Baltimore. On the day that Reggie Jackson became baseball's 216th Hall of Fame inductee, Thompson gained entrance into the broadcasters' wing.

With his family and hundreds of fans and friends in attendance, Thompson became the 17th recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, emblematic of excellence in his profession. The booming, baritone voice (he once aspired to be a singer) didn't fail Thompson during his humorous and emotional acceptance speech -- but it did falter once or twice.

"In my profession, you're always supposed to be in control," Thompson told the thousands at the ceremony. "But I don't feel in control right now. Only the microphone is familiar to me, but there's no game to describe, so I'm a little nervous.

"Everybody that I've talked to who is familiar with these ceremonies told me there is no way to prepare for the impact of this moment. And now I can understand what they mean."

Thompson described his relationship with Jerry Hoffberger, former owner of the Orioles and the National Brewing Company, as one of the most rewarding features of his career.

"It's been a great career," Thompson said. "For the most part, it was a hit-or-miss proposition as to how I got started in this business.

"In all the years I've been in Baltimore [44] I only had one difficult time -- in 1954, when major-league baseball came to Baltimore. I was on the outside looking in because of a sponsorship clash.

"But it was that year that I sat down with Jerry Hoffberger and when we were finished, he shook my hand and said, 'Young man, we've got a deal.' That handshake lasted 23 years. We never had a contract.

"I am very proud to have been a part of that kind of trust," said Thompson, whose play-by-play career began in Philadelphia in 1946.

Hoffberger and former Orioles general manager Frank Cashen were among the many Baltimoreans who made the trip to Cooperstown for Thompson's induction.

Thompson recounted how his life "seemed to stop" after the death of his first wife, Rose, in 1985. He spoke of, and to, his three children -- Craig Thompson, Sandy Kuckler and Susan Perkins -- his eight grandchildren and his second wife, Betty, whom he married five years ago.

"Now, I'm a Hall of Famer -- but so are they," said Thompson, struggling with his emotions.

Thompson also said he shared his honor with the generations of Orioles fans. "They allowed me into their homes and made me a part of their lives," he said. "I want them to know that we share this honor.

"We were in this together," Thompson said, directing his remarks to the listeners. "You wanted it for me -- and I wanted it for you.

"And if someday you come to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame and happen to see the name of Chuck Thompson in the broadcasters' wing and somebody asks, 'Did you know him?' I hope you can say, 'Yes -- he was a friend.' "

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