Thompson stopped by 44 years ago and he still hasn't left

Bill Tanton

September 14, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Hundreds of people -- even thousands -- have won sports awards.

None has accepted an honor more gratefully and humbly than our own Chuck Thompson, who entered the Baseball Hall of Fame last month.

That's the thing that has endeared Thompson to Baltimore. He's our own.

He came here 44 years ago to broadcast minor-league Orioles baseball and he stayed . . . and stayed.

With his talent -- a talent that remains evident even as he does Orioles games today at the age of 72 -- Thompson could have gone anywhere.

But he liked it fine here. It was here that he built the career that made him as much a part of the Orioles and the Colts as any player.

Thompson was the guest speaker at the monthly sports luncheon at J. Patrick's the other day. What shone through as he addressed a crowd of nearly 100 -- many of them his friends -- is that even now, a month and a half after Cooperstown, he is still awed and a little overwhelmed by the honor.

He can't believe that a mere autograph from Chuck Thompson could mean so much to a stranger, although it did, he learned, to a woman with a serious illness.

He gave credit for his success to everybody but the one who deserves it -- himself.

He told the Locust Point audience that people such as they are responsible for his making it to Cooperstown. He meant it, too.

Hey, Chuck -- all we did was sit back and listen and enjoy the games, all these years.

He heaped praise on his late Orioles broadcasting partner, Bill O'Donnell. He said he plans to call National League president Bill White, who is on the selection committee, and suggest that another ex-Oriole announcer, Herb Carneal, be considered for the the Hall of Fame. Carneal has been doing play-by-play for the Twins for the past 32 years.

To those old enough to remember, Thompson is as closely identified with football and the Colts as with baseball. At J. Patrick's, in the heat of a baseball pennant race, he went out of his way to praise John Unitas.

"John came to my house yesterday to get a phone number," Chuck said, "and I'm happy to tell you he looks great and feels great.

"You know, the one record in sports that people say will never be broken is Joe DiMaggio's hitting safely in 56 straight games. I agree. I don't think it'll ever be broken either.

"But Unitas holds a record that I also think will never be broken -- throwing touchdown passes in 47 consecutive NFL games. Nobody ever talks about that. I don't know why.

"What's amazing is that the next longest streak belongs to Dan Marino. But his streak is not even close to Unitas'."

The NFL office confirmed yesterday that Unitas still holds the record with 47, a streak compiled from 1956-1960. Miami's Marino -- who threw no touchdown passes Sunday in the Dolphins' 24-14 loss to the Jets -- is second to Unitas with a streak of 30 games from 1985 to 1987.

One of the men at J. Patrick's, Jimmy DiPaula, recalled having had an occasional drink with Thompson after long ago Orioles games at Holly's, a Waverly watering hole.

Chuck would bring with him shortstop Willy Miranda, who lived on Westerwald Avenue, two blocks away. Miranda played his last game for the Orioles in 1959.

Times change. Today there is no major-league city in the country where the athletes go to a media person's home for a phone

number or enjoy a post-game drink with one.

Thompson thrived in that simpler era, and he thrives today. He flies in the Orioles' charter plane and he observes the behavior of today's players.

"At first," he said, "I used to watch this Oriole club on the airplanes and wonder why the ballplayers sat so quietly.

"Lately, they've been up and down the aisles, visiting with one other, enjoying each other's company.

"I don't know if the incident with Seattle [the brawl on June 6] brought these players closer together. But their behavior is different. I have to wonder if it has a bearing on this ballclub's staying in the race the way it has.

"I do know that when the Orioles were winning pennants 25 years ago those players -- Brooks and Boog and Belanger and so on -- had come up through the minors together. They knew everything there was to know about each other.

"You look at the present Orioles and you see a player from here, another from there. These guys are just getting to know each other. Again, you wonder if that has anything to do with the way they've played to get back in the pennant race."

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