Md. Hall should open doors to Eckman

SIDELINES

February 18, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Fans of Charley Eckman who have called my 24-Hour Sportsline, (410) 647-2499, or run into me recently have two concerns about the Glen Burnie legend.

No. 1, they want to know how is he doing, and No. 2 "we've got to get him into the Maryland Hall of Fame."

Eckman, a former NBA coach and referee who became one of the Baltimore area's most recognizable and controversial radio voices, has been battling cancer for the past couple years.

In recent months, his illness has hospitalized him a few times and just a couple weeks ago, he nearly died.

"They had me on my death bed five times, and the monsignor [Rev. Martin Schwalenburg] was praying over me, but I don't know how to quit," said the 71-year-old Eckman.

"I've got my voice back and my strength is coming back. I'm taking radiation treatments for 30 days and in there battling."

His wife Wilma said, "Charley's spirits are up and he's doing much better."

The fact that Eckman almost died a couple weeks ago has his many friends and family worried that he might not see his last wish -- induction into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame -- granted.

Unfortunately, in the Hall's bylaws, there is a rule that does not allow coaches and officials to be eligible. Can you believe that?

The Hall of Fame has inducted people for walking, squash, badminton and skeet shooting, but none for coaching, refereeing or broadcasting.

You can't play the games without officials and coaches. Yet the stubbornness of the selection committee persists and they won't make a much-needed amendment to the bylaws.

Eckman's case accents the mere absurdity of the rule in that the Hall does not open its doors for someone who has done what he has.

A resident of Glen Burnie for more than 40 years, Eckman went from playing soccer, basketball and baseball at City College in Baltimore to the NBA, first as a referee and then as a coach.

Eckman worked his way up the ranks as a basketball referee, becoming the best in the business. The Atlantic Coast Conference became his stage and he earned the nickname "Charley Be-Bop," because of his antics.

He became so good and well-respected that he earned national championship game assignments from the NCAA and NIT, including the 1961 Cincinnati NCAA title upset of Ohio State with the likes of Jerry West, John Havlicek and Bobby Knight playing in the game.

Soon Eckman was an NBA referee and went on to become the only man to referee and coach in an NBA All-Star Game. Fort Wayne Pistons owner Fred Zollner recruited Eckman to coach in 1956.

Eckman was 123-108 in less than four seasons as Pistons coach, winning two division titles, finishing third his third season and getting fired his final year. At the time he was fired, Eckman was making $17,500 and a coach in Boston by the name of Red Auerbach was making $9,000.

Along the way, Eckman was a baseball scout with the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies.

In the late '60s, his unforgettable voice and style hit the airwaves at WYRE in Annapolis, briefly at WCBM and then 18 years at WFBR in Baltimore until his retirement June 26, 1987.

Whether you liked it or not, Eckman always told it like it is and tickled many a fan with his brash, hilarious, but always knowledgeable and common-sense commentary.

Some 20 years ago, he started the $100,000 World Series of Handicapping at Penn National in Harrisburg, Pa. That has become such a big deal that Eckman was inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. In October 1991, he was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame.

There is one Hall left and it still has its doors closed to Eckman.

John Keith of Glen Burnie is drawing up a petition and asking those who believe that Eckman belongs in the Maryland Hall of Fame to sign it at the Seaside Restaurant on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie.

Keith will send the list of signatures to the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame hoping that Eckman will be seriously considered for an honor he truly deserves.

In Maryland, the name Charley Eckman is as well known as a member of the first Maryland Hall induction class in 1956. Babe Ruth was posthumously inducted in that inaugural class.

Eckman, the Babe Ruth of Maryland sports broadcasting, still is hoping and has told me that if the honor came after he's gone, his family would tell the Hall to, "Call a cab. Call two cabs."

Eckman's time is now, if only the Maryland Hall would catch up to the '90s and add coaches and referees.

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