Fans attending Friday's Indians game will be treated to fireworks, as they are every Friday, but this week will be a little different. Instead of music, the pyrotechnics will be flying to a soundtrack of the dulcet tones of Tom Hamilton. In honor of Hammy's 20th anniversary in the booth, a compilation of some of his best and most memorable calls will blare through the speakers at the Jake.
Which means a couple of things. First, it's a good time to figure
out how many "a's" there are in "Awaaaaaay back" and how to spell
"ballgame" so it looks like how Hammy says it, in one syllable. And
second, we should make sure Hamilton hasn't turned into Harry Doyle up
in the booth, sucking away on a fifth of Jack Daniels in just an
undershirt while saying, "The post-game show is brought to you by ...
Christ. I can't find it. To hell with it."
"It's a good thing I don't like Jack," chuckles Hamilton when asked
whether this miserable Tribe season has driven him toward his Major
League counterpart in any way. Watch a team that's used
approximately 137 different pitchers so far this year and see if you
don't spend the late innings diagramming elaborate ways to impale
yourself on a Louisville Slugger.
"It's disappointing," admits Hamilton. "But I know how lucky I am to
have a job while thousands are out there looking for jobs. That keeps
you motivated. You realize how fortunate you are. You're not always
going to have winning years, but this one hurts because of how much was
expected. Sometimes you know it's going to be bad. This wasn't one of
So what has kept him from heaving boothmate Mike Hegan out the
window onto Ben Francisco in the on-deck circle? Hamilton loves the
game. Tune in any time — you will never hear a sullen voice.
"I learned so many things from Herb [Score]," he says. "My first
year, in 1990, we weren't a very good team, and the club really hadn't
been any good since the '50s. But he said that you can never let how a
team is playing impact your performance. You owe it to the listeners.
They're not tuning in to hear you moan and groan. Every game is really
its own entity."
The legendary Score took it to the extreme. As KC Star and
Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski once reminisced: "I
had never really thought of it before, but I'm sure that his consistent
and optimistic tone had something to do with why people called him 'No
score.' It wasn't just that he gave the score out less often. If the
Indians were losing 12-1 in the eighth, as they sometimes were, his
voice never gave it away. There was always a tinge of hope in Herb
Score's voice ... until he finally had to come clean and give us the
cold and unforgiving numbers. Then people would angrily snap off the
radio and think, 'Dammit Herb, I would have turned it off earlier if I
had known. Why didn't you give me the score earlier?'"
But I think that's what Hammy is talking about. You can tune into a
game and, if it's still at least close, get sucked right back into some
naive enthusiasm for the Wahoos, because Hamilton and Hegan are
infectious that way. When you're driving around or grilling or doing
some chores, that little sliver of the optimist in you could find no
better companion than these two.
And while there haven't been many highlights this year — with
the exception of finally cutting David Dellucci — there have been
plenty since Hamilton stepped into the booth in 1990. Plenty of
"Awaaaaay back"s and the rest — lots of aural ammunition for the
Friday-night honor. "Oh God," he groans in a way that would never make
a broadcast. "I've got plenty of publicity. I don't need this, but I'm
very thankful and appreciate of what the team's doing."
A note on that home-run call: It's not a catchphrase, per se. But
it's memorable, and when the Indians are winning or in contention, it
can send a fan to the edge.
So where did it come from?
"I know it sounds like a cop out, but I don't know," says Hamilton.
"Anyone that listens to the games knows I don't use the same call every
time. I'm a firm believer that it has to be natural. Plus, you don't
want to make it seem like a no-doubter and then it's caught by the
No, that was Herb's job, I say, which draws another laugh from
Hamilton, the same genuine chuckle that finds often its way on air. And
really, what other reaction can you have to what's transpired on the
corner of Carnegie and Ontario? In a lost season, Hamilton's been one
of the best reasons to listen to Tribe games, and on Friday, he'll be
one of the best reasons to go to the game. He may not want to
hear his own voice, but we certainly do.
For Hamilton's opinions on Andy Marte, Lapora, Brantley, Peralta
and more, check out Scene's sports blog at clevescene.com/blogs/64-and-counting/.