When I read today that the Baseball Hall of Fame awarded the 2009 Ford Frick Award for Broadcasting to Tony Kubek, it brought back a lot of great memories about the NBC Saturday Game of the Week.
Watching TV shows back in the day like Adam 12 on NBC, Thursday nights and hearing a promo spot during the show's closing credits for this coming Satuday's Game of the Week was my cue that the weekend was here!
Tony Kubek was one the more successful ball player-turned-analyst type. He brought a player's perspective to the broadcast booth, and I feel that because he wasn't a star in the sense of his contemporaries like Mantle, Ford, Berra and the greats from the Yankee dynasty years, he brought a more ground-level approach to his take on the game of baseball.
There within lay his appeal.
He was a good conduit for his broadcast booth partners like Jim Simpson, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola, and Bob Costas during his tenure on the NBC Game of the Week that was a fixture for three decades on Saturday afternoons.
Though not the cultural focal point like Monday Night Football, the NBC Game of the Week was an anticipated event at a time when there was no over-saturation of Baseball on TV and local team broadcasts weren't as prolific as they were today. No on-demand, no satellite TV, no pay-per-view. You planned your Saturday afternoon around the game, and it was your only chance to see teams from out of your league.
Tony was, if nothing else, well informed, had a great technical grasp of what made baseball great, and he definitely was not shy when it came to expressing his opinion. In the 1972 ALCS between the Oakland As and the Detroit Tigers, a fight broke out when Bert Campanaris of the As threw his bat at Tigers' pitcher Lerrin Legrow after he threw at Campanaris and knocked him down.
Kubek defended Campanaris' right to respond in kind since he felt that throwing at a batter's legs could jeopardize or end his career.
Kubek rightly called out Bowie Kuhn for not attending Hank Aaron's historic record breaking 715th home run game on Apr. 8, 1974. A fact that Hank Aaron took as an affront years later when Kuhn claimed he had a prior commitment he couldn't get out of. For 35 years ago, that was a brave and gutsy move for a broadcaster to bite the hand that fed him, considering his name wasn't Howard Cosell.
During one of the greatest World Series in the past 35 years, the Game Three controversy when the Red's batter Ed Armbrister interfered with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk trying to handle a bunt and threw the ball into center field leading to Cincinnati winning the game.
Home plate umpire Larry Barnett didn't call batter interference and blamed Kubek for the death threats he received as a result of when Kubek passionately argued that Armbrister had interfered with Fisk and should have been called out. Kubek was accused of being a Red Sox stooge by Reds' fans. I guess people forgot Kubek played his entire career with the Yankees!
Kubek even tangled with his broadcast partner Joe Garagiola during a 1982 NBC Game of the Week broadcast over the percentage of players allegedly indulging in cocaine and drug use in baseball back then.
Joe said it was an isolated problem. Tony stated that it was running rampant. Following the 1982 season, Joe and Tony were split up when Vin Scully, long time Dodger broadcaster, left CBS for a seat in the booth with Joe on the "A" game while Tony got shifted to the backup game, paired up with a young voice out of St. Louis by the name of Bob Costas.
I recall seeing Joe Garagiola in a very spirited interview during the early days of ESPN in 1983 when Joe challenged Tony to back up his point that a majority of MLB players were doing drugs. It was not a pleasant "we agree to disagree" type of display on Garagiola's part.
In retrospect, Kubek was right when stating that drug use in baseball was rampant back then. Since Joe was NBC's guy, I believe that Tony got pushed aside as a result of the on-air disagreement.
I wonder if the two men ever reconciled. Hopefully, when Tony goes into the Hall of Fame next summer, it would be nice for old time sake to see him and Joe together in the booth one last time.