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Thompson passes on

A momentous death has hit the Baltimore sports community. Chuck Thompson, the longtime broadcast voice of the Orioles and Colts, passed away Sunday at the age of 83 after suffering a stroke on Saturday.

Thompson was the Orioles' primary radio (or, at times, television) announcer from 1955 to 1987, with the exception of a five-year hiatus from 1957 to 1961. That interruption was the result of a dispute between his primary employer, Gunther Brewing, and the main sponsor of the Orioles' broadcasts, National Brewing (of Natty Boh fame), and led to his covering the Washington Senators for a few of those years. Prior to that, he had begun his broadcasting career in Pennsylvania in 1939, and in the late '40s he moved south to call games for the International League Orioles and the football Colts. In 1993, Thompson became the seventeenth broadcaster honored with the Ford C. Frick award by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He continued to call Oriole games on a part-time schedule from 1991 until 2000, when his eyesight was hampered by macular degeneration.

The Sun has gone the distance in its appreciation of Thompson and his career by constructing what amounts to an online shrine to Thompson on its web site. It includes a lengthy obituary by Ed Waldman; eulogistic columns by Michael Olesker, David Steele, John Eisenberg, and Peter Schmuck; a timeline of Thompson's career combined with explanations of two of his signature lines, “Ain't the beer cold!” and “Go to war, Miss Agnes!”; and links to the text of several Sun articles from the recent past about Thompson.

In other sources, the Washington Post has published an obit by Matt Schudel and a fond remembrance by William Gildea. The Washington Times has a short feature on Thompson by Dick Heller. Also, Gary Washburn of MLB.com has posted a brief account. For more on Thompson's life and work, read his autobiography, Ain't the Beer Cold!, which was published in 1996.

Personal thoughts

I started following the Orioles as Thompson was passing the microphone to Jon Miller in the mid-1980s, so my personal memories of Thompson are limited to the part-time work he did over the last two decades as well as excerpts of classic games that the Orioles have broadcast during rain delays. After hearing other announcers over the years, I began to appreciate how masterful Thompson was at calling a baseball game. He had a collection of talents that no play-by-play man can rightly claim to surpass: a deep, smooth baritone voice that never grew tiring; near-perfect diction and pacing that ensured none of his utterances went misheard; the ability to paint a concise verbal picture of the action as it unfolded; and a mix of stateliness and informality in his tone that made him sound like both an authority and a friend.

Thompson remains the gold standard for Baltimore sports broadcasters, and his passing will be mourned by the millions who heard him over the years. He was a beloved local figure who called the greatest moments in Orioles and Colts history.

Addendum (Mar. 10): The tributes keep coming, illustrating just how wide and deep was Thompson's reach. Notably, the Washington Times has published a reflection by Thom Loverro, who takes a Washington-centric view of Thompson's legacy. Also, Joe Gross, sports editor of the Annapolis Capital, has written a few kind words about the announcer. Over at the York Daily Record, Al Gregson, a golf reporter in York, wrote about a personal encounter he had with Thompson on the golf course. Steve Thompson, baseball editor of USA Today (and apparently no relation to Chuck), recorded some of his own indelible Thompson memories. One of the most humorous recollections of Thompson I came across was in an SI.com article from July 2004 by sportswriter and Baltimore native Frank Deford. Also on that site, baseball writer John Donovan wrote a fond farewell to Thompson at the end of his Tuesday baseball notes. The Orioles issued a statement announcing Thompson's death on Sunday, but the text appears to have been truncated in the online version.

The response from fans on the Internet has been no less expansive. Wednesday on MLB.com, the Orioles published warm notes from fans honoring Thompson and his work. The denizens of the Baseball Primer exchanged their own Thompson memories.

This could go on forever, but I'll draw the line here. WBAL TV will broadcast Thompson's memorial service live on Thursday at 11 a.m. Thanks for the memories you helped create for us, Chuck.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 7, 2005 12:22 PM.

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