Elston wins Ford C. Frick Award

Elston wins Ford C. Frick Award

A broadcasting career that included stints with the Chicago Cubs and Houston Colt .45s and Astros has landed Gene Elston the most coveted honor in his profession -- the Ford C. Frick Award.

Elston reached the broadcast pinnacle on Tuesday when he was chosen as the 2006 Frick Award recipient, opening the doors into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"This is the best you can get as a broadcaster in the United States," the 83-year-old said from his Houston home Tuesday afternoon. "I was very fond of Ford Frick, and I'm pleased to be associated with an award named in his honor."

Presented annually since 1978 for excellence in baseball broadcasting, the Frick Award -- named in memory of Hall of Famer Ford C. Frick, the renowned sportswriter, radio broadcaster, National League president and baseball commissioner -- is given to an active or retired broadcaster who has a minimum of 10 years' continuous Major League broadcast service with a ballclub or network, or a combination of the two.

Elston will participate in a live chat at MLB.com on Wednesday at noon ET.

"Gene Elston's soothing voice and knowledgeable broadcasts helped educate and entertain generations of budding fans as baseball headed south," said Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey. "Today, the Houston area is one of the real baseball hotbeds in the country, and Gene's influence for a quarter of a century is largely responsible. We can't wait to honor Gene and his family this summer in Cooperstown."

An original list of more than 180 eligible broadcasters was reduced to 10 finalists. Three of them -- Dave Niehaus, the late Bill King and Jacques Doucet -- were selected by a fan vote, while seven others were chosen by the Frick Award Committee, comprised of former winners of the profession's highest honor and six others.

Joining Niehaus, King and Doucet on the ballot this year were Elston, Tom Cheek, Ken Coleman, Denny Matthews, Dizzy Dean, Tony Kubek and Graham McNamee. Matthews and Doucet were newcomers to the finalists' lineup this year, the third consecutive year fans helped choose the finalists.

Born in 1922, Elston became a baseball broadcaster in 1946 with the Waterloo White Hawks of the Three I League, and eight years later, he joined the Cubs as the No. 2 radio man.

He was selected in 1958 to team with Bob Feller for Mutual's Game of the Day -- which aired over 350 stations across the country -- a position he held through 1960. Elston became the voice of Houston's National League franchise for the inaugural 1962 season and spent the next 25 years as the play-by-play man.

Among Elston's broadcasting highlights were Eddie Mathews' 500th career home run; a 24-inning, one-run marathon between the Astros and Mets on April 15, 1968; Nolan Ryan's career strikeout No. 3,509 on April 27, 1983, topping Walter Johnson's all-time mark; and broadcasting back-to-back no-hitters against the Cincinnati Reds in 1969.

"Jim Maloney no-hit the Colt .45s one night and Don Wilson came back [the next night] and did it to them," Elston recalled. "That had only happened once before, and it hasn't happened since."

Elston called 11 Major League no-hitters in all, including Mike Scott's NL West-clinching effort over the Giants on Sept. 25, 1986.

Elston left the Astros in 1987 and worked for another decade, calling games for the CBS Game of the Week. He currently works for Tal Smith Enterprises, but people still enjoy talking to him about the days when the Astros were the new team in town.

"People meet me and say they were youngsters at the time and used to listen to me in bed," Elston recently said. "I ask them, 'Well, how many times did I put you to sleep?'"

The answer invariably is "never."

Asked during a conference call Tuesday if he would like to broadcast one more game before receiving the Frick award, he said, "I would love it, but I'm not sure I could follow the ball."

Elston definitely is from the old school of broadcasters -- relying more on a soothing voice and painting a picture than the scream-in-your-ear style that seems to be so popular these days.

"I was a little more laid back," Elston said. "Most announcers talk too much today, especially on television. I think I am a lot better than they are. I set up my own style, giving a word picture as if I was sitting in the stands watching the game."

Elston always had a desire to enter the radio field, a goal that led him to take a speech course at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He actually flunked the class.

Undaunted, Elston broke into radio in 1941 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, doing general staff announcing and high school basketball play-by-play. He obtained the job by writing a letter to station KVFD -- and passed the audition.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, Elston returned to Fort Dodge and worked at several small radio stations before eventually finding his niche in the industry. As a kid growing up in Fort Dodge, he would listen to recreations of baseball games already played -- and the announcer was Ronald "Dutch" Reagan.

Elston was elected to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2002. But this is the big one, and he will be honored at the National Hall of Fame on July 31, along with former relief pitcher Bruce Sutter, Rocky Mountain News sportswriter Tracy Ringolsby, the J.G. Spink Award winner, and perhaps at least one former Negro Leagues player and/or executive, which will be announced on Monday.

"I wanted to be a reporter, to let my listeners know what was going on," Elston said. "I was never a homer. I was a fan of the [Colt .45s and Astros] and I wanted them to win, but my job was to report the game."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.