Milo Hamilton, who called games with enthusiasm and distinction as the voice of the Astros for a generation of baseball fans in Houston, passed away on Thursday. He was 88.
Hamilton's death comes less than three years after he worked his final game behind the microphone for the Astros, calling the team's regular-season home finale in 2012. He was still a presence at the ballpark in the past few years, but his health deteriorated in recent months.
Hamilton is predeceased by his wife of nearly 53 years, Arlene, who died in 2005, and his daughter, Patricia, who died in 2006. He is survived by his son, Mark.
"It's a sad day for baseball and a sad day for the Houston Astros," Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio said. "The man was an amazing voice and an amazing person behind the microphone to describe the game. His knowledge and history of the game was second to none. It's a tough day."
Hamilton's death comes less than two weeks after longtime Astros announcer and 2006 Ford C. Frick Award winner Gene Elston died on Sept. 5.
Hamilton had a broadcasting career that stretched more than 65 years and included work calling basketball and football games, but it was baseball that allowed Hamilton to showcase his unforgettable voice. He worked as a Major League broadcaster for more than 55 years, with stops in St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Houston, where he landed in 1985.
A moment of silence was scheduled in Hamilton's honor prior to Thursday's game against the Rangers in Arlington. The Astros will wear a patch on their uniforms beginning Friday to honor Hamilton.
"Today, the entire Astros family and many throughout the baseball world are mourning the loss of our friend, Milo Hamilton," Astros team president Reid Ryan said in a statement. "For decades, Milo had a special connection with the Houston community, bringing Astros baseball to the cars and homes of fans throughout the great state of Texas and beyond. During his legendary career, we enjoyed the privilege of Milo calling some of the greatest moments in Astros history.
"In addition to his great work in the booth, Milo was also an outstanding ambassador for Astros baseball, a mantle he carried with a great deal of pride. While we mourn his sad passing, we should also celebrate Milo's long, wonderful career. He was one of the all-time greats and a true icon whose contributions to the game and beyond will be remembered always."
Hamilton's impact on the game goes beyond Houston. He was given the industry's highest honor in 1992 when he was presented with the prestigious Frick Award, given annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame for excellence in broadcasting.
"During his 60 years covering our game, Milo became one of the national pastime's most distinguished announcers, serving seven different Major League clubs," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "He chronicled some of our game's most historic moments during the era of Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Ernie Banks. As 'The Voice of the Astros' since 1985, he ushered into the homes of fans Houston's first World Series appearance, the Hall of Fame careers of Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio and countless other memories.
"I enjoyed spending time with Milo during my trip to Houston earlier in this resurgent season for the Astros, and it was a pleasure to correspond with him in recent months. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Milo's family, friends, admirers throughout the game and to all Astros fans."
Hamilton was in the booth for some of baseball's most memorable moments, including Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run in 1974 and serving as the play-by-play announcer for the 1979 World Series champion Pirates. He also called Roger Maris' 61st homer (recreated on Western Union ticker), 11 no-hitters, Ryan's 4,000th strikeout in 1985 and Barry Bonds' 70th home run in 2001.
"Milo and I were friends for many years," Aaron said. "I had great respect for him and his knowledge of baseball. For me, he was in the class with Vin Scully."
Scully also shared his condolences.
"Milo Hamilton was an enthusiastic and highly accurate broadcaster who was also a dear friend of mine," Scully said.
Hamilton's famed "Holy Toledo!" became one of the most recognizable signature lines in baseball history.
Hamilton's tenure as a Major League broadcaster is surpassed by only Scully. His big league on-air career included stops with the St. Louis Browns (1953), Cardinals (1954), Cubs (1956-57 and 1980-84), White Sox (1962-65), Braves (1966-75), Pirates (1976-79) and Astros.
As far as his time with the Astros goes, Hamilton said Mike Scott's division-clinching no-hitter in 1986 and Biggio becoming the first Astros player to collect 3,000 hits in 2007 are his two most memorable calls.
"A lot of great things happened here," Hamilton once said.
In addition to receiving the Frick Award, Hamilton is a member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame (1994), Radio Hall of Fame (2000), Texas Radio Hall of Fame (2002) and the Iowa Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame (2011). He shared the broadcast booth with numerous other Frick Award winners, including Jack Brickhouse, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and Bob Elson.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame released this statement:
"By the time Milo Hamilton was presented the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in Cooperstown in 1992, he was already a titan among the sport's greatest voices, yet he was seemingly still in his early era for Astros fans, with many of his signature moments in Houston baseball yet to come. Visitors to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are graced by his calls over a half-century, from Hank Aaron's 715th home run to Mike Scott's no-hitter in 1986 to clinch the N.L. West. His is a voice that will remembered for generations and his legacy is one that will resonate with baseball's greatest moments - in Houston and throughout the country."
A native of Fairfield, Iowa, Hamilton graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in radio speech and began his radio career with the Navy in 1945. He later called basketball and football games for Iowa and Minor League games for the Quad City Tigers, as well as Quad City Black Hawks basketball games.
The game has changed mightily since Hamilton began his career in the 1950s, when teams and broadcasters traveled by train and radio was the only medium to follow baseball. Early in his career, while calling Minor League games, Hamilton recreated games for broadcast purposes and even created his own sound effects.
"I had a metronome, and if you hit that metronome it sounded like the bat hitting the ball," Hamilton said.
Hamilton called a game from his 59th Major League ballpark in 2012, when the Astros made their first visit to the Miami Marlins' new ballpark that April. He served as a guest radio commentator for select Astros home games from 2013-15, with his final stint in the booth coming on June 28, during the Astros' game against the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.
"It's been a great game for me," Hamilton said when he announced his impending retirement in 2012. "I did football for 25 years and basketball for over 40 years, but baseball was the greatest game in the world when I started, and it still is today. When the end of the season comes and I do that last game as the voice of the club -- if you want to put it that way -- I'll still be around doing a lot of things."