"That voice is going to be really hard to replace on the radio, because when you think of the Astros, you think of Milo ringing in your ears," Astros owner Jim Crane said. "He's been a great asset for the Astros and the city."
Flanked by Crane and president and CEO George Postolos, Hamilton held back tears at times as he announced his plans for the future before a packed room across from the home clubhouse. This season will mark Hamilton's 28th as the voice of the Astros.
"I've got a lot of emotion here today," said Hamilton, who has had a recurring battle with leukemia in recent years. "I'm going to be alright because I'm not leaving. I may be out of the booth, but I will get to be around all the great people that have been good to me, and I want to keep going."
Hamilton, who has been calling primarily home games since 2006 and gave up television earlier in his Astros career, still plans to make occasional guest on-air and public appearances, as well as emceeing baseball events around Houston.
"I'm retiring from being the full-time baseball broadcaster, but I'm going to be with the ballclub -- in Jim's words -- as long as I want to be, and that's very important to me," he said. "If I can get through the 2015 season, that would be 70 years on the air, and that would give some of these kids starting out something to shoot for."
Hamilton's impact in the game goes beyond Houston. He was given the industry's highest honor in 1992 when he was presented with the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award, given annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame for excellence in broadcasting.
He's been behind the microphone for some of baseball's most memorable moments, including Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run in 1974, and he served as play-by-play announcer for the 1979 World Series champion Pirates. He also called 11 no-hitters, Nolan Ryan's 4,000th strikeout in 1985 and Barry Bonds' 70th home run in 2001.
"Milo's had a brilliant, brilliant career and is one of the premier broadcasters in the history of Major League Baseball," former Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "He has certainly put a lot of leadership and excitement into the Astros for the years he served. He's really been an important part of the franchise, and it's going to be unusual not to have him there doing the wonderful job that he does."
The Astros plan to have a "Milo Hamilton Day" on Sept. 2, which is his 85th birthday. The team will have a special dinner in his honor during the season, with proceeds benefiting the Astros in Action Foundation. There will be additional Hamilton tributes throughout the 2012 season, which marks the franchise's 50th anniversary.
"We have him as the voice of the Astros for the entire 2012 season, and we're going to take full advantage of that," Postolos said. "He's going to be part of celebrating our 50th anniversary. We have a number of wonderful programs planned, and the real highlight for me is going to be Sept. 2."
Hamilton began his Major League career in 1953 with the St. Louis Browns and later worked for the Cardinals (1954), Cubs (1955-57, 1980-84), White Sox (1961-65), Braves (1966-74) and Pirates (1975-79).
As far as his tenure with the Astros goes, Hamilton said Mike Scott's division-clinching no-hitter in 1986 and Craig Biggio becoming the first Astros player to collect 3,000 hits in 2007 are his two most memorable calls.
"A lot of great things have happened here," he said.
Biggio, who attended the news conference, was sorry to see Hamilton step aside.
"There's always a part of you that never wants to see it ever end," Biggio said. "Obviously, things can't last forever, and I think his legacy and the things he's been able to do on the air have touched a lot of people and a lot of homes."
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).
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 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," he said.
Hamilton will call a game from his 59th Major League ballpark later this year when the Astros make their first visit to the Miami Marlins' new ballpark in April. He said he plans to travel with the team to Detroit in its first season in the American League in 2013 and work a game from Comerica Park, which would give him 60 ballparks.
For now, Hamilton is looking forward to being behind the microphone for the 2012 season, and he will soon be leaving for Spring Training. He'll call the action when Grapefruit League play begins, bringing the energy and enthusiasm of a broadcasting rookie.
"It's been a great game for me," he said. "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."