Enberg Hiring Bonanza For Padres
Some people get all the breaks. Regions can, too. Since 1958, 1977, and 1997, Vin Scully, Dave Niehaus, and Jon Miller have knit Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco, respectively. In 2010, Dick Enberg will join them with the San Diego Padres: to baseball, coming home.
“I’ve always been passionate about it, even doing other sports,” notes Enberg, saying he will televise more than 100 games next year. His last TV baseball was the 1985 Angels, later football and tennis precluding coverage. “What a great chance to now do the sport I love, in the city where I live, returning to my roots.”
Rod Stewart wrote You Wear It Well. Enberg wears age 75 superbly, as a CBS NFL viewer knows. Four months ago, contacted by a Padres source, I termed the possibility of Dick’s hiring “a 10-strike.” It still is: under full circle, viewers meeting the points of Enberg’s past. To use his signature, “Oh, my!”
Growing up in Michigan, Enberg loved how Detroit’s Ty Tyson “used the language.” Later he worked as a $1-an-hour janitor at Central Michigan University’s radio station, left for hills heavy with farmland shot by Ansel Adams, and got two degrees in health sciences at the University of Indiana.
In 1961, Enberg took his doctorate, left for California State University at Northridge, and began a teaching and coaching job. “Sportscasting was just a way to complement my salary.” Gradually, he became a boxing and Western Hockey League announcer, leaving seminars and blue books, play-by-play “now in my blood.” It is fair to say he never tried to cleanse it.
In 1969, Enberg, 34, added Angels baseball to Rams radio and UCLA TV basketball. His new park lay hard by Disneyland. The San Gabriel Mountains hued the backdrop. Palm trees swayed beyond center field. Arriving, Dick thought it Anaheim’s second magic kingdom.
“Never in contention,” he said, “so you looked for the bizarre.” One batter hit between shortstop Jim Fregosi’s legs. “That error?” mused manager Lefty Phillips. “Water over ithe bridge.” In 1970, Alex Johnson won the Halos’ sole batting title. Phillips fined (five times), benched (29), and suspended him. A judge called Johnson “emotionally incapacitated.” How different, Alex mocked, was the team?”
Then, in 1972, California got a Mets pitcher for Fregosi. Through 1976, Nolan Ryan no-hit four teams, including Detroit. “I’m in the booth where I’d visited as a kid,” Enberg said of 1973, “and Nolan’s on a tear.” Norm Cash thrice went hitless. Next up, he ditched his bat. “He had a leg from a clubhouse chair as a substitute. The home plate ump didn’t notice” till the first pitch was thrown. “Get a bat,” the umpire said. “Why?” Cash huffed. “I’m not gonna hit Ryan anyway.”
By now, Dick had hit the big time with TV’s syndicated Sports Challenge. Each show, ex-jocks turned panelists. “The people on these programs were idols to me as a kid. Now I’m asking them questions.” He produced PBS’s The Way It Was, aired the game show Battle, and joined NBC in 1975. Suddenly, the classroom seemed far away.
Curt Gowdy was the Peacocks’ then-apotheosis: “Name it, he did it,” said an NBC official. Dick ousted him on NCAA hoops, Super Bowl, Wimbledon, and 1980s Granddaddy of Them All, worked Sports World, and made the analyst look good. “Only he could work with us at the same time,” said Al McGuire, “and keep everything sane.” Not even Gowdy kept so many balls in the air.”
In time, ubiquity cost: Dick left the Angels in 1978. In 1982, he did NBC’s Game of the Week and the Brewers-Cardinals World Series, . “I kept recalling the fifties, when Milwaukee was everything. When things move me, it’s clear to viewers.” He was warm, kind, and open, unlike network dominoes.
“No room for me,” he mused upon Vin Scully’s 1983 hiring. “Game had enough guys for two teams a week.” In 1985, Enberg refetched Angels video. Even friends asked why. Like now, “I gave the most honest answer I can — I love the game. I miss it.” Casey Stengel said of baseball, “Not too hard, not too easy.” Dr. Dick struck the balance. Next year his wit and schoolboy awe will stud the Pads.
In 2002, Enberg was flying from Buffalo to Los Angeles — “ironically, after a football game” — when he learned of the Angels’ first pennant. Quietly he began to weep. Fearing trouble, a woman in the adjacent seat caressed her Crucifix and held his hand. Laughing, Dick explained: “I told her why it meant so much — the Angels — after all these years.” One religion, meet another.
In 2010, Enberg will help make the West Coast baseball’s best coast. Frank Lesser once wrote a musical Most Happy Fella. If you’re not happy hearing Scully, Niehaus, Miller, and now Enberg, you need a new sport, or pulse.