Calling a Baseball Game

Milo Hamilton
Photograph by Erin Trieb

NAME: Milo Hamilton | AGE: 80 | HOMETOWN: Houston | QUALIFICATIONS: Has called more than nine thousand professional ball games over the course of his 58-year career / Has been the voice of the Houston Astros since 1985

• You’ve got to be yourself once you turn on the microphone.

• You have to realize that you’re painting a picture. And that people who are listening are using their imagination. When you talk about something that’s going on—if a ball’s hit into the right-field corner or if a pop-up goes into the stands and a fan catches it— they have to be able to visualize it.

• A lot of people say I don’t forget anything. That’s partly true. I can talk about games that were played forty, fifty years ago, and I can tell stories about players who played many years ago.

• I keep more record books than anybody: a home run book, a stolen-base book, a shutout book, a complete-game book, a low-hit book. If it’s important enough to say somebody has done something, I want to be specific. So every night after a game, I go home and do my books.

• You might not use a stat or a fact that day—you might not use it for three days—but it’s like having a library card. If you need it, you have it.

• A lot of young announcers come to the ball game with ten or fifteen things written on their scorecard—things they’d like to work into a game. And I say, “Look, that’s fine. It shows you’ve done some research. But you can’t force stories into a game that aren’t meaningful. They have to fit.”

• If you’re gonna have someone in that booth with you, you’ve got to intermingle. You can’t be two people who sound like they’re talking in different directions. The secret is, you have to be a good listener.

• If you make a mistake, you’ve got to be honest and correct it right away. Fans understand errors. They understand that a guy can be in a slump and go 0 for 15, but they will not put up with a player not hustling. Well, it’s the same way in broadcasting. If you’re trying to fake it or cover something up, it doesn’t take them long.

• A good catchphrase happens naturally, and then it’s got to wear well. I’ve been saying “Holy Toledo!” since 1950. It’s a Midwestern thing. When I got into baseball professionally— my first job was in the old Three-I League—the first game I did I said, “Holy mackerel!” I don’t know why I blurted it out. But that was in the days when Protestants used to make fun of Catholics because they had to eat fish on Friday, so I got some bad mail. I thought, “Well, ‘Holy Toledo’ can’t offend anybody,” and I started saying it and I’ve been saying it ever since. Now everybody knows it. They make ball caps with it on them. It’s everywhere.

• No matter how long you’ve been doing it, something happens once or twice a week that you’ve never seen before. Baseball’s the most unpredictable game in the world.

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