SABR

John Gordon

This article was written by Stew Thornley.

He established his “Touch ’Em All” call for home runs in New York and had it resonate with fans in his first year at Minnesota, when the Twins won the World Series in 1987. John Gordon had also broadcast for a world championship team in Baltimore, in 1970, joining Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell in the midst of a run of pennants by the powerhouse Orioles.

John Gordon Gutowsky was born in Detroit on July 7, 1940. His father, Otto, was a manufacturer’s representative, selling wire, and his mother, Evelyn, a homemaker. He grew up with two older brothers, Otto, Jr. and Larry. Gordon spent a lot of time watching the Tigers at Briggs Stadium, a guest of his grandfather when he was younger and later as a soda vendor in the bleachers. At Redford High School Gordon pitched on the baseball team in addition to playing football and basketball. He accepted a scholarship offer to Indiana University from baseball coach Ernie Andres and pitched on the freshman team under Gene Ring.

Gordon was originally a health, physical education, and recreation major before taking a year off from school. When he came back, no longer a member of the baseball team, he switched his major to broadcast journalism. WFIU, the university’s radio station, provided football and basketball (which was still led by coaching legend Branch McCracken) broadcasts to a statewide network. Dick Enberg, then in graduate school, was the main announcer, and Gordon succeeded him in broadcasting for the teams. His broadcast partner became Pat Williams, then a graduate student at Indiana while also playing baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies organization during the summer. “John was an undergrad and we were thrown together,” recalled Williams. “We had so much in common—sports background, loved the whole scene, similar personalities: upbeat, enthusiastic. We clicked.”1

During the summers Gordon worked at a pair of radio stations in Saginaw, Michigan. When he arrived and introduced himself to WSAM program director Bruce Malle as John Gutowsky, Malle asked him what his radio name was. At that point, John Gutowsky became John Gordon in professional life (and remained John Gutowsky away from work). In Saginaw Gordon filled in where needed, on the control board as a disc jockey, writing copy, or monitoring Tigers broadcasts. After leaving Indiana he went to WCEN Radio in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where he broadcast football and basketball for Central Michigan University as well as two area high schools.

In February 1965 Pat Williams, now done playing, became general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class A team in the Western Carolinas League in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “I arrive full of vim and vigor ready to start my front-office career,” he said. “We’ve got a radio station to do the games but no broadcaster. I said, ‘I’ve got a broadcaster in the pipeline.’ I tracked John down in Mount Pleasant and said, ‘You ready to move south?’”2 Gordon and Williams worked and lived together for the next four years before Williams went to the Philadelphia 76ers to begin a prominent front-office career in the National Basketball Association, one that includes co-founding the Orlando Magic.

A promotional whiz who drew praise from Bill Veeck, Williams helped the Spartanburg Phillies lead all Class A teams in attendance in 1965 despite finishing seventh in an eight-team league. “We were promoting up a storm,” said Williams. “Every night was Mardi Gras. And John was our key voice. We’re promoting all that through the broadcasts, trying to capture the excitement.”3

Gordon expressed fond memories of the Phillies’ home, Duncan Park, a small ballpark built into the side of a hill and lined with trees. He said the park did not have a press box when he arrived, but he helped the son-in-law of the team owner build a modest structure with booths for the public-address announcer, broadcasters, and print media. More importantly, while in Spartanburg Gordon met Nancy Rasor, whom he married in 1968.

The 1966 and 1967 Spartanburg Phillies won the league pennant while featuring future major leaguers Denny Doyle, Larry Bowa, Barry Lersch, Ken Reynolds, and John Vukovich. In 1968 Gordon was honored as the South Carolina sportscaster of the year by the Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

After five seasons in Spartanburg, Gordon went to Baltimore and joined the WBAL broadcast team of Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell in announcing Orioles baseball. He estimated that he worked about 35 of the 50 televised games and 90 games overall each season on radio and television, as well as broadcasting football and basketball games of the US Naval Academy. The Orioles won the World Series in Gordon’s first year in Baltimore, the middle year of three straight pennants for the club. However, Gordon was the third announcer of the crew and got “weeded out”4 after the 1972 season when the National Brewing Company lost the broadcast rights to Orioles baseball.

He went to work for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, broadcasting football and basketball for the Cavaliers for the next three years before returning to baseball for the Columbus (Ohio) Clippers, a New York Yankees affiliate. He also announced football and basketball for Ohio State University. In 1979 the Clippers, managed by Gene Michael, won the International League pennant and playoffs with a pitching staff that included Ron Davis and Dave Righetti. With Joe Altobelli managing the team in 1980, Columbus won the pennant and playoffs again, but it was Gordon’s last year with the team.

At about this time he almost got a job broadcasting the Pittsburgh Pirates; when he did not, he planned to get out of baseball. He did sports on WTVN-TV in Columbus and broadcast the Liberty Bowl between Ohio State and Navy in late 1981. While in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl, Gordon got a call from Gene Michael, who had managed at Columbus while he was with the club in 1979. Michael, by this time with the parent team and a confidant of owner George Steinbrenner, asked Gordon if he wanted to come to New York to broadcast Yankees games. Gordon started there in 1982 and worked through 1986.

“New York was a great experience,”5 said Gordon, but the broadcast booth got crowded. In 1986 Billy Martin was part of the broadcast team, and Gordon was relegated to pregame and postgame broadcasts. He looked for other opportunities and one came up in Minnesota. In December of 1986, he flew to Minneapolis on the same plane with Tom Kelly (whom he had known when Kelly had played for Toledo in the International League in 1978). Kelly had finished the season as the Minnesota Twins’ interim manager and was going to interview for the position on a more permanent basis. Both Gordon and Kelly were successful in their job quests.

Dave Mona, then with WCCO Radio as well as an owner of Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin, a public-relations firm working with the Twins on a number of assignments, recalled the interview. “After the 1986 season the Twins, along with WCCO Radio and Channel 9, wanted to bring in some fresh broadcast talent,” wrote Mona in e-mail correspondence. “They put out the word through sports and broadcast channels and were flooded with audition tapes. There much have been 50-60 that made the first cut. A group of us listened to all of them and got it down to about 5 or 6. We were looking for someone who didn’t sound like everyone else and who had a good, strong call. I think we got it down to about five or six finalists and we brought in about four people. One of them was John Rooney, who ranked high on everyone’s list.

John Gordon’s tape set him apart from almost everyone else. It was amazing how casual most people were. They sent in maybe an inning or two from several different games. John’s presentation was maybe the most professional of the group. He actually included some production and narration. For instance, he would say, ‘A lot of my work with the Yankees is on putting together pre- and post-game shows. We want our fans to get to know the players. Here’s an example of a pre-game interview with . . .’ Now that may sound pretty common today, but 25 years ago, he got style points far beyond most of the competition.”6

Gordon and Rooney were both hired (the latter leaving after one season to broadcast for the Chicago White Sox), and Gordon worked on both television and radio for two years before switching exclusively to radio.

Regarding Gordon’s hiring, which came around the same time that the Twins interviewed, but did not sign pitcher Jack Morris, The Sporting News correspondent Moss Klein wrote, “The Twins may have blundered on Morris, but they did make a fine off-the-field move by adding John Gordon, formerly with the Yankees, to their TV-radio team. Within weeks, the hardworking Gordon will know more about the Twins and their inner workings and farm system than announcers who have been with the club for years.”7

Just as he had in Baltimore, Gordon showed up just in time in Minnesota to ride a championship wave. The Twins, after having finished sixth in the seven-team American League West Division in 1986, finished first in the West and then won the league playoffs and World Series in 1987.

Listeners were serenaded by Gordon’s home-run call of “Touch ’Em All,” which he had ample opportunity to use as the Twins, led by Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti, and Kirby Puckett, hit 196 home runs that season. Gordon told Minneapolis Star and Tribune reporter Jon Roe that he got the expression from Dick Enberg, his colleague at Indiana University. “I realized that Dick wasn’t doing baseball, and I started using it with the Yankees. But if there had been a lot of bad reaction from Twins listeners, I wouldn’t have used it anymore.”8

Gordon has had many broadcast partners in Minnesota with his longest run coming alongside Herb Carneal, a recipient of the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. Also a former Orioles announcer, Carneal called Twins games from 1962 until his death just before the 2007 season. As of 2010, Gordon had also worked with former Twins Dan Gladden and Jack Morris (who, after not signing with the Twins in 1987, joined the team in 1991, another championship season).

Gordon and his wife became active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in the 1990s started an annual “Touch ’Em All” golf tournament, which benefits the Fellowship, the Twins Community Fund, and Twins Chapel. Gordon appeared in the movie Little Big League, playing an announcer named Wally Holland.

Upon arriving in Minnesota, John and Nancy lived in the Twin Cities year-round. In 2008 they moved to Florida and started to rent a home in the Twin Cities during the baseball season.

They have two children. John, Jr. (who goes by Gordy and worked in the front office of the Cleveland Indians) was born in Spartanburg. He moved to the Twin Cities with his wife and two children. Jean was born in Baltimore and went to Indiana University, where she met her future husband. They have two children and live in Fortville, Indiana. Gordon is a past member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and loved Bob Davids’s Baseball Briefs column in the SABR Bulletin.

“He was a grinder,” recalled Pat Williams of Gordon. “If anybody built a foundation of good solid experience, it was John. He paid his dues at every level. He did not jump-start anywhere. With that kind of foundation, long-term success is much more likely.”9

 

Notes

1 Pat Williams, interview with author, April 22, 2010.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 John Gordon, interview with author, April 16, 2010.

5 Ibid.

6 Williams, interview.

7 [Klein, Moss. “A.L. Beat—Twins Killing: Failure to Let Morris Go Home.” The Sporting News, January 4, 1987, p. 60]

8 [Interview with John Gordon, April 16, 2010]

9 Telephone interview with Pat Williams, April 22, 2010]

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.