Voices of the 1957 Braves

This article was written by Bob Buege

In Wisconsin during the mid- and late 1950s, the most recognizable voices in the entire baseball-crazy state belonged to Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh, the Milwaukee Braves’ tandem of radio broadcasters. In stores, on front porches, in open convertibles at stoplights, their descriptions and accounts of the games was unavoidable. Love-struck residents of the Badger State opened their hearts shamelessly to their new ballclub that arrived from Boston in 1953. Earl and “The Blainer” were the welcome house guests who brought their friends Spahn and Bruton and Mathews into people’s homes.

The pairing of Gillespie and Walsh resulted from what Earl called “a shotgun marriage.”1 Gillespie had been broadcasting the games of the American Association Milwaukee Brewers the previous two seasons on radio station WEMP. The Brewers’ chief sponsor was Miller High Life, “The Champagne of Bottle Beer.” Brewery president Fred Miller, the man behind the scenes who essentially brokered the deal for Lou Perini to move the Braves to Milwaukee, made it known that whichever station received the broadcast rights to the Braves games, he wanted Gillespie to do the play-by-play.

This created a problem. Milwaukee’s largest radio and TV stations, WTMJ and WTMJ-TV (owned by the Milwaukee Journal), also wanted to carry the Braves. The dilemma was quickly resolved. Both radio stations would carry the identical radio feed, with WTMJ’s sports announcer Walsh sharing the microphone with Gillespie. The idea of televising the contests was immediately quashed. For nine seasons Braves owner Perini simply refused to allow any of his team’s games to be televised. This was a curious decision since Perini had allowed every home game of his minor-league Brewers to be televised in 1948 and 1949, when hardly anyone even owned a TV.

Actually, Walsh was not Gillespie’s original partner in the Braves radio booth. Initially WTMJ assigned Walsh’s good friend Bob Kelly. Unfortunately for Kelly, it was expected that announcers would present a telegraphic broadcast of a different game on the Braves’ offdays. Kelly had never done one before, and when he messed up one of those re-creations, the station quickly named Walsh to work alongside Gillespie.

Even then the Gillespie and Walsh team was not fully formed. “At first Blaine didn’t travel to the games in the East,” Gillespie recalled years later, meaning New York and Pennsylvania. “Chris Schenkel was based in New York, and he worked the Eastern games with me.”2 That arrangement was short-lived. The Miller Brewing Company decided “The Blainer” should accompany the Braves on the road.

The chemistry between the two broadcasters was ideal. Gillespie was a high-energy, fast-talking master of the play-by-play. He made even mundane moments sound exciting. Walsh possessed a sonorous baritone voice and an easy, laid-back manner. They shared a sense of humor that often found them laughing uncontrollably on the air. They came across like two good buddies enjoying a ballgame, which they were.

In County Stadium a nylon screen connected the top of the backstop with the bottom of the press box, protecting patrons seated behind home plate from being drilled with a foul ball. Often a foul ball would roll up the screen toward the broadcast booth, and once in a while Gillespie or Walsh would snag one.

On July 28, 1953, the County Stadium crowd included a contingent of 5,000 visitors celebrating Waukesha County Night, honoring the geographic region west of Milwaukee. Waukesha radio station WAUX presented the broadcast team with a large fishnet to help them catch more foul balls. From that night forward the cry of “Blainer, get the net!” became a fixture on Braves broadcasts. The announcers had the horsehide souvenirs autographed by the players and delivered to children in local hospitals. Blaine and Earl quickly became as popular as the Braves on the field.

Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, a college student at that time, recalled, “I listened to Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh. I lived and died every game. They made a terrific team, as good an announcing team as I’ve ever heard.”3

Blaine Luke Walsh was born in Oconto, Wisconsin, on April 17, 1925. His father, Samuel Walsh, was a Republican state legislator at the time. Blaine acquired his rather uncommon first name in honor of Samuel Walsh’s political ally John J. Blaine, then Wisconsin’s governor. The governor sent the infant a silver ring in appreciation.4 Later, Governor Blaine successfully ran for the United States Senate, where he authored the bill that repealed Prohibition. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Sam Walsh later became a liquor salesman and ultimately a tavernkeeper in Suamico, a few miles north of Green Bay.

Before opening his first saloon, Samuel Walsh also taught high school for a short time. One of his pupils was Victoria Gierke. After Victoria graduated, they were married. They were both native to the area, he of Irish descent and she Belgian. Their marriage produced three children, Blaine, Richard, and Elizabeth.

At Green Bay West High School, Walsh played two seasons as a guard and center on the varsity football team under coach Faust L. “Frosty” Ferzacca, who later coached Marquette University. After graduating in the spring of 1943, Walsh received his draft notification a few weeks later. His 30 months in the Army included a year and a half assigned to the 248th Combat Engineer Battalion. His main duty was driving trucks as his unit constructed bridges in Germany and France. He was awarded four battle stars and was discharged in January 1946.

Nine days after returning home, Blaine met his future wife, June McClure. Recalling that happy time, June said that her sister Betty was engaged to a man named Jack Olson, who was Blaine’s best buddy in Europe. Betty used to send Jack photographs of home while he was in Europe, one of which was a picture of June. When Blaine saw it, he told Jack, “I would like a date with Betty’s sister June.”5

When Blaine returned to Green Bay, June saw him in person for the first time – in church. Jack arranged a blind date, and, according to June, “That was it – love at first sight!”6 They were married on August 24, 1947, in St. Patrick’s Church in Green Bay. In the course of their marriage, June and Blaine raised a family of nine children, six boys and three girls. The large family was perfectly in character. June had grown up in a family of 15 kids.

Home from the war and needing a job, Blaine Walsh tended bar in his father’s establishment, the Green Tavern, before finding work in a paper mill. Soon he gave that up and became a dispatcher for the Green Bay Fire Department. Someone from a local radio station heard him and told him, “Blaine, you have a beautiful voice. You ought to come to the station.”7 He did, and WDUZ hired him as a reporter. Later the station gave him the late night news spot. He stayed there for 16 months and then moved to rival station WJPG, newly created by the Green Bay Press-Gazette. At WJPG his colleagues included Bob Kelly. It was Kelly who in 1952 told Walsh about a staff opening at WTMJ in Milwaukee. Walsh interviewed and got the job. The day after Christmas 1952 he and June packed up the kids and moved to Wisconsin’s biggest media market.

Barely half a year later Walsh was in the limelight of the Milwaukee Braves radio booth at County Stadium alongside his former colleague from WJPG, Earl Gillespie. Together they served as the narrators of the amazing success story of the Milwaukee Braves, partnering for 11 years until Gillespie resigned his position. Blaine continued broadcasting Braves games, on both radio and television, during the club’s final two years as a Milwaukee franchise.

Broadcasting baseball was not Walsh’s sole responsibility for WTMJ. For example, in 1954-55 he dressed up in a space suit and served as the announcer for Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Baseball, though, transcended everything else.

Throughout their years with the Braves, Walsh and Gillespie were like part of the ballclub. They socialized with them and traveled with the players, not seated near the front of the plane with the brass but back among the fun-loving, uninhibited athletes. On Memorial Day 1961, Walsh inadvertently found himself in the midst of one of the more notorious incidents in the brief regime of manager Charlie Dressen.

The Braves had just split a doubleheader with the Phillies in Connie Mack Stadium. On the bus to the airport, en route to Pittsburgh, the players were their customary raucous, high-spirited selves. Walsh was seated on the aisle quietly reading a newspaper. Someone (the usual suspects were Spahn and Burdette) set it on fire – twice. This amused the players no end, but it infuriated Dressen. The little skipper had recently missed five games because of the flu, and he was not in a festive mood. In fact, he had managed that afternoon in street clothes and was still feeling sick. Arriving at the hotel in Pittsburgh, he warned that any player who left the premises that night would face a $500 fine.

Recently acquired Billy Martin piped up from the rear, “Anyone for a $500 sandwich?”8 Forty-eight hours later Martin was a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Besides doing color and play-by-play of the Braves games, Walsh did an interview show called Fan in the Stands starting 25 minutes before each home game. The technology of the 1950s required him to carry a mobile unit the size of a fire extinguisher as he strolled through the lower grandstand area of County Stadium, chatting with early arrivals about where they were from and what they thought of the Braves. They all liked them.

Walsh’s duties centered on but were not limited to baseball. He also gave the sports report on the local 6 o’clock news. When a new Sears Roebuck opened at an area shopping center (no malls yet), Blaine was on hand to cut the ribbon. When some civic organization needed a celebrity speaker at their luncheon, the affable Braves broadcaster always drew a good crowd.

Once in a while Walsh could be heard on a national sports hookup. Working with Jack Whitaker, he did the radio broadcast of the National Football League championship game on the day after Christmas 1960, the only important game that Vince Lombardi ever lost. Walsh also teamed with Ernie Harwell on the second 1961 baseball All-Star Game from Fenway Park, the first such contest to end in a tie.

At various times on the state network of WTMJ-620, depending on which station owned the broadcast rights at the time, Walsh also brought listeners the play-by-play of the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin football Badgers. In addition, he hosted a ten-minute radio program with coach Johnny Erickson before each home game of the University of Wisconsin basketball team for several years.

After Bobby Bragan became field boss of the Braves in 1963, Walsh served as host-moderator of The Bobby Bragan Show, a low-budget production showcasing the winning personality and baseball insights of the former Brooklyn Dodgers catcher and shortstop with the Alabama accent. As it became clear that the Braves were Atlanta-bound, Bragan increasingly became a polarizing figure in the Dairy State, a target of the Milwaukee fans’ feelings of betrayal. Nevertheless, June Walsh said she and Blaine found Bragan and his wife to be “a very nice couple.”9 Before Bragan left for Georgia he held a farewell dinner at a Milwaukee hotel. The Walshes were included in a rather exclusive list of invited guests and found the affair and the hosts to be quite charming.

Blaine Walsh also hosted a similar show with the leader of a different Wisconsin sports team. Beginning in 1962, the year in which the Packers won 13 games and lost only one, The Vince Lombardi Show took to the air. Lombardi was a living legend in Wisconsin. There is a much-told story, possibly apocryphal, that shortly after moving to Green Bay to coach the Packers, Lombardi, a devout Catholic, was introduced to the archbishop. Lombardi said to His Holiness, “I understand the Green Bay Packers are like a religion around here.”

“Oh, no,” the archbishop answered, “they’re much more important than that.”

True or not, Lombardi’s TV show quickly became required viewing in Packerland. The show was all business. Walsh would prompt the coach with questions and observations. The gap-toothed Leader of the Pack would show film clips and diagram plays on a chalkboard to explain why the Packers were successful and to prepare the viewing audience for the next Sunday’s game.

In order to tape segments with Lombardi, Walsh often had to go to the coach’s hotel room. More than once he returned home and told his wife that he had had to wait while the coach finished watching some cartoon on television. Walsh got along well with Coach Lombardi, who once gave him a book that he had inscribed, “To Blaine Walsh, the best interviewer I’ve ever had.”10

The Braves’ final season in Milwaukee found the fans hostile and few in number. On their final Opening Day in County Stadium, on April 15, 1965, however, a group called Teams, Inc., led by 30-year-old Bud Selig, paid the Braves $35,000 for the team’s share of the day’s receipts and promoted the game on their own. Their purpose was to pay tribute to the players and to raise money toward bringing in a new ballclub. More than 33,000 attended.

In a pregame ceremony, Walsh stood behind a microphone at home plate, calling off the names of the starting lineup from the 1953 opener. Most of the old-timers were in attendance, and each one ran to his old position as his name was announced. In the background, members of the Eddie Mathews fan club unfurled a huge banner that read, “Atlanta You Can Have the Rest, Leave Us Eddie Mattress Our Hero.”11 Other than the sportswriters, Mathews and Walsh were the only two participants from the ’53 season still actively involved with the Braves. One other nostalgic touch was the first-base position. Joe Adcock was in California with the Angels, so pinch-hitting for him was an old Class D first sacker named Earl Gillespie.

In 1966 Blaine Walsh was named Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year. With County Stadium vacant, he continued his football broadcasting and remained a staff announcer at WTMJ for the next couple of years, but much of his enthusiasm was gone. “He was burned out with WTMJ,” wife June said, “He didn’t like sitting behind a desk.”12

For some reason Walsh liked the Atlanta area, so in July of 1969, he and June moved there. Blaine and a couple of partners started a business in the suburb of Dunwoody, a combination service station/car wash with a truck-rental agency included. He also did some free-lance public-relations work. Later he sold the business and took a job with an auto-parts company.

At the start of September 1985, Walsh made plans to fly to Milwaukee. The Pen and Mike Club was honoring his longtime compatriot Earl Gillespie at the Nantucket Shores restaurant. Earl had recently announced that he would be retiring as sports director of WITI-TV6 in December. Walsh wanted to be there. He had not seen Gillespie in six years.

Blaine had not been feeling well recently. While visiting in Florida, June had received a frantic call from their daughter. “Dad had a heart attack!” she exclaimed.13 Walsh was hospitalized briefly, but the problem did not appear to be serious. Then, on the day when he was supposed to travel to Wisconsin, he felt worse.

“I just can’t go,” he told June.14 It pained him to miss his friend’s retirement luncheon, but he wasn’t up to it. He told June he would call Gillespie the next morning and explain why he had not been there. He knew Earl would understand.

“Be sure to remind me to call him tomorrow,” he told June before going to sleep.15

At 7:30 the next morning, June said, “I went in the bedroom, and he was gone.”16 He had died in his sleep in the night.

His last words, his last earthly thoughts, had been of his friend Earl Gillespie and the Milwaukee Braves.

Earl Gillespie knew from an early age what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a baseball player.

“I figured if I could make it in the big leagues and earn $9,000 a year, I’d be happy,” he recalled many years later.17

Of course, every boy in America during the Great Depression had the same dream. Earl’s wish, though, came true. He made it in the big leagues, but in a broadcast booth, not on the diamond.

Born in Chicago on July 25, 1922, Earl William Gillespie, Jr. was 7 years old when Wall Street collapsed. Earl and his kid brother, Gordie, knew hard times just like most of the country. They shared a bedroom in the basement of the home of their Grandmother and Grandfather Ross, who had immigrated from Scotland. Their mother, Isabelle Adam Ross Gillespie, was a native of Aberdeen. Grandpa Ross lived near Wrigley Field and worked as a steamfitter. Earl and Gordie’s family stayed with them because their mother was in poor health and their father could not find work. He lacked even an elementary-school certificate. Years later he was able to get a job as an accountant.

Gordie and Earl both possessed exceptional athletic ability. Gordie, 3½ years younger, earned all-state honors as a basketball center at Kelvyn Park High School. He achieved his most notable success, however, as a coach in three sports. As head football coach at Joliet Catholic High School, he guided his teams to four consecutive state titles. Among those he coached was the young man who inspired the film Rudy. Gordie coached for 59 years. When he finally retired in 2011, his baseball teams had won 1,893 games, almost certainly the highest total of any coach in the nation.

Earl Gillespie saw a clear path to baseball’s major leagues, and it ran directly through Chicago’s Lane Technical High School. Lane Tech was a massive public high school with a student population of 7,000 boys. The school produced standouts in many sports, and thanks to legendary baseball coach Percy Moore, it produced Phil Cavarretta.

Largely forgotten today, Cavarretta in his day was a sensation in the Windy City. He signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs while still a student. He graduated from Lane Tech in 1934 and within a week was playing ball at Class B Peoria. In his first game as a professional, still only 17 years old, he hit for the cycle. In September he was called up to the big leagues. The following spring, Cavarretta was the Cubs’ starting first baseman, and in October he was playing in the World Series.

Earl idolized Cavarretta. Like his hero, Earl was a lefty first baseman. He did not live in Lane Tech’s district, but he applied for and received special permission to enroll there. While Charlie Grimm’s Cubs were nailing down the pennant, Earl was matriculating at Lane Tech. He had to catch a streetcar very early every morning for the long ride to school, but he was able to play ball for Percy Moore.

Earl missed much of his junior season after he broke his leg while sliding into home plate. As a senior, though, he batted over .500 and led Lane Tech to the city championship game. He slammed a pair of doubles against the left-field wall in Wrigley Field in the title game, but Lane Tech lost to rival Steinmetz High School.

After graduation Earl signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox that, according to brother Gordie, paid Earl $75 a month. The White Sox assigned him to the Jonesboro White Sox in Arkansas, their lowest farm club. Gillespie said that before playing even one game he was sold to the St. Joseph Autos of the Michigan State League. He was beaten out of that job by a 28-year-old veteran. “I was broke,” Earl recollected, “and I had to hitchhike home.”18 He worked out with the Madison Blues until he was able to find a place in the Wisconsin State League.

“I stayed at the Cardinal Hotel in Madison,” he recalled, “and I did odd jobs. I ran the elevator, dried dishes, and ran the scoreboard in the barroom.” He was 17 years old. “I finally caught on with the Green Bay Blue Jays.”19

In his second year with Green Bay (for that one season they were called the Blue Sox) he was a teammate of Andy Pafko. That was Gillespie’s best year at the plate (.283). The Blue Sox finished first in the standings. The postseason tournament fell victim to seven straight days of rain and was canceled.

In 1943 Gillespie’s baseball odyssey was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the Navy. He passed a test to get into Officer Candidate School in the Marine Air Corps. He received his flight training in Pensacola, Florida. He flew Corsairs off an aircraft carrier. The Corsair was one of the newer fighter planes in the Pacific Theater. Gillespie was sent to Okinawa, but while he was en route, the Enola Gay dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and the war quickly ended. Gillespie “reached Okinawa and stayed there doing mop-up stuff for a year or so” before being discharged, his son John said.20

In 1942, before entering the military and while playing ball for the Blue Jays, Gillespie had stopped in one night at Oliver’s Ice Cream Shop in downtown Green Bay. If this sounds like a Currier and Ives moment, it was. Drawn by the lure of a milkshake or sundae, Earl met a cute young lady named Margery Boland. Earl did not have an automobile; Marge did. They began dating, and on July 22, 1944, they were married in Florida while Earl was on leave before heading to the South Pacific.

In 1946 Gillespie was back playing first base for the Blue Jays for the fourth year. “I think I’m the only guy who played that long in Class D,” he often said. “So much for my talent.”21

During that season Gillespie injured his shoulder. He was called Lippy and Gabby by his teammates because he never stopped talking. While the injury kept him out of the lineup, the team’s radio announcer, Al Michaels (no, not that Al Michaels), asked him if he wanted to put all that chatter to work by doing a few innings of play-by-play in the radio booth. “That was actually the beginning of my broadcast career,” Gillespie often told people.22

Gillespie tried selling real estate for his father-in-law’s realty firm, but it was not for him. Fortunately for Gillespie, John Walter, the general manager of radio station WJPG, had seen his enthusiasm on the ball field, heard him in the booth with Michaels, and offered him a job. Earl took it.

Another big break for Gillespie came in 1951. Mickey Heath, radio announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association, retired. Red Smith, Gillespie’s former manager with the Green Bay Blue Jays, was the Brewers’ general manager. He recommended Gillespie, and Earl became the voice of the Brewers. The Brewers proceeded to win the Little World Series under Charlie Grimm in 1951, giving Gillespie even more exposure and adding to his popularity.

Two years later, when Lou Perini moved his Boston Braves franchise to Milwaukee, Gillespie and partner Blaine Walsh were the broadcasters for the most sensational baseball team in America. The Braves set a National League attendance record, and Gillespie and Walsh received much of the credit for helping to create the excitement.

From the very start Gillespie became a trusted member of the Milwaukee ballclub. In spring training he often threw batting practice and worked out with the team. He had a uniform just like the players’, with a large number 0 on the back. One time Gillespie was pitching BP when Joe Adcock ripped a vicious line drive that narrowly missed Earl’s ear. Batting practice pitchers in those days did not work behind a protective screen as they do today. Manager Charlie Grimm witnessed the near miss and told Gillespie, “That’s it. If that ball hits you in the mouth, your career’s over.”23 That was Earl’s final mound appearance.

Whenever something exceptional occurred on the field, Gillespie could be expected to utter his pet euphemism, “Holy cow!” It was a phrase long associated with St. Louis broadcaster Harry Caray. Earl always denied borrowing it from the Cardinals’ announcer. He insisted it just came out naturally. Braves fans loved it. In their home Earl and Marge Gillespie had upward of a hundred knickknacks and statuettes of cows wearing halos, sent by loyal listeners. Gillespie’s popularity was further demonstrated by a toy company’s creation in 1961 of a statistical card game, the “Earl Gillespie Baseball Game.”

Besides Brewers and Braves games, Gillespie also did radio broadcasts of the other major sports teams in Wisconsin: the Milwaukee Hawks of pro basketball, Marquette University basketball and football, the Green Bay Packers, and University of Wisconsin football. In addition, he had numerous national broadcasts and telecasts. He did the play-by-play of the 1954 Detroit Lions vs. College All-Stars contest with Red Grange. He did radio announcing for National Football League championship games in 1953-55, baseball’s All-Star Game in 1955 from Milwaukee, the 1957 World Series, and the NFL Playoff Bowl from Miami in 1964.

In 1964 Gillespie took over the telecasts of the Green Bay Packers from Ray Scott. Scott was a legendary minimalist (Starr … Dowler … touchdown!) who started doing the Packers’ TV games in 1956 when the team was awful and rode the victory train into the Lombardi dynasty. In ’64, though, after a dispute with CBS about splitting the game with the other team’s announcer, Scott stepped aside and Gillespie moved in, working alongside color man Tony Canadeo. Earl relished the opportunity, but he was also doing Wisconsin Badgers games on Saturdays. His travel schedule became a nightmare. For example, on Saturday, November 14, he worked the Badgers vs. Illinois in Champaign. He left the game during the fourth quarter, caught a plane to Chicago, then caught a different flight to San Francisco to get to Kezar Stadium for the Packers vs. 49ers on Sunday. The next year Scott patched up his differences with the network and returned, so Gillespie’s TV career with the Packers expired after one season.

Gillespie’s array of broadcasting experiences was impressive, but for Braves fans nothing surpassed his call of the final moments of the 1957 World Series. Here he is in Game Seven, with two out in the bottom of the ninth: “The outfield around to the left. McDougald is on at third, Coleman is at second. Tommy Byrne the baserunner at first. Hank Aaron is pulled around in left center field. A breeze is blowing across from left to right. Burdette’s pitch. Swung on, lined, grabbed by Mathews who steps on third – and the World Series is over and the Milwaukee Braves are the new world champions of baseball!”

By far Gillespie’s longest-running gig was his 31 years doing radio broadcasts of University of Wisconsin football. In all those hundreds of games, two stood out in his memory. The first was on October 11, 1969, Parents’ Day at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers had gone 23 straight games without a victory (one tie). Second-year coach John Coatta had yet to find out what winning felt like. Wisconsin was trailing Iowa 10-0 at the half and 17-0 in the third quarter. Somehow the Badgers rallied and won, 23-17, on a fourth-down, 17-yard pass with a minute to go. Sixteen years later Gillespie told Bob Wolf of the Milwaukee Journal, “I can see Randy Marks in the end zone after catching the winning touchdown pass. My son John was spotting for me, and he actually cried.”24

Gillespie’s other favorite Badger moment occurred on Homecoming afternoon, November 2, 1985, against Indiana. Once again the Badgers were on a losing streak, this time a modest four games, all of them Big Ten Conference games. This time, however, the thrill was personal for Gillespie. Coach Dave McClain and athletic director Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch had arranged for Earl to lead the Badgers as they charged out of the tunnel and onto the field. “You can’t imagine how much that meant to me,” Gillespie said proudly. “I even talked to the squad in the locker room before the game.”25 To cap the experience, Wisconsin erased a 14-0 deficit and defeated the Hoosiers, 31-20. Gillespie said, “After the Badgers had won, they voted me the game ball.”26

For 11 years Blaine Walsh and Earl Gillespie brought Wisconsin listeners the excitement, and the disappointments, of the Milwaukee Braves. In 1963, tired of the travel and perhaps foreseeing the sad future of the team, Gillespie resigned to become sports director of WITI TV-6 in Milwaukee. He suddenly had weekends free and a regular schedule. He and a few colleagues presented the news at 6 and 10 P.M. One of those co-workers was a smart-alecky hand puppet of a cat that, at least nominally, forecast the weather. Albert the Alleycat, the creation of puppeteer Jack Du Blon, spoke in a fractured Brooklyn accent, mispronounced words (the humidery is 65 percent) and names (our movie tonight is “The Magnificent Seven” starring Elly Wall-utch), and told outrageous jokes (There’s an experiment to cross a turkey and a kangaroo. It would be the first bird you can stuff from the outside). From off-camera came the hearty laugh, à la Ed McMahon, of Earl Gillespie, enjoying himself as always. Said Mary Kay Hayes, Earl’s daughter, “Dad loved working with Albert.”27

Mary Kay also remembered that when her father started working at Channel 6, “They told him the number one sport in Wisconsin is fishing. He took up fishing and fell in love with it.”28 Gillespie developed a whole new audience with his folksy outdoor show Earl Goes Fishing. One of his frequent partners in the boat was son John, who followed his dad’s footsteps as a TV sports director and then the star of a long-running outdoor adventure program called Wisconsin’s Waters and Woods.

Earl and Marge had three other children besides Mary Kay and John: Trish, Margie, and Michael. Michael was killed by an automobile when he was just 4. Marge died of cancer in May 1984. In 1985 Earl married Bettye Gilles. She passed away on March 22, 2009.

Gillespie was sometimes criticized for being too close to the athletes, too friendly, to maintain objectivity. He remained unrepentant. “I see nothing wrong with rooting for our guys,” he would say.29

He told the story of the day the Packers fired Bart Starr as coach. “He walked out of the room, and I followed him into the hallway. There were tears in his eyes, but the first thing he asked me was how my wife was. She had been sick then. Then he asked me if I wanted a one-on-one interview. That’s what friendship means.”30

Earl Gillespie died of respiratory failure on December 12, 2003. He was 81.

 

This biography is included in the book "Thar's Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves" (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.

 

Sources

Chapman, Lou, “It Was Sportswriter vs. Braves in Battle Over Move,” Milwaukee Sentinel, November 21, 1979.

___________, “That’s Why the Former Baseball Player Traded His Glove for the ‘Mike,’” Milwaukee Sentinel, April 15, 1956.

Dobish, Alex, “Blaine Walsh Is a Big Leaguer Now,” Milwaukee Journal, May 9, 1954.

Drew, Michael H., “Milwaukee Studio Notes,” Milwaukee Journal, November 22, 1964.

Gonring, Mike, “The Earl of TV Sports,” Milwaukee Journal, December 14, 1976.

Johnson, Chuck, “New Look, New Voice,” Milwaukee Journal, September 13, 1964.

Karius, Joe, “State Teams Love of Gillespie’s Life,” Milwaukee Sentinel, July 15, 1985.

Smith, Curt, The Storytellers, (New York: Macmillan, 1995).

Silvers, Amy Rabideau, “State Loses Sports Voice of Golden Era,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 13, 2003.

Tusa, Rosa, “Earl’s Girl – Keeper of the ‘Holy Cow!’” Milwaukee Sentinel, September 25, 1957.

Vandenberg, Bob, “Living High Life: Milwaukee Was a Magical Place To Be in 1957,” Chicago Tribune, July 18, 2007.

Wells, Robert W., “Embers of Fans’ Old Love for Braves Still Glow,” Milwaukee Journal, April 16, 1965.

Wolf, Bob, “34-Year Thrill for Gillespie,” Milwaukee Journal, December 12, 1985.

________, “Walsh’s Voice Lives in Memory,” Milwaukee Journal, September 12, 1985.

“Blaine Walsh, a Voice of the Braves, Dies,” Milwaukee Journal, September 5, 1985.

“Gillespie Takes Over for Scott on Packer TV,” Milwaukee Sentinel, August 5, 1964.

“Scott Replaces Gillespie on Packer TV,” Milwaukee Sentinel, April 30, 1965.

“Sportscaster Walsh Leaves WTMJ Job,” Milwaukee Journal, January 8, 1969.

Telephone interviews with Gordie Gillespie, John Gillespie, Mary Kay Hayes, and June Walsh.

 

Notes

1 Bob Wolf, “34-Year Thrill for Gillespie,” Milwaukee Journal, December 12, 1985.

2 Bob Wolf, “Walsh’s Voice Lives in Memory,” Milwaukee Journal, September 12, 1985.

3 Bob Vandenberg, “Living High Life: Milwaukee Was a Magical Place To Be in 1957,” Chicago Tribune, July 18, 2007.

4 June Walsh, telephone interview, November 30, 2012.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Lou Chapman, “It Was Sportswriter vs. Braves in Battle Over Move,” Milwaukee Sentinel, November 21, 1979.

9 June Walsh interview.

10 Ibid.

11 Robert W. Wells, “Embers of Fans’ Old Love for Braves Still Glow,” Milwaukee Journal, April 16, 1965.

12 June Walsh interview.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Bob Wolf, “34-Year Thrill,” Milwaukee Journal.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 John Gillespie, telephone interview, December 1, 2012.

21 Curt Smith, The Storytellers (New York: Macmillan, 1995), quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

December 13, 2003.

22 Earl Gillespie, quoted in Milwaukee Sentinel advertisement for WITI TV-6 News, February 16, 1974.

23 Curt Smith, The Storytellers, quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

24 Bob Wolf, “34-Year Thrill,” Milwaukee Journal.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Mary Kay Hayes, telephone interview, December 1, 2012.

28 Ibid.

29 Amy Rabideau Silvers, “State Loses Sports Voice of Golden Era,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

December 13, 2003.

30 Joe Karius, “State Teams Love of Gillespie’s Life,” Milwaukee Sentinel, July 15, 1985.