Jack Graney: The First Player Broadcaster

This article was written by Ted Patterson

This article was published in 1973 Baseball Research Journal

It has now been 86 years since John Gladstone “Jack” Graney first saw daylight in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he is still referred to as the finest baseball player in the city’s history. There he was known as “Glad” Graney, and during his days in the Big Leagues, whenever he heard a fan shout, “Hey, Glad”, he knew someone from his hometown was in the crowd. Today, far from the ballpark where he cavorted as the left fielder of the Cleveland Naps, later the Indians, and years after he announced the final out of the last game he ever broadcast, Jack Graney, along with his wife, Pauline, can be found comfortably tucked away in the corner frame house at 608 Court Street, Bowling Green, Missouri. They moved to the out-of-the-way hamlet to be near their only daughter and her family. Jack and Pauline lost their only son during World War II.

The memories flow freely for the athlete-announcer of another era, and no amount of work around the house can make him forget those times long ago. From 1932 until advancing age and the demanding schedule of major league baseball forced his exit from radio, Jack Graney was THE voice of the Cleveland Indians. He was there during the time of Earl Averill, Joe Vosmik, Hal Trosky, Willis Hudlin, Mel Harder, and Johnny Allen; through the heady years of Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, and Ken Keltner, and bowed out when Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Larry Doby, and Al Rosen were at their peaks. He tells you it is hard to forget his days spent in baseball.

Possessing a crisp, stirring delivery, Graney was a master at setting a scene and his enthusiasm packed a sense of built-in drama. His ability to re-create a game from just a telegraphic report has never been paralleled.

“My association with Jack Graney was one of the finest I have ever known,” affirms his last broadcasting partner, Jimmy Dudley.

“He was a tremendous announcer and taught me many tricks of the trade. Jack had an exceedingly high-pitched voice which generated more excitement than anybody else’s I have ever heard. Had he a voice like Ted Husing’s, he might be considered today with the four or five greatest sports broadcasters of all time.”

Baseball broadcasting has undergone immense changes in the last 25 years. Until his last few years as an announcer, traveling with the team to broadcast the “away” contests was unheard of. Only the home games were broadcast from the scene; the away games being re-created by telegraphic report.

It took a special talent to broadcast an entire ball game from several brief slips of paper while at the e time maintaining a semblance of realism and authenticity. It was sitting at a table broadcasting an event occurring hundreds of miles away that truly tested the mettle of a good baseball announcer. With a unique talent that combined accuracy and an electric enthusiasm, Jack Graney perfected re-creations into a highly precisioned artform which resulted in a legion of admirers. He says he had an advantage over the broadcasters from other cities because he had played in, and was quite familiar with, every American League park. When the telegrapher handed him a note saying a ball had just been hit off the scoreboard in right center field in Boston, Jack knew exactly where the spot was located because he had bounced off the e wall numerous times during his playing days.

“Actually I disliked re-creations,” he reveals today. “It was a dizzy job and more than once I’d wake up in the middle of the night in nervous fright over what had transpired in the enclosed studio the night before. So much had to be remembered. If I mistakenly positioned a baserunner on third instead of second, or had two runners inadvertently switched around in the order they had scored, I’d get hundreds of letters saying `Why did you have

Trosky scoring in front of Averill when it was the other way around?”

Many Clevelanders can still recall the time Jack was re-creating a game between the Indians and the Senators with his partner Pinky Hunter. Washington was in a jam and elected to change pitchers. They brought in a lad by the name of Joe Krakauskas, who was not listed on the scoreboard. The two announcers tossed the pronunciation hazard around all evening, neither one landing on the right combination. In spite of minor embarrassments like this, Jack was a resourceful man at the mike. He has a “top baseball broadcaster of the year” trophy from the Sporting News to support that contention.

The baseball announcers of 30 years ago were held in greater esteem than are the broadcasters of today. It was such a novel treat to listen to a game direct from the field, which was the next best thing to being there, that the fans developed a strong personal regard for the radio reporter. In fact, most of the early “voices from the field” reached legendary heights during and after their broadcasting careers. There was Ty Tyson in Detroit, Fred Hoey in Boston, Rosey Rowswell of Pittsburgh, Arch McDonald from Washington, France Laux in St. Louis, Hal Totten and Pat Flanagan in Chicago, and of course, Jack in Cleveland. They were magic names from a part of radio’s past that has gone the way of the dance band remote and, needless to say, the tickertape re-creations.

The man who endeared himself to two generations of Cleveland baseball fans considers his current physical condition as “fair to middlin’, just fair to middlin’”. He underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor eight years ago and made a remarkable recovery. His nose, which was whittled apart in a serious automobile accident in 1934, is similar to what a small child might come up with if handed some putty and told to go to work. But there aren’t many who remember his nose being any other way.

Graney’s American League career spanned 14 seasons, 1908 to 1922. He was never a star, playing in the shadows of the spectacular Napoleon Lajoie, after whom the team was named, Tris Speaker, Addie Joss, Jim Bagby, Steve O’Neill and others. A lefthanded batter, his lifetime average for 1402 games was .250, but he led in doubles once and bases on balls twice. Being the lead-off batter, he was ordered to take two strikes for the ball club and “one for Graney,” which didn’t make hitting any easier. One year, though, he did manage to bat .299.

However inconspicuous he might have been as a player, Graney managed to carve out several firsts as a major leaguer. Back in 1914 he had the distinction of being the first to hit against a raw lefthander for the Boston Red Sox named George Herman Ruth. As the lead-off man, Jack was also the first big leaguer ever to appear at the plate with a number sewn on his uniform. He remembers one particularly satisfying moment when Philadelphia was dominating the League. “In this game in Philadelphia, Eddie Plank was pitching and the score was tied. We had runners on second and third and Lajoie was walked intentionally so they could pitch to me. But their game plan backfired when I tripled home three runs to win the game.” His eyes still twinkle when he recalls that brief moment of glory which transpired some 60 years ago.

He refers to baseball as “my whole life” and like so many oldtimers who came before their time, he gave the game more than he received from it. It was a National League umpire named Bob Emsile, a resident of St. Thomas, who first took notice of young Graney, who was then a pitcher on the local team. Emslie convinced the Chicago Cubs to take a chance on the Canadian, and after stopoffs in Rochester, New York, Erie and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he was sold to the Naps, and went to spring training with them at Macon, Georgia. It turned out to be one of the worst mistakes of his life.

“I threw batting practice one morning and was so wild, each batter stood up to the plate over five minutes before I served up anything in the neighborhood of a strike. When Lajoie came up to the plate I wanted to give it everything I had because he was the manager of the team and one of baseball’s greatest hitters. That’s all I could think about, the boys back in St. Thomas sitting around the coal stove talking about how Jack Graney struck out the great Lajoie. I reared back and threw the fastest ball I had ever pitched and instead of striking him out I knocked him out. The ball glanced off the side of his head and bounded up into the stands. The next day I was handed a ticket to Portland, Oregon, by Mr. Lajoie who insisted that all wildmen belong in the West.”

In 1908, Jack returned to the big league for good, this time as an outfielder. Lajoie didn’t want to take any chances. In this year, the Naps had George Stovall on first base, Lajoie on second, Tuck Turner played third, and the catchers were Nig Clarke and Harry Bemis. Handling the bulk of the pitching were Joss, Dusty Rhoades, and Otto Hess. Jack remembers that he slept for two days with his uniform on. Nobody could take it off of him, but then, nobody tried.

He remembers trying to sleep in the Pullman cars on many hot summer nights and hanging a damp sheet over a propped-open window in an effort to generate a breeze. And facing Walter Johnson, the toughest pitcher he ever hit against, an oath echoed by several hundred other batsmen during the glittering career of “the Big Train.” Johnson threw nothing but fast balls, “But they would jump sometimes three feet,” Jack shuddered, as he stretched his arms in a manner like the fisherman describing “the one that got away.”

They talk about the domination of the pitcher in modern baseball and the wide assortment of pitches, but it was no different 50 years ago. According to Graney, “They threw everything.” The spitter was prominent then.

So was the emery ball, and the shine ball, “which was outlawed when big Dave Danforth of the White Sox hit Tris Speaker on the head and almost ended his career.”

He remembers his roomie, Ray Chapman, and the day he was fatally struck by a pitched ball thrown by submariner Carl Nays during an August 1920 game at the Polo Grounds. Sitting on the bench, Jack watched the ball collide with Chapman’ s head and them bounce back to Nays on the fly. With fractures on both sides of his skull and a neck that was broken, Chapman did not have a chance. After they rushed the ill-fated shortstop to the clubhouse, Jack, in his haste to revive his dying comrade, tried to get him to write something, but in a state of unconsciousness and moaning incoherently, Chapman dazedly dropped the pencil to the floor. It was a tragic episode in Cleveland baseball history and upset several of the players to the point of taking leaves of absence in order to try to forget what had happened on that black August day in New York. Joey Sewell was quickly summoned from New Orleans to play short and the youngster helped spark the Indians to the 1920 pennant and world championship.

In 1922 at the antiquated baseball age of 36, Graney drifted away from the game he loved after managing the last place Des Moines outfit of the Western League for a half season to help his friend Jim Dunn, the owner of the Cleveland club. He turned to selling automobiles and until 1927, when Ford changed its model types from “T” to “A” and shut down its plants for over a year, he operated a successful Ford agency in Cleveland. Stockholding and shrewd investing became the favorite pastime of the rich and the poor in the devil-may-care 1920s. Enthused over the thought of making a quick kill on the stock market, Jack invested his savings and lived contentedly for two years until the great crash of 1929 crippled the country and “knocked the legs right out from under me,” as he says, shaking his head slowly. This was the nadir in the life of John Gladstone Graney. In an effort to recoup his losses, he re-entered the car business, this time as a used car salesman. But this was short-lived as the depression left everyone’s pockets empty and forced people to survive on the barest of essentials. Nobody was buying cars, not even used ones.

By 1932 radio had become a powerful asset to baseball’s coverage and popularity. It was one medium that had been unaffected by the “Great Depression.” Tom Manning had been broadcasting the Indians’ games since

1927 on the team’s flagship station, WTAM, but after the 1931 campaign, the radio contract shifted to WBK, and a search began for a new announcer. Several candidates were auditioned, none of them successfully, and when it was obvious the right mixture needed to be a polished sportscaster was not going to be found in the group of applicants, Ellis Vander Pyl, the best of the mediocre crop, was chosen to announce the Cleveland games. The selection proved a poor one, however, as the sponsor was dissatisfied and threatened to quit the account unless an adequate broadcaster were found. Aware of the dilemma, Billy Evans, the Indians’ General Manager, quickly summoned Graney, also having his troubles, and within a few hours the problems of both parties were solved. “Before my first broadcast,” he will tell you, “I was so nervous I almost changed my mind and ran out of the booth.”

Baseball broadcasting provided a new lease on life for Jack Graney, and he was always to say that broadcasting was the next best thing to playing. His biggest thrill in radio occurred in 1935 when he was asked by the Columbia Broadcasting System to cover the World Series between the Tigers and Cubs. He had been asked to do the 1934 classic but was forbidden by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis because he might show partiality since he had played in the Junior Circuit. Graney was the first of what has become a long line of major leaguers to broadcast baseball. Perturbed and angered that the Judge would hold this against him, Jack wrote the commissioner a letter clarifying that “my playing days are over. I am now a sportscaster and should be regarded as such.” In 1935, he received no static from Landis.

Graney broadcast thousands of games and went through six partners (Bud Richmond, Gil Gibbons, Lou Henry, Pinky Hunter, Van Patrick and Jimmy Dudley) before he retired. One of the important occasions he remembers best was when the Indians pulled into Boston’s Back Bay train depot amidst the jeers of partisan Red Sox fans in l948, the day before the two teams played off for the AL pennant. The sight was determined by the flip of a coin and Boston won, sending nightmarish thoughts of Fenway Park’s left field wall up the spine of every Indian. “Gene Bearden was elected to pitch because he had the best chance of keeping the ball low and preventing any ball from sailing over the wall. The game was scoreless around the second or third inning, when third baseman Kenny Keltner, with runners on first and second and no outs, strode to the plate in an obvious bunt situation. After failing in his first attempt to lay one down, Keltner drove the next pitch over the left field wall to make it 3-0. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The Sox crumpled and the Tribe went on to take the World Series from the Boston Braves, four games to two, in what was Cleveland’s finest baseball hour.

“Yes, there are many memories,” he said in a wispy voice. The voice is unchanged, remarkably identical to the familiar echo so many thousands of fans identified with over a period of 21 years. From 1908, except for the spell between playing and broadcasting, until 1953, he was as much a part of Cleveland baseball as anybody.

“I always tried to give the fans an honest account,” he says in reflection. “It was a tremendous responsibility and at all times I kept in mind the fact that I was the eyes of the radio audience. I was like an artist trying to paint a picture. I never tried to predict or second guess, even though I had played the game. I just tried to do my best, and I hope my best was good enough.”

Don’t worry Jack, it was.