This article was written by Ted Patterson
This article was published in the 1974 Baseball Research Journal
As a kid pitcher he was called “School Boy” Hoyt — for he was only 15 years old when he signed to pitch for the New York Giants in the National League. The year was 1915. Not wanting the youngster to develop a swelled head, the Giants gave him a snappy bonus of $5 for inking a contract. After all he was just in his second year at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, the city of his birth, and was living in an age when five dollars went a long way. To safeguard his son’s new found wealth, his father took away the cash immediately, saying it was too much money for a kid to carry around with him.
Waite Hoyt was an all-around athlete, playing football and later professional basketball, which he abandoned as a precaution against injuring his talented right wing. Success in baseball, however, did not come instantly to the young school-boy phenomena and by the time he made it to the Majors to stay in 1919, he had apprenticed with several minor league teams, and finally the Baltimore Drydocks, an industrial team. It was while he was with the Drydocks that the boss of the Boston Red Sox, Ed Barrow, invited young Hoyt to pitch the Sox batting practice when they played in Washington. Liking what he saw, Barrow asked the teenager to journey to Boston to pitch in front of the Red Sox brass. Again, impressive, it wasn’t long after that the now 19-year-old right-hander was securely under the big top for good. His first start ended in a 12-inning, 2 to 1 victory over the Detroit Tigers. One of his teammates on the Red Sox was a young pitcher-turned outfielder named Babe Ruth, whom he followed to the Yankees by one year. For both, as history would later prove, it turned out to be the greatest break that ever happened.
In two seasons with Boston he had won 10 games and dropped 12, but in 1921, his first with the Yankees, he finished at 19-13. And in the first of the city World Series between the Giants and Yankees, which was also the first World Series ever broadcast, he pitched three complete games without relinquishing an earned run. In 27 innings, Waite was to give up just two unearned runs, but one was to cost him a 1-0 decision. He had defeated Art Nehf, his pitching opponent in their first two outings 3-0 and 3-1 before his luck ran out. This feat remains today as one of his top thrills in baseball.
It was during the season of 1921 that Waite Hoyt experienced his first confrontation with radio, an area that he was later to distinguish for almost 30 years, 24 of them as the- play-by-play broadcaster of the Cincinnati Reds. One of his neighbors in Brooklyn, where Waite lived, invited the star hurler in to see a set he erected. “I went in and there in the front room, a converted bedroom, sat the first radio I had ever seen. The equipment was so bulky that it took up one entire wall of the bedroom. The set, which could send or receive signals, was tuned to KDKA in Pittsburgh, and I remember being completely flabbergasted at the thought of sounds coming from that box.”
The Yankees meanwhile were in the midst of launching one of the greatest dynasties in the annals of sports and in the next 10 years, Waite’s win totals were always in double figures. His greatest campaigns came in 1927 and 1928. In 1927 he won 22, lost 7 and won the only game he started in the World Series — a four game sweep of Pittsburgh. It is this Yankee club, with its balance of pitching, speed, defense and power that has been voted the greatest baseball aggregation ever assembled. Managed by the immortal Miller Huggins, the 1927 Yankees were led by Babe Ruth, who smashed his record 60 home runs, and young Lou Gehrig, who drove in a record 175 runs. They were ably supported by players like Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel, and a pitching staff of Hoyt, Herb Pennock, George Pipgras and Wilcy Moore, that helped record 110 wins and the Series.
It was in the weeks before the 1927 World Series that Waite made his first appearance before a radio microphone. “We had won the pennant by Labor Day so we virtually had the month of September off. NBC asked me to drop by WEAF every Monday night for 15 minutes to talk about the Yankees and the season in general. Time wasn’t a factor in those days so I would often go over the allotted 15 minutes with no repercussions whatsoever.” Waite was on for four consecutive Mondays and received some impressive reviews from the New York press.
Graham McNamee was by this time NBC’s top radio voice and was now preparing for his fifth World Series broadcast in 1927. Two years before, Hoyt had heard him describe the World Series which pitted Washington against Pittsburgh. “I was somewhat shocked,” says Waite, “when I first heard McNamee report the game. He would say ‘strike one’ and then shift his thoughts to describing what famous personages were sitting in the stands. Sometimes he would glance back on the field just in time to say, ‘Oh! There’s a hit!’” Waite never will forget McNamee talking about the Pittsburgh pitcher throwing a curve ball to Joe Harris, the Washington right fielder. “I remember telling a friend who was listening with me that if Harris gets another curve ball — watch out! Well, on the very next pitch he hit a curve ball over the wall.”
Waite won 23 games in 1928 and because of it was given a contract calling for $20,000, the most he ever earned in one season. In 1929 his record slumped to 10-9 and on Memorial Day, 1930, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. It was around Labor Day of 1929 that Miller Huggins, the small but stern Yankee manager, called Hoyt into his office and told him to take the rest of the season off so as to prepare for the following year. After much deliberation he accepted Huggins advice. This was the last time he saw his manager alive as Huggins passed on just a couple of weeks later. Today, Waite calls Huggins, “The most analytical, psychological and philosophical force in the success and advancement of team or player that I have ever seen. I have not encountered his equal.” Before his career culminated, Waite had played for Huggins, John McGraw and Connie Mack, three of the game’s legendary field generals. It was in June, 1931; when the A’s picked up
Waite on waivers and he helped pitch Philadelphia into his seventh World Series.
After spending several years with Pittsburgh, he closed out his career with Brooklyn in 1938. He was 38, and he had 237 victories to his credit against 182 losses. In recalling the day he received his pink Slip, Waite remembers that when he arrived at the Dodger clubhouse he ran into a rather dejected looking Heinie Manush. “He whispered in my ear that he had just been released. After offering my condolences I walked over to my locker and there was a telegram on the stool. After reading it through, I quickly yelled to Manush, ‘Hey Heinie, I’ve just joined you. Wait up and we’ll leave together.’ It took awhile for it to sink in, but I soon realized that my baseball days were behind me.”
Even though there was an agreement among the three New York clubs that, in effect, prohibited the regular broadcasting of baseball games because the owners thought it would detract from the gate, Waite still managed to break into radio even before his playing days were over. It was during the winter of 1937 on a daily 3-1/2 hour program on WMCA called Grandstand and Bandstand. The show’s sponsor was Wheaties. Waite was just one member of a large cast. Ken Strong, the great football star, was also on the show, and there were several actors and actresses who took part. “The show was remarkable,” says Hoyt, “in that it ran for eight years and that so many people were involved, including a 36-piece orchestra.” The next year he had his own 15-minute sports program on WNEW. “I was so naive in radio technique that I knew nothing about timing. I would write pages on Honus Wagner and then get only half through by the time the show ended. I eventually learned, but there was nobody there to school me.”
One thing happened on his show that was to point out the power of radio and the drawing power that Waite could generate. Art Flynn, the New York representative of The Sporting News, came to him one day saying, “We’re trying to get rid of 400 baseball oddity books and would like to do it on your program. We might be able to give away a few hundred anyway.” “Sure”, answered Waite. “Come on the show tomorrow night and we’ll offer them to the public.” On the show, Waite told the unseen audience that if they desired a book to send in a post card by midnight of the following day. “How many requests do you think we got — 7300! We thought if we gave away 200 we would be doing well.” Since a commitment was made the FCC forced The Sporting News to set the plates and print up the needed books — to the chagrin of publisher J.G. Taylor Spink
When World War II broke out, Waite was doing the after-game shows of the Dodgers. “It seemed like I was in competition with all the prime ministers and dictators of other countries because the station would think nothing of interrupting a game to air the speech of one of the world leaders.”
What irked Waite more than anything else in his early days in radio was to have professional announcers trying to tell him how the game of baseball should be played. “You’d think some of these fellows wrote the book of baseball. You never really know baseball until you put on a pair of cleats and get out and play it; and if you play for five years, you still don’t really know what it’s about.”
Getting the opportunity to be around baseball, such as he experienced with the short shows from the ballparks, was a wonderful tonic for Waite since he had hung up the glove and cleats for good. After a while, as he began to master the techniques of broadcasting, he beckoned for a shot at play-by-play. It was evident, however, that he wasn’t going to get his chance in New York because the stations there were under the misconception that ballplayers lacked a sufficient vocabulary. That mixed-up thinking is illustrated in reverse today by the trend of putting ex-athletes into lucrative broadcasting positions. The pear-shaped tone advocates and those who specialized in stilted annunciation were the announcers in demand in the late 1930’s and it was impossible for Waite, whose delivery was undignified but pleasant, to crack into their ranks. He wasn’t even permitted to audition. “They just didn’t want me!”, he is quick to say without any trace of bitterness. “I think the radio heads felt I knew too much about baseball and in those days they didn’t want somebody like me making a fool of one of their so-called authoritative reporters. They just didn’t want to look bad. I even tried to get a job as an assistant and was turned down.”
It was in the latter part of 1941 that radio station WKRC in Cincinnati, in search of a new radio personality to broadcast the games of the Reds, approached Waite with a firm play-by-play offer. Even though his only contact with Cincinnati had been as a visiting ballplayer, and he knew nothing about the city, he accepted on the spot. He soon found out his job wasn’t going to be an easy one; however, as two other Cincinnati stations were also carrying the Reds broadcasts. Sam Baiter and Al Stephens were heard on WSAI, with Roger Baker and Dick Bray representing WLW. Waite’s partner was Dick Nesbitt. Exclusive contracts were still a few years away.
Several obstacles confronted the pitcher turned sportscaster when he began doing the actual game-by-game reports. The most pressing problem at first was learning how to score a. game. “Even though I had played in the Major Leagues for 20 seasons I had never learned to keep score, and so I had to invent a system of my own. Another problem I had when I began in play-by-play was that I thought the broadcaster would have plenty of time to elaborate on plays or to tell stories and reminisce. I found that there was very little time to do any of this.” “The Great Race”, another obstacle which developed between the three rival stations in their desire to scoop the other on what was happening on the field, was a “great misconception” according to Hoyt. “How could anyone be listening to three stations at once unless he was trying to draw a deliberate comparison.” Nonetheless “The Great Race” became an early fact of life as he became hardened to the role of a baseball broadcaster. “To tell you the truth, I had many adjustments to make,” says Waite, today, in thinking back. “I was never very good, whether I was pitching or broadcasting, in initially getting off the mound. I was a lousy auditioner and many have told me I sounded as if I was reading Latin.”
“When I joined WKRC they were very concerned over my ability to ad lib or speak extemporaneously, which was an unknown factor up until that point. This was very ironic because in later years I was to talk over two hours straight during rain breaks without benefit of scripts or other aids. The fact that my first year with the Reds was during the early days of U.S. involvement in World War II also made it hard because no one knew if baseball was going to suspend action or if the players were going to be drafted.”
The only memory he has of his inaugural broadcast in Cincinnati in 1942 was that he asked his wife to listen to all three stations and form her opinions on the announcers. “Although she didn’t know a thing about baseball or broadcasting, she was able to tell me that Baker was rather smooth and cultured in his speech and that I would have to get the rough edges off and learn to speak without hesitating and with more decision. As time went on, though, I profited through the process of elimination of my own mistakes.”
When he began with the Reds in 1942 there was just a scattering of former players who had made the transition into top flight broadcasters. Jack Graney in Cleveland, Harry Heilmann in Detroit, and Frankie Frisch in Boston were the most prominent. “The athlete-announcers of today don’t realize how tough we had it at first because those so-called professionals who had preceded us had schooled the public wrongly. We had to break down all the misconceptions, the misinterpretations of rules, and the vernacular that our predecessors had interpreted according to their own whimsy.”
With his casual but sincere, matter-of-fact style, Waite became a tremendous favorite with the fans in the Cincinnati area. As the years went by he became as much a part of the club as the players themselves. Twenty seasons of big-league experience, where he had associated with some of the game’s greatest stars, gave him a wealth of anecdotal material to draw upon. His storehouse of memories and recollections of his pal and teammate, Babe Ruth, are incomparable. Listeners used to pray for rain so he would have the opportunity to reminisce about days gone by. Whereas all other stations would return to the studio for some recorded music when there was a rain delay, Cincinnati fans crowded closer to their radios to hear Waite tell about the Big Guy (Ruth) when he was in his prime. He also used the rain breaks to try and get over the idea that everyone makes mistakes, including sports announcers. “I would try to philosophize and level with the people. I just did the best I could and that’s all anybody can do.”
By pursuing perfection, Waite Hoyt became, without really realizing it, one of the finest broadcasters in baseball. In the process, Cincinnati became his hometown and the Reds became his team. Through the good years and the bad, he remained at his post. In 1952, he pioneered the idea of the simulcast — reporting for both television and radio simultaneously. Cincinnati, with its staunch German traditions was a slow city to change. Thus, Waite was the last of the Major League announcers to abandon the telegraphic studio recreations. In 1961, after years of adversity, the Reds copped the National League pennant, and their broadcaster received one of his great thrills — being with a pennant winner again. “Cincinnati is my town,” he is quick to say. “I pay my taxes here, my son was brought up here, my friends are here, my money was made her and I’ll be buried here.”
Twenty-four years and 4,000 games after Ellen Hoyt informed her husband that he needed more polish behind the microphone, Waite Charles Hoyt signed off the air for the final time from Crosley Field. The guy they once called “School Boy” formally bowed out after 50 years in baseball.
“The big adventure is over,” he said when he left the Reds broadcast booth. He didn’t leave without fanfare, however, as in response to the many, many requests from the fans, a “Waite Hoyt Day” was held at Crosley Field on Sunday, September 5, 1965. Before Hoyt called it quits, Russ Hodges, the voice of the Giants, said of him: “Waite Hoyt is authoritative. When he makes a statement there is no doubt as to its accuracy. When Hoyt says it’s so, the Cincinnati public goes by what he says. He gives a clean-cut description of the game, drawing a clear, positive picture for his listeners. His voice is really very fine. During the occasional lulls he dips into a vast sore of baseball knowledge. His stories of associations with such immortals as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, John McGraw and countless others are a delight for Waite’s fans. One thing I’m positive about,” concluded Hodges, “is the fact that he is just as fine an announcer as he was a player.”
The man who in the 1920s coined the phrase, “It’s great to be young and a Yankee,” reached the “pinnacle of all I’ve dreamed and hoped for” on February 2, 1969 when he was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. “There is nothing beyond it,” he said. “It’s a real privilege.” And right in character, Waite added, “It strikes me that a lot of other fellows haven’t gotten there that are more deserving, but – at any rate – I’m very happy about it. You see fellows going in that you played with and you sort of hope for yourself.”
“There aren’t many superlatives that can be used in a situation like this, to describe just what a fellow does feel. The feeling is one of such heightened emotion that it is hard to marshall my thoughts regarding it. When you entered pro ball you hoped you’ make the big leagues and then when you reached that pinnacle, you hoped you’d perform well enough to stay there. And when you are through, you wonder if you did well enough to be recognized. Sometimes you feel you could have done a little better if you tried a little harder and you wonder if you did as well as you should have. To a Major Leaguer the Hall of Fame is the zenith, the acme of everything he ever dreamt or thought could happen.”
It’s apparent that Waite Hoyt has excelled in anything he has ever attempted. There is not much more a man can accomplish in life than this. Sportscasters Hall of Fame, be prepared to swing open your gates. It won’t be long before a man named Hoyt graces your portals too.