The first time I heard, "Holy Toledo!" it was my husband speaking, opening the first TCB podcast. Houston Astros fans know that David was doing an impersonation of Milo Hamilton. Unfortunately for me, since I didn't grow up in Houston, that was my introduction to the voice of the Houston Astros.
Fortunately for me, I got a chance to hear Hamilton in person.
"A Night of Baseball," featuring Milo Hamilton and Curt Smith, was held at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center in College Station on Monday. The event was hosted by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.
What followed was a conversation between Milo Hamilton and Curt Smith. Smith asked questions guiding Hamilton through childhood memories of baseball, his career, and calling games for the Houston Astros. Hamilton's early memories of baseball included listening to announcers--including pre-presidential Ronald Reagan--recreate baseball games. In the 1930s, it was too costly for announcers to travel to away games. So, announcers were telegraphed the plays, but it was left to them to embellish the game.
Hamilton's early career included announcing for the Atlanta Braves, where he called Hank Aaron's home run that broke Babe Ruth's career record. Hamilton had a winter to think about how he would call the imminent record-setting homer. In the end, Hamilton said he decided not to give a rehearsed announcement. Rather, he stayed true to spontaneity.
Finally, the conversation turned to the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, this included a lot of Smith leading questions with the statement, "Astros fans might want to forget this but..." [fill in the blank about a heartbreaking Houston loss]. Hamilton said he focuses on the game, even when the ball club isn't doing well. Baseball is unpredictable, and that keeps it interesting. Smith added, "Even when the Astros lose, they do so memorably." Even I laughed at that.
Hamilton also reminisced about the career of Craig Biggio, whom he claimed to be the most popular Astros player ever. Other topics included the move from the Astrodome to Minute Maid Park. This was a move from a "cookie cutter" stadium that served multiple purposes to a new old-style ballpark made specifically for baseball.
The evening ended with Q&A with the audience. One audience member asked to hear the famous catch phrase. Hamilton didn't oblige just yet. He first explained its origins. In his early days of announcing, Hamilton first tried, "Holy Mackerel," which did not go over well with audiences. He switched to "Holy Toledo!" because it was something his father and friends used to use instead of cursing. Hamilton tried it, and it became a part of baseball history.
Just like Milo Hamilton.
Hamilton ended the evening, exclaiming, "Holy Toledo! What a crowd!" The real deal!
After listening to Hamilton, I began to wonder if casual fans watching an Astros game at home might do better to turn the volume down on their TV and turn up their radio. If Hamilton is any indication, radio announcers offer more information and show more enthusiasm during a game. Helpful for someone just learning--or trying--to love the game!