"I was never a homer. I was a fan of the Houston Astros and I wanted them to win, but my job was to report the game."
-- Gene Elston
Long time Astros radio and TV voice Gene Elston has been named recipient of the 2006 Ford Frick Award.
While the official website has quite rightly made this a top story on their front-page, this is less a victory for the club (who mistreated Elston for many years, when it comes right down to it) or its legacy, than for a tireless group of fans who for many years now have circulated the online petitions that kept Elston's name and work alive among those who prepare the ballots and make these kinds of decisions.
It's been awhile since I hung out at Speedy's, but perhaps some of you are familiar with the screenames James A and Houston Buff. Both are serious baseball men, and both had a good deal to do with Elston taking his rightful place in Cooperstown.
It probably seemed wrong to you this offseason when plainspoken Alan Ashby was let go from his radio duties by the club. Well, just imagine if Ashby had done radio and TV broadcasts in Houston since the inception of the baseball franchise. Before it, even*. If you can do that, you might get a feel for why the fans who were outraged when Elston was let go in 1987 have carried forward their fight for nearly 20 years.
Gene Elston called the first no-hitter in Houston major league history. He called Ken Johnson's losing no-hitter. He called both of Don Wilson's. And Larry Dierker's, and Nolan Ryan's fifth, and Mike Scott's. He called a crazy 24-inning game in 1968 that would remain the longest night game in major league history for most of the rest of the 20th century. He called three games that would clinch the NL West for the Astros. He called the strikeout that broke Walter Johnson's career record for Nolan Ryan. He called a bunch of Bob Aspromonte's grand slams, and eight consecutive strikeouts posted by Jim Deshaies to start a game.
And he called most of everything else notable that happened to the club in its first 25 years of existence, and did so with class and grace.
Congratulations to Mr. Elston, and to everyone who had a hand in the effort to get him properly recognized.
The official site has a few audio links to some of Elston's calls of great moments in Astros history, but the website that had been set up for Mr. Elston has a bunch more.
* Elston called games for the American Association Houston Buffs in 1961.