Al Helfer

As “Mr. Radio Baseball,” Al Helfer’s voice accompanied ballgames on nearly every day of the week – and in nearly every market both at home in America and abroad.

Born in 1911, George Alvin Helfer was a 6-foot-4 football and basketball star at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. After serving overseas in World War I, Helfer began work as a reporter for the local Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and called University of Pittsburgh football games on WWSW. In 1933, Helfer made his first foray into baseball by re-creating Pirates games from ticker tape.

In 1935, Helfer headed west to join Red Barber in the Cincinnati Reds’ booth, but traveled back to New York two years later to call football games for CBS. In 1939, he reunited with Barber, who referred to Helfer as “Brother Al” on the Dodgers airwaves. He also made his first All-Star game call with Mutual that summer – a partnership that would later define his career.

Helfer’s second stint with Barber was again cut short when he enlisted in the Navy in 1942, serving three and a half years in European conflict during World War II. Upon returning to America, Helfer touched the other corners of New York’s baseball triangle with brief tours with the Yankees (1945) and Giants (1945, 1949).

The year 1950 saw Helfer get his big break as the voice of Mutual’s brand new “Game of the Day” broadcast special. Billed as “everything that happened, from where it happened,” the “Game” broadcasts shipped Helfer across America, from Boston to St. Louis on every day but Sunday. “Different game, different city” became Helfer’s adopted motto, and he later estimated that he logged four million miles in the air.

"Helfer never asked God for presence. It came, like manna, from above.”

Curt Smith, broadcast historian

“A guy in Oklahoma devoured baseball in the paper,” said Mutual broadcast executive Paul Jonas, “Now he’s hearing Helfer each day.”

The self-described “Ghost of Hartsdale” – in reference to his time away from home – finally signed off from Mutual in 1954 on the advice of his doctors. He returned to Ebbets Field in 1956 and on Sept. 24, 1957 announced the hometown “Bums” to the Brooklyn crowd before their final game in the borough. When the Dodgers left, Helfer filled the gap by broadcasting Phillies games to baseball-starved Brooklynites over New York television station WOR.

When baseball expanded west, Helfer rode the wave, making stops with the expansion Houston Colt. 45s (1962) and later the Oakland A’s (1968-69). He retired from big league booths following the 1969 season with 10 All-Star Games and six World Series calls to his credit with Mutual and NBC.

Al Helfer passed away in May 1975 in Sacramento, Calif.

“Helfer never asked God for presence,” wrote broadcast historian Curt Smith. “It came, like manna, from above.”

2016 Ford C. Frick Award Ballot

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