It’s almost impossible to have been a sports fan during the 1980s and 90s and not heard Dick Enberg’s voice broadcasting any multitude of signature athletic events. But he learned in December 2014 that he would be the 2015 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting, Enberg called it the culmination of his professional life.
“I've loved this game as far back as I can remember, being teethed on a baseball bat,” said an emotional and humble Enberg, who turned 80 in January 2015. “To have this, and my love for a sport, it's too good to be true, especially in light of those who are so qualified to earn this Ford C. Frick Award.
“In a way I accept this honor today as saying, ‘Hey, Enberg, you hit a grand slam,’” added Enberg, who became the 39th winner of the Frick Award, earning the highest point total in a vote conducted by the Hall of Fame’s 20-member Frick Award Committee.
Raised in Michigan, Enberg began his broadcasting career as an undergraduate at Central Michigan and later broadcast both football and basketball games at Indiana. By 1968, Enberg was calling California Angels games, a position he held until 1978. He also called games of the Los Angeles Rams and UCLA men’s basketball team and joined NBC Sports in 1975, remaining with the network for 25 years while working assignments that included the MLB Postseason as well as Wimbledon, college football and the National Football League.
Despite leaving the Angels to join NBC, the team brought him back in 1985 to broadcast 40 games during the franchises 25th anniversary season. After moving to CBS Sports in 2000, Enberg covered events including football, tennis, basketball and golf before joining the Padres as their television play-by-play voice in 2010, a position he still holds.
“I've been lucky enough to receive a lot of wonderful honors in my life, but the investment that I have in this game of baseball going back to being a young boy is more than any other sport,” Enberg said. “The poetry of this game, there is so much more that gets deeply into the soul of me than the other sports. The other sports, they certainly are eye-popping, but baseball has its own wonderful slow pace that allows you to really absorb its beauty.”
The 14-time Emmy Award winner, recognized for his signature “Oh, my!” call, made his first trip to the Hall of Fame back in August 2007 to participate in a “Voices of the Game” event. It was there that he talked about the origins of his love of the national pastime.
“When I was four years old my grandfather owned a small grocery story in Mount Clemens, Mich., where I was born,” Enberg said. “I can remember him saying ‘Dickie, come in here. If you can answer this baseball question you can pick out some Superman bubblegum.’ I would study my baseball because I knew grandpa would give me some free bubblegum.”
Enberg’s fascination with the game continued after the family moved to Southern California.
“We lived in California during World War II. There was no major league baseball there but we had the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels,” Enberg said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my dad, whenever we could get two-for-one, we’d go to the ball park. So on Sunday we’d go to the doubleheaders of the Stars and the Angels.”
A fair athlete himself, Enberg’s friends knew he had a better future talking than playing.
“I was from a small farm town. I was a decent pitcher, so as a kid I was able to play on the town team, which was a big deal, but not good enough to win a varsity letter at Central Michigan University,” Enberg said. “My friends always used to say, ‘Hey Enberg, you thought you were a good athlete but you always talked a better game.’ So it worked out OK.”
Enberg still remembered the advice he was given only minutes before his first game as a big league play-by-play announcer.
“Fred Haney was the man I listened to as a very young boy calling Pacific Coast League games and now (in 1968) he’s the general manager of the Angels,” Enberg said. “He came into the broadcast booth about a half hour before the first pitch, and I’m very nervous, and he said, ‘Enberg, I heard you during spring training. I know you’re going to do a fine job for us. I just want to give you a little piece of advice: Report the ball. Don’t tell me what you hope the ball is going to do, what you think it’s going to do, why it didn’t do it. Report the ball.’ Then he said, ‘That’s all I have to say to you. I won’t come in your booth the rest of the year.’
“And it was a great gift that Haney gave to me because sometimes, especially on radio, when you are trying to paint the total picture, and when the pitcher backs off and refuses to throw the ball, it always took me back to the ball. And it works on all sports. When in doubt, report the ball.”
Enberg passed away on Dec. 21, 2017.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Dick Enberg - BL-4182-74 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)