The Hall of Fame Remembers Gene Elston

Written by: Connor O'Gara

At a time when Major League Baseball was ever-changing, Gene Elston was one of its few constants.

Elston, who became the voice of the expansion Houston Colt 45s in 1962, believed in fulfilling his journalistic responsibility to the audience. Just as he stuck with the Colt 45s in their beginning stages, Elston stuck to his guns as a broadcaster.

"My theory has always been to let the fans know there is a no-hitter going in the seventh inning," Elston said about the “announcer’s jinx”. "I've called 13 no-hitters, and this superstition… is a lot of bunk. I wanted the audience to know what was going on."

Elston, 93, died Sept. 5, 2015 after battling declining health. The 2006 Ford C. Frick Award winner spent 47 years broadcasting baseball throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Elston made a name for himself as the lead radio broadcaster with the Houston Astros franchise, where he spent 25 years.

“I wanted to be a reporter, to let my listeners know what was going on,” Elston said. “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.”

I feel blessed to have been a part of such a great game for so long a time.

Gene Elston

Before his voice transcended Major League Baseball, Elston’s broadcasting career started in heaven – Iowa that is. Born in 1922, Elston began announcing high school basketball games in Fort Dodge, Iowa as a 19-year-old in 1941. Following serving the country in World War II, Elston got his first professional sports gig as the color commentator for the National Football League Cleveland Rams.

After eight seasons calling Minor League games, an opportunity arose with the Chicago Cubs in 1954. Elston signed on to be the Cubs’ No. 2 announcer in the booth. That opportunity led to Elston getting a job announcing Mutual’s Game of the Day with Hall of Famer Bob Feller, which aired over 350 stations across the country, a position he held through 1960.

With his foot into the door on the national baseball scene, Elston got his destination job in 1961 when the expansion Houston Colt 45s made him their play-by-play radio broadcaster. Even when the Colt 45s started their first three seasons with 96 losses in each, Elston stuck with the franchise when it changed from the Colt 45s to the Astros.

Elston’s patience was rewarded when he became a fan favorite calling games inside the newly built Astrodome. Elston’s home office became known as one of the “Eight Wonders of the World.” Whether it was a walk-off home run or one of several no-hitters he called, Elston’s voice was the soundtrack of historic moments in Houston. But Elston never got too caught up in moments to take away from his duties as a broadcaster.

“I’m outwardly not a very excitable person,” Elston said. “I probably am (excited) inside me. It’s like a duck swimming. You can’t see his feet going around. He’s excited, but he doesn’t show it.”

Following his 25-year tenure in Houston, Elston went back to national broadcasts. He worked the CBS Radio Game of the Week from 1987-1995 and CBS postseason games from 1995-97.

Though he retired from broadcasting after the 1997 season, Elston stayed involved in baseball. He wrote the book, "A Stitch in Time: A Baseball Chronology, 1845-2000.” Five years later, Elston won the Ford C. Frick Award, which is annually given by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to a baseball broadcaster who has given major contributions to the game.

“Now I have received [the] prestigious 2006 Ford Frick Award and to me this is truly awesome, and I feel blessed to have been a part of such a great game for so long a time,” Elston said during his acceptance speech. “Over the past years I have attended many baseball-related events, and have spent hours rubbing elbows discussing just about every facet of the game.

“This opportunity to see and feel the pulse of the fans face-to-face has been very uplifting following years of talking to unseen audiences.”

Connor O’Gara was the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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