Alone in a recording studio, with only pieces of telegraphic ticker tape in his hand, nobody could re-create the feel of a baseball game like Jack Graney.
Graney, the radio and later television broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians from 1932-53, worked much of his airtime in an era when mikemen did not accompany teams on their road trips. But as the first professional ballplayer turned broadcaster, Graney could often evoke his photographic memories of American League ballparks to paint tangible scenes for his listeners.
“When he talked you could smell the resin in the dugouts, feel the clean smack of the ball against bat and see the hawkers in the stands,” wrote Bob Dolgan of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “He made baseball sound like a sport.”
A native of St. Thomas, Ont., Graney was an outfielder and career .250 hitter over 14 seasons with the Indians. He experienced a number of firsts in the game, including being the first batter to face Babe Ruth as a pitcher in 1914, and the first to appear in a regular season game with a uniform number two years later. In 1920, Graney would help Cleveland capture its first World Series championship.
After retiring from the playing field in 1922, Graney briefly managed a Western League team in Des Moines, Iowa, and then opened a Ford dealership in Cleveland. When the Great Depression struck, Graney was nearly broke and in need of additional work to support his family. He joined radio station WHK in 1932, taking the bold step as the first former ballplayer to step into the broadcast booth and blazing a path for many greats like future Frick Award winners Jerry Coleman, Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker.
Graney quickly became a beloved figure in Cleveland as his vivid re-creations captured the imaginations of many young fans, including future Frick Award winner Jack Buck.
“I didn’t want to be a policeman or fireman,” Buck said. “Jack made me want a living calling ball.”
In just his third season behind the mic, the former ballplayer was tabbed by CBS to call the World Series. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis rejected the appointment, fearing that Graney’s biases from his diamond days would come into play. Graney wrote an impassioned letter arguing his case to Landis, who eventually relented and allowed Graney to enjoy one of his greatest broadcasting thrills during the 1935 Fall Classic.
A former teammate of Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker, Graney was witness to the highlights of another Hall of Famer, Bob Feller, in the booth. Graney had the call for Feller’s Opening Day no-hitter in 1940 and also broadcast each of Feller’s 12 one-hitters.
In 1948 – 28 years after helping Cleveland win its first World Series – Graney was behind the mic for the Indians’ most recent triumph in 1948. In 1953, his old friend Speaker served as the emcee for “Jack Graney” night at Municipal Stadium, as the city celebrated the retirement of a man who was as much a part of Cleveland baseball as anyone else.
“I always tried to give the fans an honest account,” Graney said. “It was as if I, an artist, was trying to paint a picture. I never tried to predict or second guess, even though I had played the game. I just tried to do my best and hope by best was good enough.”