Pioneering Cleveland broadcaster Jack Graney named 2022 Frick Award winner
On Dec. 8, Graney was selected as the 2022 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He’ll be posthumously honored this summer in Cooperstown during the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation as part of Hall of Fame Weekend, July 22-25, 2022.
According to the late Jack Buck, the 1987 Frick Award winner who grew up in suburban Cleveland: “Mr. Graney brought to his job knowledge and controlled enthusiasm. He had a distinctive voice, high-pitched and raspy, but quite clear. You always knew, listening to him, that he knew what was going on and he told it to you simply and accurately.
“I didn't want to be a policeman or fireman. Jack made me want to make a living calling ball.”
The left fielder, though a stocky 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds, covered a lot of ground and had a good arm.
After his playing career, Graney managed in the minors before getting into the automobile sales business. After the Great Depression ended his career with cars, Graney was offered the opportunity to broadcast Indians baseball games over radio station WHK in 1932, becoming what is now widely considered to be the first former big league player to broadcast a big league game.
Curt Smith, baseball broadcasting historian and a member of the Frick Award electorate, said, “Graney had a rough voice in a velvet craft. He did not attend Broadcasting 101 and he was better for it. I've talked to people who said that you could walk down any Cleveland street at the time and you would hear Jack Graney from one radio after another. There was a vibrancy to his play-by-play. There was something about him that fixated listeners.
The only season he missed from 1932-53 was in 1945, when no Cleveland games were broadcast because of network commitments.
During the late Depression and World War II years, Graney and broadcast partner Pinky Hunter became adept at recreating games when the Indians did not send the announcers on the road with the team. Announcing via Western Union reports, the pair added their own touches to make it sound as though they were actually watching the game, even adding the roar of the crowd by using a record. “We were corny, but it was fun,” Graney recalled years later.
Cleveland Mayor Thomas A. Burke added, “Jack Graney has meant as much to baseball here as any man in the history of Cleveland.”
Near the end of Graney’s booth tenure, sports columnist Marty Richardson of the Cleveland Call and Post – a famed Black newspaper – praised the broadcaster’s decency and humanity towards all players.
“Over and above everything else, however, Jack has always been fair almost to a fault. And for that I don’t just like the guy. I ADORE him,” Richardson wrote. “(Larry) Doby, Satchel Paige, (Luke) Easter, (Harry) Simpson, (Dave) Hoskins, all of the colored players on the team have always gotten more than a fair shake from Jack, as have (Bobby) Avila, (Hank) Greenberg, (Al) López, (Minnie) Miñoso and the rest. Negro, Mexican, Cuban, Jew, Irishman, everybody has come in for equal, and terrifically fair, treatment from Jack.”
“Graney was popular for several reasons. As a former major leaguer himself, he spoke with authority when talking baseball. He had a rare talent for making the game sound exciting. And he rarely if ever said an unkind word about anyone. He made no secret of his partisanship – you could tell from the tone of his voice whether the ball which had just been sent going, going, GONE! had been clouted by an Indian or a member of the opposing team. But he was always fair, for all that – a fine example of sportsmanship.”
Graney died April 20, 1978, at the age of 91.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum