Helfer named 2019 Ford C. Frick Award winner
(COOPERSTOWN, NY) – Al Helfer, who called games for eight teams and became nationally renowned for his radio work on the Mutual Game of the Day in the 1950s, has been selected as the 2019 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Helfer will be recognized posthumously during the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 20, as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2019. Helfer becomes the 43rd winner of the Frick Award, as he earned the highest point total in a vote conducted by the Hall of Fame’s 15-member Frick Award Committee.
The final ballot featured broadcasters whose main contributions were realized as broadcasting pioneers, identified as the Broadcasting Beginnings ballot. The eight finalists were: Connie Desmond, Pat Flanagan, Jack Graney, Harry Heilmann, Waite Hoyt, Rosey Rowswell, Ty Tyson and Helfer.
“Al Helfer helped grow interest in baseball exponentially as the voice of Mutual Game of the Day radio broadcasts during the sport’s golden days of the 1950s,” said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Working in the dominant broadcasting medium with television in its infancy, Helfer was known as ‘Mr. Radio Baseball’ bringing game action into living rooms across the country every week. A true fan of the game, Helfer’s work with eight teams over four decades connected listeners in their markets to their team’s heroes, as baseball spread its reach throughout America and around the world. His passion and delivery made him one of the iconic voices of his era.”
Born Sept. 26, 1911, in Elrama, Pa., George Alvin Helfer Jr. was a 6-foot-4 first baseman at Washington & Jefferson College who also lettered in football, basketball and track. He was offered a pro contract to play baseball by Philadelphia Athletics manager and future Hall of Famer Connie Mack in 1935, but turned it down to focus on his broadcasting career.
Helfer started in radio at the age of 16, and by 1933 he was calling games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After two seasons with the Pirates, Helfer spent two years calling Cincinnati Reds games before two years with the New York Yankees and three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers alongside future Frick Award winner Red Barber, whom Helfer had previously worked with in Cincinnati. Barber gave him the nickname “Brother Al” – and Helfer and Barber combined to form one of the first play-by-play teams in the booth, a departure from the days when broadcasters worked alone.
He enlisted in the Navy prior to the 1942 season and served as a Lieutenant Commander in World War II before returning to the microphone in 1945, calling both Yankees and New York Giants games that season. He continued to call other sports, including football matchups like the Army/Navy game and the Rose Bowl, during the immediate post-war years before beginning a five-year baseball stint announcing the Mutual Broadcasting System’s Game of the Day in 1950. Heard on almost 400 stations nationally and many more around the world, Helfer’s audience was said to reach more than 80 million fans.
He resigned from the Mutual Game of the Day prior to the 1955 season after traveling what he estimated to be three million miles via airplanes in five years. He called the World Series every year from 1951-55 and also handled duties on several All-Star Games. He rejoined the Dodgers in 1955 and called Brooklyn games through the 1957 season.
Helfer called Philadelphia Phillies games for the New York City market in 1958 – the year the Giants and Dodgers left for California. He later called Houston Colt .45 games in 1962 and Oakland Athletics contests in 1968-69, and was behind the mic for Catfish Hunter’s perfect game on May 8, 1968. Helfer, who called 14 no-hitters, listed his favorite baseball broadcast highlights as Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’” in 1938 for the Cubs and Bobby Thomson’s home run in Game 3 of the 1951 National League playoff for the Giants.
He passed away on May 16, 1975.
The 15-member Frick Award voting electorate, comprised of the 11 living recipients and four broadcast historians/columnists, includes Frick honorees Marty Brennaman, Bob Costas, Jaime Jarrin, Tony Kubek, Tim McCarver, Denny Matthews, Jon Miller, Eric Nadel, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker and Dave Van Horne, and historians/columnists David J. Halberstam (historian), Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News), Ted Patterson (historian) and Curt Smith (historian).
The list of eight Frick Award finalists was constructed by a subcommittee of the electorate that included Matthews, McCarver, Miller, Nadel and Smith. The Ford C. Frick Award is voted upon annually and is named in memory of the sportswriter, radio broadcaster, National League president and baseball commissioner. Frick was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970.
The list of previous Frick Award winners can be found here.
As established by the Board of Directors, criteria for selection is as follows: “Commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans, and recognition by peers.” To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous major league broadcast service with a ball club, network, or a combination of the two.