The Baltimore Orioles recently had radio announcer Joe Angel retire. Angel was an institution among Orioles fans, and he definitely had what they call the “golden pipes” behind the mic. However when Angel first came to the Orioles (in the first of his three stunts), he was working with a name that was and still is legendary: the great Chuck Thompson.
I do a tribute column to Chuck Thompson every year in Spring Training. Simply put, Chuck was the best. THE ABSOLUTE BEST IN THE BUSINESS. His name wasn’t as well know perhaps as the likes of a Vin Scully, Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray, or Mel Allen. But he was Baltimore’s version of those guys – and THAT made him the best!
I was only privileged to hear Thompson towards the end of his storied career, mainly while he worked part-time for the Orioles. However his prowess behind the mic was no less prevalent than in his heyday. He had that smooth delivery and that conversational tone that made you feel like he was describing the game for you in your living room.
And his trademarks – who could forget that?! The title of this article is an obvious play on his best-known catchphrase, ain’t the beer cold?! That would come out anytime the Orioles would win. During a game if they would make a frat play, Chuck would drag out his other catchphrase, go to war, Ms. Agnes! Allegedly that was an ode to an old race horse named the Ms. Agnes. When you use either one of those phrases with people of a certain age in Baltimore, they know exactly to what and to whom you are referring.
Part of the reason that Chuck Thompson and so many others (such as the names I mentioned above) were so special to Baltimore and their respective cities is because radio is how people followed the games. Often times they weren’t televised. And if they were, it might only be one game a week – which may or may not have featured your team.
So the voice of Chuck Thompson was how fans followed the Orioles. The same is true of Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, Jack Brickhouse in Chicago, and Red Barber in Brooklyn. They were the voices of baseball, and thus the voices of summertime – good times, vacation, etc. That’s powerful.
Many of the Orioles’ games aired on Home Team Sports by the time this 80’s kid came along. For the most part, one game per series would appear on over-the-air television (with two on HTS). However I also had a father who famously and out of principle refused to pay the nominal up charge to include HTS in our cable package. So I spent a lot of nights and afternoons listening to games on the radio. In that sense I’m somewhat of a throwback to previous generations, as those voices with whom I grew up mean something to me.
I found it ironic a few years ago when the O’s were down in DC to play the Washington Nationals on Memorial Day. My route to the ballpark that day took me through a Washington Harbor, where I noticed a large boat docked near The Sequoia (the former Presidential Yacht). The boat was named The Miss Agnes, and it was listed as being from Baltimore. As a kid who grew up listening to Chuck Thompson call games on the radio, I got a kick out of that. It was also cool to see in Washington, because Thompson called Washington Senators games for a few years in the early 1960’s.
We’re still here Chuck, keeping the beer cold one draft at a time!