The Time of My Life

Free The Time of My Life by Bryan Woolley

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Authors: Bryan Woolley
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far, far away.
    My mother would deny that. I was slouched on my bed, in my shady adobe room, she would say, wearing my Saint Louis Cardinals cap, aimlessly slapping an oily black ball into my first-baseman’s mitt, listening to the Montgomery Ward radio I’d got for Christmas. But she doesn’t know.
    I was really at Yankee Stadium or Ebbets or Fenway or Wrigley Field or Comiskey or Sportsman’s or the Polo Grounds or Tiger Stadium, watching Joe Dimaggio or Jackie Robinson or Stan Musial or Ted Williams or Nellie Fox or Johnny Mize or Ralph Kiner. It didn’t matter which city it was or who I was watching. I loved all the parks and all the boys of summer, and I loved Gordon McLendon most of all.
    He and I met on KVLF, “The Voice of the Last Frontier,” the Alpine, Texas, affiliate of the Liberty Baseball Network. I don’t remember whether we met by chance or somebody introduced us, and it doesn’t matter. He became my idol, rivaled in my worship only by Stan the Man himself.
    If I couldn’t be Musial when I grew up, I decided, I wanted to be McLendon. In those days, when Saint Louis was the western border of the majors and the teams traveled by train, McLendon was a miracle of speed. One day his Game of the Day would be the Giants and Dodgers in New York City. Twenty-four hours later, he would be in Chicago with the White Sox and Indians. Then in Cincinnati with the Reds and Pirates.
    And what games they were! Even when the lowly Browns played the lowly Senators, there was never a dull moment. The crowds were always huge and roared lustily with every pitch. The hickory met the horsehide with a crack that seemed to echo through the stands. Even the dog that wandered onto the field and interrupted the game was exciting. Sometimes it would take the cops forty-five minutes to catch him, and McLendon’s descriptions of his antics were funnier than Abbott and Costello.
    Yeah, it might be better to be McLendon than Musial, I thought. Stan would have to retire someday, but the Old Scotchman would go on forever, spending his summers in the ballparks of America, hobnobbing with the greatest men who ever lived. Maybe he had already gone on forever. No telling how old McLendon really was….
    Never did I suspect that the Old Scotchman was twenty-six, that he had seen only two major league games in his life, or that the roar of the crowd and the crack of the bat were coming to me from the Cliff Towers Hotel in Oak Cliff. From the basement, near the pay toilet.
    He got the idea in the Pacific during World War II. “On whatever atoll we were, the troops would stop their work and listen to whatever game the Armed Forces Network was carrying that day,” he says. “I knew that major league baseball barely existed in the hinterlands of America. The only games we got to hear were the Ail-Star Game and the World Series. So I thought, ‘Why not?…’”
    The way it worked was this: A Western Union telegrapher, who was really at some major league park, would teletype the bare-bones facts of the game to the Cliff Towers basement. McLendon would clothe them in the vivid color of his imagination, the alert excitement of his voice, a folksy manner, and sound effects and relay them over 458 radio stations to millions of kids, firemen, barbers, bartenders, cabbies, and cowboys.
    â€œI wasn’t the first broadcaster to re-create games,” he says. “I had heard many, but they were pretty dull. You could hear the teletype in the background. The broadcasters’ descriptions were prosaic. They were just reading the facts off the wire. So I started asking the telegraphers to send along a little more information. Were there any fights on the field? Any celebrities in the crowd? So far as they could tell, was that pitch a curve, a sinker, or what? I started sending bottles of scotch and other little gifts to the ballparks for the telegraphers, and they started throwing in a

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