Spink winner sought help with speech
* Spink winner sought advice before his Cooperstown speech ….
By Kevin Glew
He talked to Pat Gillick, Roberto Alomar and some of his colleagues about their Cooperstown speeches and has received pointers from Seneca College professor Minda Davis.
So Bob Elliott was as ready as he’ll ever be to give his acceptance speech for the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award on Saturday at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.
Considered the highest honour a diamond scribe can receive, the award is presented annually to a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for meritorious contributions in their field. Elliott will become the first Canadian recipient.
While truly humbled by the award, the venerable Toronto Sun columnist would rather write the story than be the story, and he’s quick to admit that he doesn’t enjoy public speaking.
“I’m a cheap date when I’m asked to speak at banquets because I’m too nervous to eat anything,” said Elliott.
The Kingston, Ont., native, who has covered Major League Baseball since 1978, can take some comfort in the fact that dozens of friends and family members will be on-hand for his address. His wife Claire, daughter Alicia, son Bob, sister Elizabeth and about eight cousins are expected to be in attendance, along with friends from Ottawa, Kingston, Kitchener, Atlanta and Buffalo.
“Three of my ex-bosses – Wayne Parrish, Scotty Morrison and Jim O’Leary – are coming,” said Elliott.
And a number of colleagues from across Canada and the U.S. – including Toronto Sun scribe Bill Lankhof and CBC Sports reporter Tim Wharnsby – will also be making the trek to Cooperstown. The Toronto Blue Jays, who Elliott has meticulously covered since 1987, are also holding a reception for him after the ceremony.
Over the past few months, Elliott has been getting speaking tips from Davis, a professor at Seneca College.
“She tells me not to think of the things that could go wrong, but to think of all the things that will go right,” said Elliott. “She told me that people are not expecting Winston Churchill when I get up there. I’m a writer surrounded by friends, not a speaker used to talking in front of 5,000 people. And I’m being honoured for writing, not for speaking.”
The National Baseball Hall of Fame provided Elliott with a list of guidelines for his speech, which is supposed to be limited to 10 minutes. He submitted his speech to Cooperstown on June 1 for their review and it was approved without any changes.
Elliott has had lots of practice speaking leading up to his Cooperstown address. Since being named the Spink winner last December, he has been asked to speak in New York, Ottawa, Kingston, Oyen, Alta., St. Marys and at several Toronto functions. But while these events have been good practice, Elliott says that his Cooperstown address will mark the first time that he has had to read a speech.
“My speech is about three minutes too long,” confessed Elliott. “When I wrote it, by the time I thanked everyone, there wasn’t much time left.”
Of course, accepting the honour in front of so many friends and family members will be emotional for Elliott. His parents passed away within six months of each other in 1970. And it was his father – also named Bob – who instilled a love for baseball in him. A Kingston & District Sports Hall of Famer himself, Elliott’s dad played for and coached the Queen’s University football team, was an excellent baseball player and competed in the Brier as a curler.
“I know my mother and father will both be watching and they’ll both be very proud,” said Elliott.
A longtime champion for Canadian amateur and professional baseball players, Elliott declined to tip his hand when asked if he might put in a good word for fellow Canuck Larry Walker, whose Hall support hovers around 20 per cent amongst baseball writers, during his speech.
“There may be some lobbying,” he hinted.
Elliott will be honoured as part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Awards Presentation ceremony that will also see TV analyst Tim McCarver presented with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.
Since the announcement was made that he had won the Spink award in December, Elliott has received hundreds of congratulatory e-mails, texts and phone messages, and he’s still getting used to being asked for his autograph.
“I’ve saved all the emails in a master file so my kids can show their grandkids,” said Elliott, who has lived in Mississauga since 1987. “I printed it and there are 41-1/2 pages of congratulations. People from every province and from Oregon to Florida to California.”
Many of these people will be in Cooperstown on Saturday to watch the man they deeply respect deliver a heartfelt speech and make Canadian baseball history.
Elliott became just the third member of the media to be honoured by both the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
This accolade comes just 13 months after Elliott, who has been penning grassroots baseball stories for close to four decades, was awarded the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award for his lifetime contributions to the sport in Canada.
With Saturday’s honour, Elliott will join broadcasting legends Ernie Harwell and Dave Van Horne as the only media members to be honoured by both the Canadian and American baseball shrines.
Hired by the Detroit Tigers in 1960, Harwell called games in Motown for 42 seasons and became the beloved voice of the club. Before the Toronto Blue Jays came along in 1977, Harwell’s voice over the radio turned thousands in Southwestern Ontario into Tigers fans. His low-key delivery and catchphrases charmed listeners. When a foul ball was hit into the stands, Harwell would say, “A fan from (INSERT TOWN HERE) will be taking that ball home today” and after a batter watched a called third strike, he was bound to blurt out, “Called out for excessive window shopping.”
Prior to his more than four decades with the Tigers, he provided play-by-play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles. In 1981, he became the first active broadcaster to receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in his field. In 2002, his final season behind the mike, he was feted with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award. Harwell passed away on May 4, 2010 at age 92.
Dave Van Horne
This Easton, Pa., native first met John McHale when he was performing play-by-play duties for the Triple-A Richmond Braves. At the time, McHale was president of the parent Atlanta Braves. When McHale took charge of the Montreal Expos, he hired Van Horne prior to their inaugural 1969 campaign. The smooth-voiced Van Horne would call Expos contests for 32 seasons and was in the club’s broadcast booth for everything from the franchise’s first game to “Blue Monday” in 1981 to Dennis Martinez’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28, 1991. Van Horne’s “El Presidente! El Perfecto!” call at the end of that contest is one of the most celebrated in Canadian baseball history.
After the Expos failed to secure an English radio deal in 2000 and 2001, Van Horne accepted a position with the Florida Marlins. He would call the Marlins’ World Series championship in 2003, and fittingly, in 2004, he would return to Montreal, as a member of Florida’s crew, to provide play-by-play for the final contest in Expos history. Van Horne was awarded the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award in 1996 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 2011.
For a list of players, managers, and executives who have been inducted into both the Canadian and American baseball shrines, click on this link: http://kevinglew.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/the-elite-eight-members-of-the-canadian-baseball-hall-of-fame-cooperstown/