07/22/2004 11:12 AM ET
Hall gilded with California gold
Giants, A's announcer Simmons goes to Cooperstown
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- To generations of Bay Area baseball fans, play-by-play announcer Lon Simmons was pure gold.
|Lon Simmons (right) announced northern California baseball for 45 summers. (Eric Risberg/AP)
From the golden age of the early San Francisco Giants -- featuring Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda -- through the green-and-gold BillyBall Era of the Oakland A's and beyond, Simmons was the 24-karat voice who gave colorful descriptions and accounts of the action purely for the enjoyment of the listeners.
Through 45 summers, the perennially crew-cut baritone never lost his humor, his enduring love of the game or the sense that he was merely the messenger -- not the starring act -- with his mellifluous but always modest tones.
It was never about him.
Until now. Sorry, Lon, but now the story is about you -- and deservedly so. Simmons, now a resident of Maui, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., this Sunday, as the 2004 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.
"I don't feel any different," he said, "but you never know how you feel until you stand there [at the induction ceremony]. It's the biggest award you can get if you're an announcer, or whatever you are. That the people you've been trying to please for 45 years agree that you had pleased them."
Indeed. Baseball fans from around the country voted the 80-year-old Simmons and his signature "Tell it good-bye" home run call as one of 10 finalists for the coveted Frick Award, and a 20-member panel of pioneer and active broadcasters named him the victor.
When he was first nominated, Simmons felt honored and surprised, yet told Bay Area fans that he'd didn't want an all-out campaign to ensue, like some presidential hoopla. But for the very first time, the legendary announcer's voice didn't penetrate fans' ears.
They not only lobbied for Simmons, they voted overwhelmingly for him among an initial group of approximately 150 candidates. Their voices couldn't be silenced.
Former Giants stars were thrilled at his selection.
"He's a Hall of Famer in baseball and as a human being," said Cepeda.
"I treasured Lon's friendship over the years, and I can't wait," said McCovey.
The humble Simmons will forever be synonymous with northern California's Major League clubs, sharing the microphone with mentor Russ Hodges at Seals Stadium in 1958, and with the equally fabled Bill King at Network Associates Coliseum and his finale at SBC Park, in 2002.
Though Simmons was a friend and confidant of McCovey, Mays and other stellar players, he never felt as an equal. But he wouldn't have traded places with them, either.
"I never felt I was really working," he said. "I loved my job and the fans."
For a multitude of listeners who enjoyed listening to Simmons' storytelling, light tone, baseball knowledge and creative interviews with the greats of the game, the feeling is mutual.
Their affection goes "way back, waaay back."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.