Monday, April 06, 2015

I Read the News Today: Lon Simmons Passed Away

And a strong part of my boyhood passed away with him.  Lon Simmons' death was reported Sunday night by the beat writers and the Giants issued a press release today.

ogc thoughts

I guess it was just meant to be.   My passion for baseball.  My dad was not into sports, he being an immigrant coming into the U.S. around the time he was in high school, though he was open to a lot of things and I would not put on him the image of the immigrant stuck in the old ways.  So I didn't get it from him.

I was introduced to baseball in fourth grade and I loved it from the first second.  Made my dad get me a baseball glove.  Made my dad return that catcher's mitt (here his old-world sensibilities came in:  it had a lot of material and thus a lot of worth).  I think he got me an outfielder's glove:  it didn't have an autograph (not that I would have recognized anyone at that point) and it's not small like the infielder's gloves I've seen since nor large like a firstbaseman's glove, but it wasn't as large as the outfielder's gloves either, it was a tweener.  It was perfect.

I've thought about why I love baseball so much.  As a skinny kid growing up (and on the taller side), basketball was the sport most people thought was for me.  But I had problems shooting the ball up close (unfortunately, pressure gets to me) and was only OK from the outside, so I focused mainly on rebounds.  Plus, the point guard generally hogged the ball most of the time (rightfully so :^).  And my physique and generally awkwardness made me a lineman in football, either rushing or defending.

But baseball, it didn't matter if I was the last player picked when choosing up teams (really, you picked THAT guy over me?), I got to bat and I got a position.  It might have been behind the pitcher, it might have been catcher, it might have been Left-Out, but I had a position.  And while some would bat me last often, they learned that I was better than that (I eventually batted leadoff for my 8-1 intramural softball team in college) and I was usually in the mix higher.

So while I didn't do much of significance in basketball or football that I can remember (getting a QB down behind the line?  I can remember passes I dropped...), I can still remember big plays in baseball.  Hitting a double down the line and driving in the winning run.  Blocking the plate to keep the runner from scoring and holding onto the ball for the out.  Doing a Willie Mays, running straight back for the ball and reaching out and grabbing it blind.  I might not have always been good in baseball (or any sports for that matter) but in baseball, I could be the hero at some point, you never know.

So, of course, I had to follow major league baseball.  Again, it was fate, meant to be.  Like any kid, I went for the team that was winning, and so I went for the Giants that season, 1971.  But after that season, growing up in the East Bay, I heard it a million times:  why aren't you an A's fan?  And I just missed their World Series run that happened then, though as a baseball fan, I enjoyed it.  So it was just meant to be.

And I wouldn't have it any other way, I feel like I earned my fan badge by cheering on my team from 1972 to 1986, and it was branded on, white hot with each near miss, 1978, 1982, 1987, 1989!, 1993!!!, 2002!!!!!!!!! Blacker and Oranger.

If I were an A's fan growing up, I'm not sure I'll be a fan today, I think I would be more jaded than I am, more willing to move on to grown up stuff.  You would think I would be a better fan, given that I loved sabermetrics forever, even before Bill James came around, I was fiddling with statistics anyway, crude stuff and yet strangely apt, I didn't have the Pythagorean formula, but I was using runs scored over runs allowed plus runs scored, so I think I have some affinity to the discipline.

But there was a time after the strike of 1994, when Matt Williams was stolen of a chance to match Babe Ruth's 60 homers, and worse, the World Series was cancelled.  I barely paid attention to the MLB back then.  If it wasn't that I was a lifelong newspaper reader and subscribing, it was Pavlovian, I would read the sports because it was there, as I still had interest in other sports, like basketball, football, golf, it was just, now, baseball was just another sport.

Maybe since it was McGwire and Sosa who brought me back, with their home run chase (I still believe Commisar Selig had the ball juiced to bring back the homers, but that's another story), one would think I would be draw to the A's story.  Maybe, maybe not.  I think I would have tired of the ownership being cheap, though.  I know I had some feelings like that when Lorie owned the club, and definitely when Magowan forced Sabean to buy a boadload of cheap players instead of allowing him to pursue Vlad, and worse, sacrifice a draft pick in order to save money to buy a player.  No owner should ever put a GM into such a position, they should just get out of baseball then.  Still, Magowan for the most part never cheaped out, and once AT&T was open, the pocketbook was open too.  So I think I was just meant to be a Giants fan.

And if you follow the Giants, you had to watch their games or at least listen to them.  Just happened that my Uncle gave me a small Japanese transistor radio, and I killed it carrying it everywhere, listening to games, no matter where I was.  It's like kids today glued to their smartphones or iPads, only I had that radio next to my ear.  And under my pillow, listening when I should have been sleeping (sorry Mom!).

And for me, listening to the Giants don't get any better than listening to Lon Simmons' rich baritone broadcasting the Giants games.  His humor, as he was very self-deprecating.  His grace.  His humility.  His distinctive voice.  He was a great story teller and yet knew when less was more.  He was a great announcer.  His voice was the voice of my childhood.

And that's another thing different between the Giants and the A's.  Simmons was the long-time voice of the Giants, then Hank Greenwald, then Jon Miller (there were a few others mixed in, but they were the main guys I remember over the years).  When I think Giants, I think KSFO and then KNBR, Channel 2 for TV games, there was stability throughout much of that period.  The A's had a new radio station every season, it seemed, nobody was willing to listen to them, and the broadcasters would change often too, and TV wasn't always assured, it seemed.

And, I'm sorry, I love Bill King, but for me, he was the voice of the Warriors (and apparently the Raiders too) and to hear him doing the A's was weird, though not as weird as Simmons doing A's broadcasts (a time we should not speak of...).  And that was after my childhood, I think, I would listen to A's game back then too (I needed my baseball fix), but don't really recall anyone distinctive enough to come to memory.

That continuity would help to sustain my interest, I believe, as my radio station locks were always set to KNBR first, then I get to the rest.  It would have faded had I been an A's fan, as I would not have been able to keep up with the radio and TV changes over the years, and would lack the identification with the team that I got with the Giants.

And Lon Simmons is a huge part of that.  His voice will forever mean that I'm a teenage boy, listening furtively to a Giants broadcast late night, hoping that his team will win (for once).  His voice will forever remind me of green grass and picnics, with the radio blaring in the background, ready to give me the latest score.  It will mean good times and bad, the next "great" player, starting with King Kong Kingman, the past losing season.  It will mean mediocre teams and yet the feeling that it might be different, next year, but generally not.

I was happy when the Giants re-hired him to be a broadcaster emeritus, who would show up sometimes to bring back good memories for fans like me.  I was especially happy because I knew that he was ripped off an some jerk investor who stole his life's savings, and needed the income.  It sounds like he has had a great retirement life in Hawaii (Maui Wowie!) for many years now, and I was happy about that.

Now he is gone:  Rest in Peace, Lon Simmons, now you get to broadcast again with Russ Hodges (who I never got to hear, so that's why it's all Lon for me) and get to tell him all about the three World Championships that the Giants have now.  And show him all your rings.

1 comment:

  1. Great post OGC. I come a decade after you, so for me I missed out on Lon Simmons, just hearing of him fondly from everybody I know. Hank Greenwald was the call for me. I have a lot of the same memories, listening on the radio. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete

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