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Thompson hospitalized after suffering stroke

Hall of Fame broadcaster served as voice of the Orioles for more than 50 years

By Ed Waldman

Sun Staff

March 5, 2005, 9:12 PM EST

Baltimore broadcasting legend Chuck Thompson is expected to be removed from life support systems Sunday after suffering a stroke that has left him brain dead, his brother said Saturday night.

"As it stands now, he would be a vegetable if we would keep him alive," Fred Thompson said.

"He was declared brain dead at around 6:00 [saturday night]," he said. "All the family got together and we made the decision that he didn't want any parts of this. He's got a living will, and before he said he never did want to linger."

Thompson, 83, is on a respirator at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He is not in any pain, his brother said.

The family will go to church this morning, then go to the hospital to have the respirator removed.

"How long he'll last, we don't know," Fred Thompson said.

Thompson suffered the stroke shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday. While in his bedroom, he screamed for his wife, Betty, who was in the kitchen, saying that he couldn't move, Fred Thompson said.

The former broadcaster was rushed from his Mays Chapel home to the hospital.

According to doctors at GBMC, the main vessel supplying blood to Thompson's brain burst, his brother said.

"Obviously this is very sad news, and my thoughts are with Chuck, Betty and their family," said Cal Ripken. "Like everyone else who grew up in Baltimore, my memories of Chuck are too many to count.

"He has one of the most recognizable voices in sports and is a broadcasting legend. More importantly, he is a very good man who has been a fixture in our town for as long as I can remember."

Members of Thompson's family were gathering in Baltimore Saturday night, Fred Thompson said. His daughter, Susan, came in from Pittsburgh, and one of his eight grandchildren was scheduled to fly in from California.

Thompson, known for his catch phrases, "ain't the beer cold!" and "go to war, Miss Alice," arrived in Baltimore in 1948 to do radio play-by-play for the International League Orioles and the All-American Conference Colts.

When the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, Thompson was named the broadcaster for their games.

In 1957, Thompson left the Orioles to call the games of the Washington Senators for five seasons.

But he returned to the Orioles in 1962, and called their games until his first retirement, in 1987. In 1990, Thompson came back to call about 25 games, and he was back for 80 games the next season.

In 1993, Thompson became the 17th recipient of the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award, the highest honor a baseball announcer can receive.

Thompson last did play-by- play for the Orioles in 2000, when he was forced to stop because he suffered from macular degeneration, which made it impossible for him to read documents or follow the ball.

In recent years, Thompson also suffered from some dementia and short-term memory loss, his brother said.

Thompson's radio career started in 1939 at WRAW in Reading, Pa., where he did the games of Albright College. In addition to the Orioles, Colts and Senators, Thompson has done broadcasts of Temple University football, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Warriors (NBA), the Philadelphia Rockets (hockey), the Baltimore Bullets, Navy football and NBC's baseball Game of the Week.

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?A class all to himself'

Chuck Thompson called Orioles games for the better part of five decades and worked 30 years as a play-by-play announcer for the Colts. He died Sunday morning at 83.

By Ed Waldman

Sun Staff

March 6, 2005, 11:24 PM EST

Chuck Thompson, whose familiar radio voice painted the picture of Baltimore sports for more than half a century, died Sunday morning after suffering a stroke Saturday. He was 83.

Mr. Thompson, known for his catch phrases "Ain't the beer cold!" and "Go to war, Miss Agnes!" came to Baltimore in 1949 to broadcast the games of the International League Orioles and never left.

"He was a joy to work with," said Vince Bagli, Mr. Thompson's longtime announcing partner with the Colts. "He was the best who ever worked in this area. Other than Brooks Robinson, the best ovation [at an Orioles game] was when they said that Chuck Thompson was going to Cooperstown."

Said former Colt Tom Matte, now a radio analyst for Ravens games: "In my opinion, he was probably the greatest announcer I've ever known. He had a class all to himself. He had the greatest voice in the world."

Mr. Thompson died at 8:17 a.m. Sunday. He was stricken shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday at the Mays Chapel home he shared with his second wife, Betty.

While in his bedroom, he called for his wife, who was in the kitchen, saying that he couldn't move, according to his brother-in-law, Fred Cupp. Chuck Thompson was rushed to Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Craig Thompson told reporters at GBMC Sunday that his father passed away "very peacefully, in his sleep," with his family by his side.

"This city of Baltimore has lost a good friend," Craig Thompson said. "And the sports media has lost one of the greatest voices of all time."

He asked that the media respect the family's privacy and said it will be releasing more information in the coming days.

In recent years, Mr. Thompson's health had declined. In 2000, he was forced to stop doing play-by-play on Orioles games because he suffered from macular degeneration, which made it impossible for him to read documents or follow the ball. Mr. Thompson also suffered from some dementia and short-term memory loss, his brother-in-law said.

"He was without a doubt a giant in the business," said Jim Hunter, a current Orioles announcer.

"As far as I'm concerned, he'll always be the voice of the Orioles. He was Mr. Oriole. You could even argue as much as Brooks [Robinson] and Cal [Ripken] were."

Veteran sportscaster Ted Patterson featured Mr. Thompson in two books that he wrote, The Golden Voices of Baseball and The Golden Voices of Football. He had Mr. Thompson as a guest on his Monday night radio show last October.

"He was a throwback to an era when the broadcasters painted the pictures," Mr. Patterson said. "And he was tremendous at it."

Mr. Thompson received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993, which while not signifying induction into the Hall, is the highest honor a baseball announcer can receive.

"It was well-deserved," Mr. Bagli said. "It was overdue. But he never had the national profile. He never wanted to leave here. He had chances. But he loved Baltimore."

Said former Orioles manager Earl Weaver: "He did his job, he did it every day, and he did it as well as anybody could do it. He's going to be remembered, and there are going to be a lot of tapes that will still be played of some of Chuck's calls during all those fantastic years that the Orioles had."

Mr. Thompson's voice can still be heard on radio in commercials for a number of local companies.

Mr. Thompson was born in Palmer, Mass., on June 10, 1921. His family moved to Reading, Pa., in 1927, just before he began the first grade.

While in high school, Mr. Thompson worked as singer with dance bands, earning $1 a night for singing eight songs and $5 for a New Year's Eve gig.

He broke into broadcasting in 1939, calling the games of Albright College for WRAW radio in Reading, Pa. He earned $5 a game.

He was inducted into the Army on Oct. 5, 1943, and after 17 weeks of basic training was sent to Europe on board the Queen Mary. A sergeant, Mr. Thompson fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

After an honorable discharge in August 1945, Mr. Thompson resumed his broadcasting career with WIBG, a radio station in Philadelphia.

Besides being a fine announcer, Mr. Thompson's career was marked by being in the right place at the right time.

He broadcast his first major league baseball game in 1946 when the Philadelphia Phillies' regular announcers were delayed getting to the radio booth because they had been honored on the field between games of a doubleheader and the elevator operator wasn't there to bring them back.

"The next thing I knew, Whitey Lockman was coming to the plate to start the second game and I just started talking," Mr. Thompson told The Sun in 1993.

When the veteran announcers finally made it back, a station executive instructed them to "sit down and work with the kid," Mr. Thompson remembered.

Then, in 1948, Mr. Thompson was supposed to do color commentary on the radio broadcast of the Navy-Missouri football game from Baltimore.

The play-by-play announcer got sick, and Mr. Thompson had to do the game by himself.

A few days later, the Gunther Brewing Co., which owned the broadcast rights to the International League Orioles, offered him the job of replacing Bill Dyer. To sweeten the offer, Gunther threw in the job of broadcasting the pro football games of the All-America Football Conference Colts.

It was the start of a wonderful love affair between Mr. Thompson and Baltimore.

"He got to Baltimore and became a legend in the town," Mr. Hunter said. "If you were a fan, you followed your favorite team with Chuck behind the mike, and that includes the Orioles and Colts. And that's rare for someone to be identified so strongly with two teams."

When the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, the National Brewing Co. acquired the team's broadcast rights and Mr. Thompson was temporarily out of a job. But before the next season, an agreement was struck to allow Mr. Thompson to call Orioles games.

In 1957, a dispute between National Brewing and Gunther Brewing, which was still his employer, forced Mr. Thompson to leave the Orioles to call Washington Senators games. During those years, he also was hired by the NBC television network to call its Game of the Week. And it was during the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees that Mr. Thompson made an error that, in his 1996 autobiography, he called "easily the most embarrassing moment of my career behind the microphone."

The Pirates' Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the Series to win the title for Pittsburgh. Mazeroski's homer, off pitcher Ralph Terry, made the final score 10-9. But Mr. Thompson said Mr. Mazeroski had gotten the hit off Art Ditmar and announced the final score as 10-0.

Given a chance to correct the error for a souvenir record the Pirates produced, Mr. Thompson declined. "I figured it had gone on the air that way, so it wouldn't be honest to change it," he wrote.

Mr. Thompson returned to broadcasting the Orioles in 1962. And Mr. Cupp said his brother-in-law's loyalty to National never wavered.

Once, while taking former Orioles star Boog Powell out for crabs at Bo Brooks, Mr. Thompson told the manager he wanted "the biggest crabs that they had," his brother remembered.

"The manager came out with the crabs in an American Beer box," Mr. Cupp said. "An American Beer box. You know how Chuck was with National Brewery. He said, 'I'm not going to take those crabs. No way.'"

Mr. Thompson called Orioles games until his first retirement in 1987. In 1991, he came back to work part time and continued on a limited schedule until 2000.

"He was such a gentleman," said Jeff Beauchamp, the vice president and station manager of WBAL Radio, Thompson's longtime employer. "I don't know if he had any enemies. He was never too busy to shake a hand or sign an autograph. And that's why he had earned that respect around the community.

"He had a distinctive style. It was very rich style that was familiar to Baltimore, and people felt comfortable with him. He was someone they trusted."

Another moment in the national spotlight for Mr. Thompson came in 1958, when he was part of NBC's telecast of the National Football League championship, won by the Colts in overtime against the New York Giants and dubbed by many as "the greatest game ever played."

Mr. Thompson shared the booth with Chris Schenkel. The two announcers flipped a coin to decide who would do the play-by-play for which half, according to Mr. Thompson's recollection in Mr. Patterson's book. Mr. Shenkel won the toss and chose the second half, giving Mr. Thompson the job for the overtime period.

In a statement, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said: "'Go to war Miss Agnes!' and 'Ain't the beer cold!' are phrases that will live with the generation that experienced one of the greatest sports announcers of all time. Our hearts go out to Betty and the entire Thompson family."

A memorial Mass will be celebrated Thursday at 11 a.m. at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St. A private funeral is planned, and there will be no public viewing.

In addition to his wife - whom he married in 1989 - and son, Mr. Thompson is survived by his daughter, Susan Perkins, and by eight grandchildren.

Mr. Thompson's first wife, Rose, died in 1985. Their daughter, Sandy Kuckler, died of breast cancer about four years ago.

Sun staff writers Laura Cadiz, Christian Ewell, Bill Free, Mike Klingaman and Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun

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