Elston chats about days in the booth

Elston chats about days in the booth

Gene Elston, the 2006 Ford C. Frick Award recipient, chatted online Wednesday about his 47-year broadcasting career. The award is presented annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for excellence in baseball broadcasting. Elston's career included stints with the Chicago Cubs, Houston Colt .45s and Astros.

jjr928: Gene, congrats. What do your remember about the Nolan Ryan no-hitter?

Gene Elston: It was a big one for me. It was the fifth of his career, of course. I did about 11 or 12 no-hitters, but this was big because it was Nolan and he was popular and we had a big crowd that night.

Question: What are your memories of calling Cubs games?

Elston: I enjoyed it because it was my first job in the Major Leagues. It was a great thrill. I had an audition before the 1954 season. My memories are that Ernie Banks had made his debut in late 1953, so I had a chance to see him early on. Chicago was a great spot to start my big league career. I got to know Ernie Banks and he was so well-liked in Chicago. My kids got to know him and he is such a great guy. We have a place here in Houston named "Ernie's on the Banks" and it's a tribute to Ernie.

Question: What is your most memorable call?

Elston: It's very difficult to pick out one call when you've done 7,000 games. One was the no-hitters I called. I was lucky enough to do back-to-back no-hitters in 1969, when Jim Maloney and Don Wilson pitched them back-to-back. The other highlight was the 1980 season, the postseason series was so amazing, it was a great season.

houhutch: Congrats on the award. Who would you say is the best player you ever saw play? What about the single greatest play?

Elston: It's tough to pick out one play, because you see so many. I like to quote Bob Gibson who said, "The greatest game I ever pitched was like the most beautiful girl I ever saw ... it's the last one I saw." But, as far as players -- Willie Mays was the best player I saw. He could do it all, in all phases of the game.

Question: What does it mean to you to receive this honor?

Elston: It hasn't settled in yet, it probably will when I get to Cooperstown. It's a great honor to be associated with Ford Frick. He was my hero, I followed his career. It means a lot to me. It's great to be alongside those who have received the award, that's great. To be associated with Graham McNamee, for example. To be associated with Vin Scully and Jack Buck, is really something.

Question: Who were some of your favorite Astros players -- on and off the field?

Elston: I had a policy not to become too close to the players, so as not to favor any of them. However, but I came very close with Jimmy Wynn and Bob Aspromonte. There were quite a few in the early days, Joe Morgan.

Question: How would you compare Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan?

Elston: I saw Nolan a lot, and in his prime. Clemens came after I did, so I haven't seen him that much. I think they are comparable. They have similar attributes: can throw hard, both are great athletes. Both of them work hard to stay in shape. If I had to pick one, I'd probably choose Ryan.

Question: What was your favorite Astros team?

Elston: The 1980 team. It was a winning combination, the team was in first much of the year. It was great for the fans to have a winner. The end of the season drama, and then the playoff game. Overall, that was my favorite team.

Question: How did you land in Houston for the Colt .45 job?

Elston: It was interesting. I was with Mutual's Game of the Day. I was there between four and five years, nationwide. We had about 350 stations. But Gabe Paul called me from Cincinnati, he was their GM, and he asked if I'd like to go to Cincinnati and do TV. Then, later, Gabe called and said he couldn't bring me to Cincinnati, because he was taking the GM job in Houston. So, he asked me to go to Houston with him, and I did.

Question: Have you been to Cooperstown? If so, what do you recall about it?

Elston: I've been there twice, both times for the Hall of Fame Game with the Astros. The whole area is beautiful. The museum is great. The artifacts are awesome, and to look back on the early stuff, the displays were great. I loved to see them. Any baseball fan, even borderline fans, need to go to Cooperstown.

houhutch: Do you think that baseball in a dome is a good or a bad thing? I personally think that the dome was neat at the beginning but negative at the end.

Elston: It was interesting, it sort of changed baseball. After the Astrodome, other stadiums came along with turf and had standard dimensions, stadiums used for football and baseball, etc. When Baltimore opened their park in the 1990s, it really switched back to the nostalgia-type stadiums. Playing indoors didn't change the game that much. There was a roof over my head, that's all. As soon as the game started, I didn't sense any difference, as far as being inside. Except when Mike Schmidt hit a speaker with a ball, and I can still see Jimmy Wynn standing out there with his arms out, not knowing where the ball was. It sort of reminded me of the DH rule. I didn't like it when it came in, but you get used to it. The same way with domes.

Question: How good was J.R. Richard? Do you think he might have been a Hall of Famer if his career wasn't cut short?

Elston: If he kept up the pace, I think he definitely would have been a Hall of Famer. He was awesome, He threw high-90s all the time, had a good breaking pitch. He had great control. He could do everything. He dominated almost every game he pitched in.

Question: What advice do you offer aspiring broadcasters?

Elston: I had a lot of youngsters come to me and ask that. I suggest that they get as much education as they can. You also need experience. In college, you should try to get on a college station and try to go to as many games as you can with a tape recorder, and practice, practice, practice. When I was 19 that's what I did. Working in live radio was great for me, it was much better than going to a broadcasting school.

Question: What did you think of the Astros run last season?

Elston: I was happy they got in there. They got there for the first time and that was great. It was tough getting in, and maybe that hurt their chances once they got there. I think getting that close will spur them on this year.

Elston: Nice being with you all, and I appreciate the questions. I was happy to tell you how I felt. I look forward to seeing you in Cooperstown. If you're a fan of baseball, you have to get to Cooperstown. I hope to see you in July for the Hall of Fame Weekend.