Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Interview With Keith Jackson

L:I’m here with one of the legends of broadcasting, and that is Keith Jackson.  Keith is working the game tonight.  What do you think of this, coming back, how ESPN has brought some of the great voices back to the game?

J:I don’t know if I agree with it (laughs).  But I think it’s fun probably for old-timers, anyway.  I haven’t done a baseball game since 1986, and I haven’t been to any, either.  The last game I did was the Houston-New York Mets, that 16-inning thing in the dome.  But it’ll be fun.  I haven’t been here in a good long time, either, and it’s pretty fancy trappings now that they finally got it fixed.  But we were doing games when they had the hammer throwers here, and Reggie and all those guys, the Joe Rudi’s and what have you, and we live in British Columbia now in the summertime, so we watch the Mariners quite a bit up there.  They’re entertaining.  These are two of the most entertaining teams in baseball.L:What about your baseball roots?  I always like to find out how people grew up in baseball.  Because to be an announcer in a sport, you have to have that passion for it.  And you’ve been on the air nationally in baseball.  So tell us a little bit about your baseball background.

J:Well, I grew up throwing baseballs at the barn door on a farm in West Georgia, down the road from the Walker boys, who grew up in Villarica, Dixie and Harry and then Rudy York, of course, and we were saturated with baseball in the south back in those days.  There were no Major League teams down there, remember; all the big league teams were up in the big cities in the north.  And the Southern Association, the Mobile Bears and the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Atlanta Crackers and those guys, they were our heroes.  Every country kid played baseball back in those days, I think, more so than almost anything else.  And your folks living in hard times could afford baseball now and then.  Somebody’d go to a Cracker game and steal some, and then you had something to play with.  American Legion baseball was the big thing down in the south back in the ’30s, and part of that had to do with the interest in baseball.  It just kinda came along.  And then I got older, and four years in the Marine Corps showed me clearly I couldn’t hit, couldn’t run and couldn’t throw, so I went back to college.

L:You talk about Georgia, and what comes to mind for me is the Big Cat, John Mize, of course a Georgia man and a Hall of Famer.  You must remember him as well.

J:Knew him quite well.  I think Rudy York was the one who got me an old Charlie Gehringer bat, the old milk bottle bat, and I used that thing for four years, and still had it forever.  It’s probably still stuck in a trunk someplace.  I think I still have it.  But Johnny Mize, of course, finished his career with the Yankees and was a great player.  But during my college days I used to drive down the Lewiston Grade and do Lewiston Bronk games on the weekends for walking-around money after I got out of the Marine Corps in 1950 and 1951.

L:Keith, I’ve had Ernie Harwell on the show, and of course he started with Atlanta Cracker games.  Earl Mann was the owner of the Crackers back in those days and really got Ernie going.  You must have heard Ernie in the early days.

J:Oh sure.  There’ve been a lot of guys.  You go back over the early days, as we put it; most of the people that’ll come off the end of your tongue were southerners, and I guess it was the way they talked, the way they phrased, the way the pace fitted baseball.  So many of them were baseball announcers.  Ernie was great.  Ernie’s still great.  Wonderful storyteller.

L:Well, that’s what baseball is.  And of course you mention the southern announcers.  Mel Allen was from Alabama, of course Red Barber of the University of Florida started WRUF, but they all ended up in New York, which was amazing to me. 

J:That’s where the money was.  Follow the dollar. 

L:Tell us about some of your thrills in baseball, maybe doing some of the games.  You worked with Earl Weaver, Howard Cosell, Steve Stone, Al Michaels, some of the good baseball names.  Tell us some of your experiences with it.  I’m sure there are some memories with it.

J:Well, we got baseball back.  We did it in 1965 for one season and lost our shirts and part of our shorts, and then went away from it but came back in ’76.  Then, at the end of the season and going into the playoffs, they decided they would change the cast in the booth.  They kept Drysdale and they kept Uecker and sent everybody else away and brought in Cosell and I.  Well, it just happened I had a date with Oklahoma-Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday morning, and Uecker did the play by play Friday night in Kansas City between the Yankees and Royals, and as soon as I got through with Oklahoma and Texas I jumped on a Lear, flew up to Kansas City, walked in the booth, sat down that Saturday night and did my first baseball game in 11 years.  And I’ll guarantee you, that’ll turn you into Captain Pucker.

L:What about working with Howard Cosell?  What was that like?

J:I had a ball.  I had fun.  We had a good time.  I don’t remember ever having really a bad night with Howard.  A lot of people whined and complained about it, but Uecker and Drysdale and I had fun with Howard.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  He was very bright and loved to do obituaries.  Howard could do nine minutes about a guy I never heard of. 

L:When you think back to some of the games you did broadcast, that Astro-Mets series was fabulous in ’86.  Do you have a favorite game?  Favorite moments in baseball?  That’s what baseball’s all about.

J:Well, one of them, 1980, and again Houston was involved in it.  You had the famous game in the playoffs when Vern Rule was pitching, and did he catch it or didn’t he, and I was in an airplane coming from Love Field in Dallas on my way to Hobby to jump in a car and run over and picked up the play-by-play of the ball game, and Drysdale was there with Howard.  Chub Feeney, the president of the National League, was there, and all hell broke loose.  Everybody was yelling and screaming and arguing.  And I’m listening to this as we’re starting to let down and land at Hobby.  And I’m saying to the pilot, “Back up, go back up, I gotta hear this!  I gotta talk about it when I get on the ground!”  The pilot says, “I can’t.  I’m in the final turn.”  “Well, talk to the tower.”  So the tower let us off the hook and we went around a couple more times so I could hear it.  Then I got on the ground, jumped in a police car and went over, walked in and picked up the play-by-play in the 4th inning, and they were still arguing.  So they must’ve argued for the better part of an hour and never did decide whether Vern caught it or not.  Even Vern admits he doesn’t know if he caught it or not.

L:Well, I will tell you that I’ve talked to Vern Rule and he still to this day doesn’t tell you whether he caught it or not, and Dallas Green doesn’t know, either, but they made the one ruling that probably made the least sense in putting a couple of people back on base and called somebody out.

One last thought for you:  Maybe your thoughts on the game of baseball today and how you feel about it.

J:Well, Joe Morgan will punch me out if he hears me say this, but I wouldn’t be surprised that there are better-conditioned athletes today than there used to be, there may even be better athletes, because they’ve been trained from the cradle up for the game.  The pitching, of course, has obviously changed enormously.  If there’s been any change at all, it probably results in silly decisions of marketing like making the All Star Game decide the home team for the World Series.  I don’t like that.  The money factor is always gonna be there, but if you’re gonna worry about people and money I don’t think you need to worry about the players, I think you oughta be concerned about the people who are giving it to the players.  They’re the ones who are making the decisions.  If somebody’s gonna give you a hundred million dollars to play baseball five years, you’re a damn fool if you don’t take it.  And since they are in an element of show business, and they are, they are performers, they should take it.  So other than the dollar factor and other than the saturation of it, I think it’s in pretty good shape.  I know that there are doomsayers and whiners and people who like to knock everything, but I think it’s pretty good.  There’s pretty good crowds coming out to see ’em play.  But television has played such an enormous role in it, I don’t know if it’s been good or bad.  I would tend to think it may have overstepped its boundary a few times.

L:Great to have you on the show.  It’s nice to see you in the ballpark.  Give me one Whoa Nellie before we go. 

J:You know what?  I never use Whoa Nellie.


1 Anonymous { 07.28.03 at 10:40 am }


Interesting interview with Keith Jackson. I never was a big fan of him as a baseball guy, because he didn’t seem (to me) to be such a big fan of baseball. SOme of what he said in Curt Smith’s ‘Voices of the Game’ were far from friendly to baseball. But your interview gave me some more perspective. Thanks.

Stu Shea

2 robert7447 { 07.17.07 at 12:37 am }

3 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:14 pm }

4 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:51 pm }

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