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Just one more inning with The Gunner, please

September 25, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
Man, this whole Pirates in the playoffs thing has memories flying thick and heavy.

As I noted yesterday, there are great memories I have from childhood about listening to games on the radio and watching the Pirates in person and on TV. And as I noted yesterday, my dad cut off those memories after the early 1980s baseball strike and drug scandal, never watching another baseball game again for the last roughly 23 or 24 years of his life. As a result, I never really got to enjoy the late ’80s/early ’90s Pirates as much as the teams of the 1970s.

But those memories of the 1960s and 1970s include a lot of radio. All the games weren’t on TV back then. There was no ROOT Sports, or its predecessors. There was no ESPN. There were local radio networks and local TV networks and the NBC Game of the Week.

And radio meant one name to a Pirates fan. Bob Prince.

Now, I happen to think Greg Brown is just fine, the most enjoyable Bucs announcer since Mr. Prince, and the presence of Steve Blass and Kent Tekulve and Bob Walk only adds credibility and some great stories into the mix.

But Prince was renowned as one of the greats, a giant right up there with Phil Rizzuto or Harry Caray or Jack Buck. It was the days when one could tune across the AM dial at night and know what city you were listening to by the voice of the baseball announcer. You didn't even need to hear the team name. And Pittsburgh had the absolute best, The Gunner.

The only guy who could turn a double play into an Ooops and Scoops play, a base hit into a bug loose on the rug, a foul ball into a “HOME RUN… in an elevator shaft.” Or, “He couldn’t have hit that with a bed slat.” Or “that went foul by a gnat’s eyelash.”

The Great One was Clemente, who also was greeted with a firm “Arriba” and, in those less-than-politically correct times, it was a little funny to realize that The Gunner had no darned idea what the greatest right fielder ever just said during that interview after the game. He had no problem working in a promotion for Willie Stargell’s restaurant, offering free “chicken on the Hill with Will” if Stargell hit a home run.

One of the most memorable things in my life professionally and personally was getting to talk Bucs with Prince, alone, for about an hour total a year apart. In the early 1980s when I was the college kid working in local radio, Prince had his annual celebrity golf tournament at Williams, and he brought in the big stars. But to me, the biggest was simply Bob Prince.

“Paulie, I’m drinking screwdrivers. Get Paulie here a screwdriver and we’re going in that room back there and talking baseball.” No handlers. No PR men. Just The Gunner and some kid from WEIR. Wow! My knees didn’t even start shaking until I walked back out to my car an hour later. I cannot even remember who else I interviewed (maybe Jack Ham?). The Gunner!

And the next year, when he came back, there was no need to beg. Heck, he saw me across the room.

“Paulie! Still want a couple screwdrivers? How are things at Steubie U? Let’s go talk baseball.”

I’m sure screwdrivers were his drink. They weren’t mine, but they became mine for awhile after that.

He just had that knack for making anyone in his presence feel like they mattered. No wonder he was filled with so many great stories. People just rose 100 notches in his presence.

When he left the airwaves, there was a sense of loss that I only recently have begun getting over, thanks to the current broadcast crew for the Bucs and the passage of decades.

What I wouldn’t give in the playoffs to find that little Zenith AM radio my parents gave me for my sixth birthday, tuck it under the pillow and hear that magical, wonderful voice intoning, “It’s a long fly ball, deep left center field. He’s at the warning track, you can Kiss it Goodbye! Game Over! How sweet it is! The Pirates win!”


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