Baseball Way Back: Reagan was a 'Dutch' treat for Iowa baseball fans
Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States.
Were it not for a few twists of fate, though, The Great Communicator might have earned that designation for his feats as a baseball broadcaster rather than as a politician.
In February, 1933, WOC in Davenport, Iowa hired "Dutch" Reagan, as he was known, as a staff announcer.
He had already scored a hit in 1932 with his description of the Iowa-Minnesota football game for WOC. The Dixon Evening Telegraph on Oct. 28, 1932 reported that Reagan offered a "crisp account of the muddy struggle" that "sounded like a carefully written story of the gridiron goings-on," while "his quick tongue seemed to be as fast as the plays."
It was at WOC and its co-channel, WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, that Reagan made his mark as a baseball announcer with his accounts of games taken from telegraph reports.
On Aug. 11, 1934, the Dixon Evening Telegraph wrote that, "To millions of sports fans in at least seven or eight middlewestern states, the voice of 'Dutch' Reagan is a daily source of baseball dope.
"Every afternoon at 2 o'clock, 'Dutch' goes on the air with his rapid-fire play-by-play visualization of the home games of Chicago's major league baseball teams, the Cubs and the Sox."
It continued, "Sitting in his studio in Des Moines, 'Dutch' builds a word picture of every detail of play, so vivid that hundreds of thousands of fans feel that they are almost 'seeing' the teams in action."
The Wheaties broadcasts over WOC-WHO generated "hundreds of letters of thanks and praise," some from traveling men driving throughout the Midwest tuned to Reagan's descriptions.
Lacking audio evidence of his radio work, we can still get some idea from newspaper accounts.
One humorous clipping from the Davenport Democrat and Leader from Aug. 19, 1934 noted that Reagan opened a baseball broadcast over WOC-WHO by saying, "Well -- not very appropriate -- but people will have their jokes!" It seems that a practical joker sent the transcription music of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" into the studio, instead of Dutch's theme song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
Later in life, Reagan would share tales of recreating baseball games by interpreting information over the telegraph. He spoke of the telegraph feed breaking down while he was describing an at-bat by the Cubs' Augie Galan. His improvised account had Galan fouling off a seemingly infinite number of pitches.
When the feed resumed, Reagan wrote, "I clutched at the slip. It said: 'Galan popped out on the first pitch.' Not in my game he didn't."
Reagan's baseball experience wasn't completely confined to the studio.
On April 8, 1935, the Dixon Evening Telegraph noted that Dutch stopped at the home of his parents in Dixon "en route to Chicago where he will spend a week visiting with the members of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball teams, making the acquaintance of the players prior to his broadcasting of major league baseball games this summer ..."
And on March 23, 1936, the Dixon paper reported that Reagan had just returned from the Cubs spring training camp on Catalina Island in California.
It was on another trip to spring training in Catalina in 1937 that Reagan found his Hollywood future.
On April 3, 1937, The Daily Times in Davenport reported that the 26-year-old received a contract with the Warner Bros. studio after a successful screen test arranged through a Des Moines connection, actress and singer Joy Hodges.
As Reagan embarked on his first role in "Love Is on the Air," he turned author, penning a series of behind-the-scenes articles for the Des Moines Register.
In one of his Register articles, he noted that his leading lady, June Travis, was the daughter of White Sox Vice President and Secretary Harry Grabiner.
Reagan wrote, "I like Miss Travis tremendously. We had a lot to talk about, as we have many friends in common. Her real name, you know, is Grabiner and her dad, Harry Grabiner, is the head man with the Chicago White Sox. I've met him many times in connection with my sports broadcasts and he's a swell fellow."
"Love Is on the Air" gives some idea of Reagan's style on the air. His role as a radio announcer allows him to show off his fast-paced style as he calls a youth boxing match.
Reagan's connection to baseball would spill over into his movie career. In 1952, he played a former Cub, Grover Cleveland Alexander, in "The Winning Team," a film cast with real ballplayers, including Hank Sauer of the Cubs and Al Zarilla of the White Sox.
In 1988, Reagan was back behind the microphone calling baseball, when he visited Harry Caray in the booth at Wrigley Field.
He told Caray, "You know, in a few months, I'm going to be out of work, and I thought I might as well audition."