Baseball Way Back: 'It's almost a crime': Costas says Cubs broadcaster Jack Quinlan belongs in Hall of Fame
When Pat Hughes was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the 47th recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, he joined an elite group of Cubs announcers in Cooperstown.
But many insist that an important name is missing from that select fraternity, which includes such revered names as Bob Elson, Jack Brickhouse, Milo Hamilton and Harry Caray.
Jack Quinlan was the radio voice of the Cubs from 1955 to 1964. In fact, Quinlan began calling the Cubs on WIND, moving with the team to WGN after the radio station purchased the broadcast rights.
The reason the name might not sound familiar is that his brilliant career was cut short when he was killed in an auto crash at the age of 38 during spring training in Arizona in 1965.
Many Cubs fans of my generation fondly recall the team of Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau. But before Vince and Lou, there was Jack and Lou, and surviving broadcasts attest to their infectious rapport, especially when attempting between innings to break each other up while reading the Wieboldt's commercials.
Quinlan was the consummate baseball broadcaster, who not only called the local team, but also expertly manned the microphone on one of the most famous national broadcasts, the seventh game of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees.
"It's absolutely ludicrous. The Hall of Fame needs to step up to the plate. If indeed they do call themselves the Hall of Fame, they need to realize that perhaps the greatest baseball broadcaster in history, for whatever reasons, has been left out," said Missouri resident Ron Barber, who has lovingly curated Quinlan's voice on his Facebook page, which has more than 1,000 followers, many of whom listened as kids.
"He brought us into a Disneyland of the radio," Barber said. "He painted pictures. He was funny. He was entertaining. And you knew when that microphone went on, the Cubs were probably going to get the (crap) kicked out of them, but, my God, we were going to have a blast with Jack Quinlan."
Barber's page offers such audio nuggets as a clip of Quinlan calling Sandy Koufax's record-tying 18-strikeout game against the Cubs on April 24, 1962 at Wrigley Field.
Quinlan's voice is immediately engaging, inviting us to "light up a White Owl (cigar) and live," before launching into the play-by-play. He creates an audio tapestry, weaving into his narrative a brief recap of the game's highlights, an appreciation of Koufax's performance, the announcement of player substitutions and a precise report of the action right down to the location of pitches and the attempts by fans to reach for foul balls.
Quinlan, with the Wrigley crowd audible in the background, so perfectly describes the action that you don't really need a visual. It is a perfect example of the magic of baseball on the radio. One can well imagine sitting on one's porch on a sunny summer day with a refreshing glass of lemonade and enjoying Quinlan's energetic account.
But don't take my word for how good he was. Just ask another Frick recipient, the great Bob Costas.
When I spoke with him last week by phone, he praised the Cubs broadcaster, saying, "I never heard Jack Quinlan while he was alive. It was many years later that I heard him for the first time."
But when he did hear him, he said he was immediately struck by a voice that had a combination of "presence and a certain authority, like this guy knows what he's doing. But it's also pleasing and friendly sounding, which is a good quality for any broadcaster, but it's almost essential if you're going to be a really good baseball broadcaster, because it's such a day-in-day-out game and not everything is momentous in 154, for much of his career, and then 162 games."
Costas said the baseball broadcaster is a companion as much as a reporter, and from "the tapes that I've heard," including not only his work with the Cubs, but on national broadcasts, reveal a presence that "drew you in. He dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts, in terms of what's the count, where are the fielders, what's the weather like, what's the game situation. His calls of plays were exciting and accurate, but the overall is what struck me. The pace, the rhythm, both the presence in terms of authority, but also the pleasantness."
To Costas, "It's almost a crime that he's not in the broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, because if you ask me to name the 10 best baseball announcers, radio, television, local, national, past, present that I've ever heard, he's one of the 10 best baseball announcers I have ever heard."
So with such a glowing assessment from a baseball broadcasting legend and other testimonials, what is keeping Quinlan out of the Hall of Fame?
The answers are complicated.
One is as simple as out of sight, out of mind.
"I think the main reason is because he has been deceased for so many years," Barber said.
Another major obstacle is the voting process, which only elects Frick candidates from the Pre-Wild Card Era every five years. The next time Quinlan can be considered is 2027.
In addition, during the other four years, the ballot is a composite of local and national voices.
"The way I put it is this setup is like asking people to vote on Gold Gloves with shortstops and catchers in the same category," said Costas, who said he has respectfully suggested to the Hall of Fame that there be three separate categories for the Frick on a three-year cycle -- national voices, local radio and local television. If you wanted a fourth category and make it a four-year cycle, he said, there could be one for analysts.
Costas went on to say there would be a list of posthumous candidates within each category.
"And you could elect a posthumous candidate along with the living candidate each year," he said. "That's the only way that the posthumous candidates are going to have a true shot, because if they're all lumped together, there is always going to be an understandable leaning toward 'I'm voting for the guy who can smell the roses.'"
Barber pointed out that the Hall of Fame "enshrined Gil Hodges many decades after his death in a special ceremony. That absolutely sets a precedent that opens the door wide open for Quinlan."
If Quinlan gets the Frick Award, it will be poetic justice, considering that, as Barber pointed out, it was Frick himself who in 1960 when he was baseball commissioner, "decided to select a young man from a last-place team to co-host and co-broadcast arguably the most exciting World Series in history. And that was Jack Quinlan."