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Chuck Thompson, Orioles' Voice For Nearly 30 Years, Dies at 83

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page B04

Chuck Thompson, 83, the longtime broadcast voice of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts, whose easygoing but memorable play-by-play calls led to his enshrinement in the broadcast wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, died March 6 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, Md. He had a stroke the day before.

Known for his staccato delivery, his gentlemanly manner and the hats he often wore on the air, Mr. Thompson had a soothing, amiable voice that connected generations of fans with Baltimore's sports heroes from the 1950s through the 1990s. In 1958, he announced the famous championship football game between the Colts and the New York Giants.

Long-time Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson
Long-time Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson
Chuck Thompson, broadcasting a game in 2000, called Orioles games for the better part of five decades. (Dave Hammond - AP)

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In 1995, when Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. broke a major league record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game, Mr. Thompson's voice was heard on a video tribute that was played to the fans in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"Chuck Thompson was as much a part of the fabric and history of Orioles baseball as the players on the field," team owner Peter G. Angelos told the Associated Press.

"He was one of a kind," said Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, who played for the Orioles from 1966 to 1971. "He didn't copy anybody's style. The people sitting at home really enjoyed listening to him because he made them feel like they were at the ballpark. And that's not easy to do on the radio."

In 1993, Mr. Thompson was presented the Ford C. Frick Award and became the 17th announcer to enter the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Chuck had one of the all-time great voices of the game," said Jon Miller, who succeeded Mr. Thompson as the Orioles' play-by-play radio broadcaster in 1983 and now broadcasts for the San Francisco Giants and ESPN. "He was instantly recognizable, clear, authoritative and enthusiastic."

Mr. Thompson broke into major league broadcasting in September 1946, when the regular announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies was detained by a ceremony on the field between games of a doubleheader.

"So the next thing I know," he told William Gildea of The Washington Post in 1993, "the first batter steps in for the Giants and the second game is underway. I didn't have a lineup. I didn't have a scorecard. But I had 26 stations on the network waiting to hear something. So I had to try to do what I could with baseball play-by-play."

By 1949, Mr. Thompson was in Baltimore as a radio broadcaster for the Orioles, then a minor league franchise. He also announced Navy football games for three years before becoming the voice of the Baltimore Colts in 1953, when the team entered the National Football League.

In 1955, one year after the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and were renamed the Orioles, Mr. Thompson stepped into the baseball club's broadcast booth. After two seasons, when the team's broadcast sponsor was changed from one beer company to another, Mr. Thompson was fired.

The new company, Miller said, thought Mr. Thompson's voice would be too closely identified with its competitor. For four seasons, 1957 through 1960, Mr. Thompson broadcast games for the Washington Senators before returning to Baltimore in 1961.

One of his most famous broadcasts, though, was for a football game Dec. 28, 1958. He lost a coin toss to fellow NBC-TV broadcaster Chris Schenkel, who chose to announce the second half of the Colts-Giants championship game at Yankee Stadium. When the game ended in a 17-17 tie, Mr. Thompson returned to the microphone for the sport's first-ever overtime period and called the one-yard plunge by fullback Alan Ameche that gave the Colts the victory. Often called the greatest football game ever played, it was seen by a television audience of 40 million.

Besides Miller, Mr. Thompson teamed up over the years with Ernie Harwell, Bob Wolff, Bill O'Donnell, Joe Angel and current Orioles broadcasters Fred Manfra and Jim Hunter. For 10 years, his television partner was the Orioles' great third baseman Brooks Robinson.

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