Though I listened to Bill Grigsby and his elongated "be-you-ti-ful" weather pronouncement as he broadcast Kansas City Chiefs games over the years, I only met the former Joplin Miners broadcast one time, when he was in Carthage in June 1998 to broadcast the KOM Old Timers Game.
So I am leaving it to this area's foremost custodian of the lore and knowledge of minor league baseball, former Carthage Cubs batboy John Hall to recall the inimitable Mr. Grigsby, who died today at age 89. The following comes from Hall's KOM Report:
Yours Truly first knew of Bill Grigsby when he announced the Joplin Miner games in 1950 on WMBH radio. He had one of those voices that you never forgot and over the years I heard him on radio broadcasting major league sports in Kansas City.
In 1998, a dream came true for Yours Truly. The largest of all KOM league reunions was held in Carthage. WMBH radio promoted the event and even volunteered to carry the old-timers game at that event, live, if I could find an announcer. Immediately, I got on the telephone and asked Grigsby if he’d like to return to “the scene of the crime.” When he found out that a lot of the former KOM leaguers also played for the Joplin Miners and/or in Western Association, he was happy to drive down from his Parkville, Mo home.
Oh, one more thing. He insisted that I be his play-by-play color man. That was more than I could have ever anticipated. When the time for the game arrived I still had the choice of remaining on the field and participate in the old-timers game, as a batboy, or going to the press box and joining Grigsby for the broadcast. The press box was my choice and it was filled with former writers for the KOM league teams or people connected with the league in some respect.
A tape machine was placed in a strategic place for Yours Truly to record the game. The radio signal from Joplin to Carthage, while only 20 air miles away, at most, was not that strong. However, I was able to capture the game on tape and what startled me was WMBH never paused for station identification in a broadcast that lasted over two hours. That day I learned the secret of radio. The announcers can create verbal scenes that have nothing to do with reality. In one segment on that tape I’m heard asking Grigsby what he estimated the attendance to be and he replied “Probably, between 30 and 35 thousand. I can only imagine motorists on I-44 and Highways 66 and 71 hurrying to get past Carthage before that large throng began filling out the stadium. There may have been 300-400 people at the stadium that day and most of them were former players. (For verification purposes the readership is encouraged to check the story through Jim Ellis of the Miami, Oklahoma News-Record for he almost drove off the road, on his way back to Miami, when he heard it on his car radio.)
At the end of that broadcast he asked if I’d like to say anything and I recall mouthing this unrehearsed disclaimer. “This broadcast is authorized under the authority granted by the KOM league and its President, the late E. L. Dale, solely for the enjoyment of the listening audience. Any reproduction, description or other use, of this broadcast without the express written consent of Mr. Dale, or the KOM league Inc. is strictly prohibited.” The only comment Grigsby had when I finished was “Man you’re crazy.” And, not only was he a great broadcaster he was very perspicacious.
During that reunion Grigsby made a speech to kick off a banquet telling the assembled throng (yes, they were throngs back then) how blessed they were to have played the game in the era they did and how great it was for them to have a chance to assemble and remember those days. One of the regrets I have of those reunions is that Grigsby’s remarks were not recorded. I had someone who was supposed to be doing that with a camcorder but they were asleep at the wheel.
As much as I like Len Dawson and Mitch Holtus, Chiefs' broadcasts have not bee the same since Mr. Grigsby retired in 2009 after broadcasting the team's games for 47 years. Though in his last few years, he mostly did pre-game material (and those great Williams Chili Seasoning commercials), his voice still added a special element to the Chiefs' games.
REV. FREDDIE FRANKS
(from May 13)
It was the kind of hit I was known for during my baseball days.
A wide sweeping curve crossed the place, an enticing sight to behold. For a flickering moment, it appeared the ball would sail in belt high, and if that happened, hopefully it would end up a line drive dropping safely somewhere in the outfield.
At the last second, however, the ball dipped and dived out of the strike zone. I was already into my swing, but I was able to adjust it, lunge, and somehow get the wood on the ball, lofting it high in the air, one of those tantalizing fly balls that headed for no man's land- a few feet too far in for the right fielder or center fielder and too far out for the second baseman to catch.
It dropped into the high grass on the old Granby field and I was safe on first.
The pitcher, the Rev. Freddie Franks, was none too happy about this turn of events. As for me, I had my eyes on second base. The old guy, and Freddie was approaching 50 at that point, took his baseball seriously. I took a lead off first base and Freddie lobbed the ball over to keep me honest. The ball, like the curve he had pitched moments earlier, took forever to get there, so my confidence grew and so did my lead.
I danced off first base, ready for Freddie to pitch, so I could swipe second. I continued to build my lead. Freddie took the signal from his catcher, came to the set position...I never saw it coming. He whirled. I dived and the ball was waiting there for me.
I looked like a complete fool.
And the umpire yelled, "Safe."
Freddie started to protest, but the umpire cut him off. Freddie turned toward me and gave me a big smile. I didn't stray away from the bag the rest of the inning, which finished with two strikeouts and a weak popup to the infield.
Freddie Franks never lost that competitive edge and that zest for life. When he stood atop the Granby pitching mound three decades ago, he was more than 30 years older than many of those he was facing and many of his teammates, but his enthusiasm for the game had never waned.
It was the same approach he took to the ministry. For six decades, generation after generation, the congregation at the Silver Moon Full Gospel Church was guided through the joys and sorrows of this oh so brief existence by the Rev. Freddie Franks.
Not many ministers stay five years at the same post: Freddie took the pulpit at his church at the tender age of 22 in 1952 and 58 years later was still guiding his flock away from sin and in the direction of salvation.
The last time I saw Freddie Franks, when he spoke at the funeral of my aunt, Carolyn Strait, last year, he moved more slowly and his hair was considerably grayer, but that smile was the same one I remembered from three decades earlier.
That smile, and his comforting, reassuring presence were taken from us Wednesday when he died at age 80. It seems hard to imagine a world without Freddie Franks.
The obituary describes his death as being a result of a short illness. I prefer to think that he was called up to pitch in the second game of a doubleheader in the biggest stadium of them all.
And if any of his opponents are lucky enough to hit that curve ball, I would advise them to stay glued to first base.
The Rev. Freddie Franks will never allow any stealing in Heaven.
(From Aug. 8)
During the time I spent as a newspaper reporter, I covered hundreds of school board meetings and had a chance to see elected officials at their worst.
Many times the boards included members whose sole reason for getting elected was to work for some program that would benefit their own children. Others came with the specific intent of getting rid of some administrator or teacher.
Board meetings involving those people took longer and many times failed to accomplish much.
And then there was the Webb City R-7 Board of Education.
From midway through 1990 when I was hired as area reporter for The Carthage Press until 1999, I covered dozens of Webb City board meetings. During that time, I don't recall ever writing about anything controversial or ever seeing anything that resembled friction between the board members.
I actually was able to write stories about education and there were a lot of positive stories coming out of the Webb City School District.
Much of that stability and continued progress was due to Terry James.
When Terry James, who died Thursday at age 81, entered the library for the board meetings, people took notice. He was a tall, distinguished,silver-haired, courtly gentleman, seemingly a relic of a bygone era, but more attached to the future of education than any board member I have ever seen.
Though he was not always the board president during those years (Webb City alternates that role among its board members), whenever there was any question about what direction the board would take on an issue, people waited to see what Terry James had to say.
His tenure on the board lasted 35 years, from 1973 to 2008, a time of unprecedented growth and stability for the school district. Mr. James and his fellow board members chose their adminstrators wisely, including the long stewardship of Dr. Ron Lankford, who now works for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Anyone who wants to see what Mr. James accomplished during those three and a half decades can simply take a tour of the Webb City schools. New classrooms, gymnasium, auditorium and football field at the high school, the creation of first and second grade centers, new elementary school buildings (included one named after Mr. James' mother) a middle school, and a reputation for getting one bond issue after another for these projects approved at a time when other school districts failed repeated attempts to get bonds passed for building projects.
Terry James did not do these things alone. He had the good fortune of working with solid board members all the way, but for anyone watching those meetings, there was no denying, he was the glue that held a successful operation together.
Funeral services for Terry James were held today, with Dr. Lankford delivering the eulogy.
I am sure at some point, a building will be named after him or an award and it will be a richly deserved tribute, but the greatest tribute is the educational institution that he left behind.
As I was growing up and during my newspaper days, I would hear people running for school board and giving their greatest qualification as having children in the school system.
Some might think that during much of his tenure Terry James had no children attending school in the Webb City R-7 School District, but that would be faulty thinking.
When he cast his votes, he cast them for all of his children- every child who was enrolled in the Webb City schools. And they owe him their gratitude for a job well done.
(From Aug. 2)
During the nearly 20 years that I umpired baseball games, many of them at the old downtown Granby park, there were certain players I grew to dislike intensely.
There were the ones who believed that no pitch they took could ever be called a strike, the ones who thought every situation needed a trip to the mound no matter how sweltering the temperature was, and above all, I hated catchers who couldn’t field their position.
It never mattered how much protective equipment I was wearing, if a ball got past the catcher, it nailed me.
Those are the kinds of players who drive umpires up the wall.
You would never find Tom Channel’s name on that list. There was nothing flashy about his style behind the plate. He never needed many words to take control of a game…and he never, ever, let a ball get past him.
Umpires remember those things.
The same qualities that made Tom Channel a superb catcher also made him a top-flight human being.
He was steady, reliable, knew what his job was, and always made sure it was done.
In life, as on the baseball field, he was always there when he was needed.
I had lost touch with Tom over the years until several months back when he started dating my younger sister.
I don’t know much of what had happened to Tom since the old baseball days, but I knew the person I was seeing with Kelly was the same one who never let a baseball hit this home plate umpire.
In other words, he was exactly the type of person you wanted to see at a family function.
The last time I saw Tom was at just such a family function. My mom and dad, Bill and Joann Turner, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary Saturday in Newtonian.
I was talking to various relatives and family friends during the two hours or so that the celebration lasted and only had a chance to briefly say hi to Tom.
I regret that I did not get a chance to talk with him more.
When I returned to Joplin from a band practice in Granby tonight, Mom had left a message on my answering machine, telling me that Tom Channel died today.
Mom said that Tom had been eagerly anticipating the birth of a grandchild and since he was only in his early 50s, he was looking forward to spoiling that grandchild for years to come.
It’s hard to know why some people are taken so young, but the legacy Tom Channel left behind is one for which others should strive.
In life, just as in baseball, he was solid, steady, reliable, and always came through in the clutch.
Tom Channel will be missed.