Kubek honored with '09 Frick Award
Former Yankee was voice of a generation in NBC broadcast
LAS VEGAS -- Since the day he walked out of the broadcast booth in 1994, Tony Kubek has mostly steered clear of Major League Baseball, not even tuning in to a single game on television over all the years that have passed.
So it will be a surreal event when the former New York Yankees shortstop is reintroduced to the game on its most celebrated stage next summer.
A standout analyst in his post-playing career on the NBC "Game of the Week" telecasts, Kubek is the winner of the 2009 Ford C. Frick Award, an honor bestowed on broadcasters by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I don't know if you ever know what you're going to feel like once you get there," Kubek said. "It's a thrill now and it hasn't sunk in yet. I think it's an honor."
Kubek's election continues a week of distinctly Yankees flavor as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. On Monday, a Veterans Committee elected Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon to the Hall.
The announcement was made Tuesday during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Both will be included in the induction ceremonies on July 26 along with any winner on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. Rickey Henderson, the all-time stolen base leader and a Yankee from 1985-88, is the top contender.
"For an entire generation of baseball fans, Tony Kubek was the face and the voice of the game," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said. "In the days before all-sports TV networks, Tony brought baseball into your living room every Saturday afternoon for almost three decades.
His straight-forward style, quick and detailed analysis and no-nonsense commentary on the game's nuances gave viewers an insider's look at what the players were experiencing on the field."
Kubek's broadcasting career came to an end with an epiphany in that summer of 1994, with two years still left on his contract to serve as a Yankees analyst for the MSG Network. Traveling between Anaheim and Oakland, Kubek realized that after 40 years on the road, it was time to go home to Wisconsin and enjoy a quieter family life.
He has attended some fantasy camps in the decade-plus that have passed, enjoying reunions with old teammates, but is disconnected from the current game and declined to attend the Sept. 21 closing ceremonies at Yankee Stadium.
"If I couldn't be on the field at all times talking to players in the dugouts and the clubhouse," Kubek said, "getting information to pass along to the fans, I just felt like not being a part of all of it, I didn't want to be a part of any of it."
Dave Niehaus of the Seattle Mariners was the Frick Award recipient this year and went into the Hall on July 27 along with reliever Rich Gossage, who was depicted wearing a Yankees cap on his plaque.
As a Frick winner, Kubek is the first to be named exclusively as an analyst since the award was inaugurated in 1978, the first television broadcaster to be honored since Bob Wolff in 1995, and the first Frick Award winner to have called games for a Canadian team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I always just tried to focus on the game," Kubek said. "That was more important to me than anything else. A lot of it has to do with relating to your partner. When you're the analyst and the second banana, you let them lead the way and try to follow them."
But his playing career also stands out. The middle infielders -- Gordon and Kubek -- played during two distinct and successful Yankee eras and were members of a combined 11 World Series as Bronx Bombers, winning seven of them.
Gordon was with the Yankees from 1938 to 1943 and again after World War II in 1946. With the Yanks, he played for five American League pennant winners and four World Series champions before being traded to the Indians for pitcher Allie Reynolds. As an Indian, Gordon also played for Cleveland's 1948 World Series-winning team.
Kubek played his entire nine-year career from 1957-65 with the Yankees and was a member of six AL pennant-winning teams, three of them World Series champions.
"My heart always was and always will be with the Yankees," Kubek said. "In the days when I broke in, you could work out with any team you wanted to. There was no free agency. When I went there as a 17-year-old in 1953, my dad said to me, 'You're signing with the Yankees. Scooter [Phil Rizzuto] is getting older, you're a shortstop and maybe someday you'll make it.'"
But Kubek rose to greater fame as an analyst on NBC's "Game of the Week" telecasts during the 1960s and '70s. He also had stints in the same position with the Yankees and Blue Jays.
"I was especially always grateful to the cameramen," Kubek said. "If you need something or wanted to see a shot, the NBC cameramen knew the game so well. They knew where to point those cameras. The case in point would have been the [Carlton] Fisk home run up in Game 6 [of the 1975 World Series] at Fenway. An award like this can't really be given to any one person."
He was only one of three living nominees on the 10-man ballot.
Kubek spent 24 years at NBC teaming with Jim Simpson, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola and Bob Costas. He could be considered baseball's first modern-style analyst, paving the way for such familiar current voices as Tim McCarver, Tony Gwynn, Buck Martinez and Tom Seaver.
Kubek called 11 World Series, 14 American League Championship Series and 10 All-Star Games. He also was in the booth for the final NBC "Game of the Week" on Sept. 30, 1989, and that fall's ALCS, which ended a 43-relationship between the network and Major League Baseball.
He was joined on this year's ballot by Joe Nuxhall, Tom Cheek, Jacques Doucet, Dizzy Dean, Ken Coleman, Lanny Frattare, Dave Van Horne, Billy Berroa and Graham McNamee.
Van Horne, now with the Florida Marlins after 33 years as the English voice of the Expos, was the only active broadcaster on the ballot, following Frattare's retirement from the Pittsburgh Pirates' booth after 33 years earlier in 2008.
A 20-member electorate, comprised of the 14 living Frick Award recipients and six historians/columnists, cast their votes by mail in November. Voters were asked to base selections on a broadcaster's longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans.
To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have had a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service with a club, network or combination of the two. In 2008, more than 200 broadcasters were eligible for consideration for the award.