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September 12, 2010
Broadcasting the Minors, with Jim Weber
The Toledo Mud Hens are a staple of the International League, and Jim Weber is a staple of the Toledo Mud Hens. Currently the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, the Mud Hens have been in the league since 1965. Weber has been the team’s play-by-play announcer for nearly that long.
David Laurila: How long have you been the radio voice of the Toledo Mud Hens?
Jim Weber: This is year number 36. I started in 1975, with a partial schedule, and I actually put the deal together to get the Mud Hens back on the air after they had been absent for five or six years. That first year was just a 70-game schedule and we weren’t even a Tigers affiliate at the time. My first year was the Phillies last, and then we had Cleveland for two years. In 1978, Minnesota came in and we had them for eight years; that was a pretty good run, all the way through 1986. Detroit came in, in 1987, and has been there ever since.
DL: Have you done most of the games alone or with a partner?
JW: In 1987, I got a full-time partner at home, a guy that was very popular in town, on TV, Frank Gilhooley. When he retired, he joined me and did all of the home games up until he had to quit after 2007. His dad [Frank Gilhooley, Sr.] was a New York Yankee and there is a picture of him around town, that you can see in certain locations, where [Frank Jr.] is being held by Babe Ruth. Frank himself is 85 or 86 now, so he had to call it quits a few years ago.
DL: How many Mud Hens games have you called?
JW: Let’s see, this is our 99th game of the year, so tonight will make 4,532. [Editor’s note: this interview took place in July.]
DL: Why have you chosen to spend your career in Toledo, Ohio?
JW: Well, it’s my home anyway, so it works out perfectly. Plus, it’s a pretty good job. When we went downtown, and the new general manager started, it became a very viable employer. We’ve got the full benefits package. So I haven’t thought about moving along, at least not in the later years. In the early years, yeah…you do when you’re young. Up to about 1990 or so, I came very close on two occasions, but now it’s a good situation. I’m home with a pretty well-paying job, and the kids and grandkids are there, so it works for me.
DL: What were the two “very close” opportunities?
JW: They were to the major leagues. As a young guy you want to do that, but then I learned that in most cases you really have to know somebody. I actually had two agents recruit me, and one almost got me the job in Baltimore, in 1990. It was close.
The other one -- and they tell me that it was, but I don’t know how close it really was -- was Minnesota, back before then, in the early years. You hear from people from time to time. In the old days, the Mets would ask everyone for updated information, because they kept a file. A lot of clubs did that, I think.
DL: Were you in the running for the Tigers job when Ernie Harwell was unceremoniously let go after the 1991 season?
JW: The agent and I talked about that, but we never even tried, because we knew what was going to happen. The two guys that followed him when he was kicked out, so to speak…it was just miserable for them. I mean, they weren’t that bad, but they both got run out of town after three years. I knew that would happen. No one could follow Ernie and have a successful story to tell, so I was afraid of even trying that and I’m kind of glad that I didn’t.
DL: Do you see yourself as the Ernie Harwell of Toledo Mud Hens baseball?
JW: Well, I don’t know if you’d call me the Ernie Harwell, but I’ll probably be the guy that is the longest-running announcer in the history of this club, no matter how long it’s here. I mean, how many people are going to do the same thing for 36 years, at any level, let alone here?
DL: Has anyone broadcast for the same minor league team as long as you have?
JW: Yes, Howard Kellman in Indianapolis. He actually has a few more total games, but I have a longer consecutive-games streak, because he missed two years. He just celebrated his 5,000th game. The two of us are in the same division, in the International League, and I don’t think anyone else can even come close to the numbers we’ve put up.
DL: Of the [4,531] games you‘ve called, which stand out the most?
JW: Oh, probably those Governors’ Cup years. The one-game playoff against Indianapolis, to get to the playoffs, in ‘06. The victory over Indianapolis, in their ballpark, to win the Governors’ Cup in ’05. Those are highlights, but there have always been big games -- big comebacks, huge rallies, and things like that. And I had never gotten a ring for winning a championship until ’05 -- all those years -- so that was pretty big.
DL: Do you have any favorite stories that you’d like to share?
JW: Well, I can think of stories from just about every ballpark, but given that we’re [in Pawtucket], one that comes to mind involves one of my favorite managers of all time, Cal Ermer, who just passed away last year. We had him for seven of our eight Minnesota years and he decided one day -- this was here in Pawtucket -- that he was going to walk to the ballpark from where were staying, downtown. Now, I know the way, but these streets don’t all run north, south, east, west, and anyway, he took off.
We were about 40 minutes from the start of the game and nobody knew where he was, and people were really starting to get concerned. We were getting ready to call the police when finally he gives up and calls somebody, figuring that he went the wrong way. He was 15 miles from here, I think. He explained the corner where he was at and we had a cab pick him up. I could probably give you 500 stories, but that’s one that relates to this location.
DL: How long are you going to keep doing this?
JW: Until they carry me out. The greatest question I get is “When are you going to retire?” and my answer is always, “Retire from what?” Wouldn’t you like to watch baseball every day and get paid for it? I’ll do it as long as I can still talk and breathe.