Dave Van Horne broadcasted baseball games for the Montreal Expos for 32 years, from the club’s inception in 1969 through to the Jeffrey Loria era. Since then he’s moved on to become play-by-play man for the Florida Marlins, where a new generation of fans have heard him use his trademark “Up, Up, and Away” home run call. In Part I of BP’s chat with Van Horne, we discussed breaking into baseball, calling the game, and a few pages of Expos history.
Baseball Prospectus: How did you get your start in broadcasting?
Dave Van Horne: I graduated from high school in Easton, Pa. in 1957. At that point I had no idea what I wanted to do. At the last possible moment I decided to go to the Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). My sophomore year of college there was an opening to host a billboard-type radio show, to be a disc jockey. I dropped out and took the job. Not long after that the general manager of the radio station (in Roanoke, Va.) was looking for someone to do football games. I jumped at the chance to do that, and football eventually led to baseball.
BP: What made baseball stand out for you over other sports, as a broadcaster?
DVH: Breaking in doing football and basketball, you needed to call those games at a rapid pace. Baseball opened the door to a world of creativity. A lot of what goes into calling a baseball game is about what you do between pitches., and I enjoyed that.
BP: How did you land your first major league job, with the Expos?
DVH: A series of events, including the Milwaukee Braves moving to Atlanta, gave me a chance to do Triple-A games for the Richmond Braves in 1966. When Montreal went looking for a broadcaster, John McHale remembered me from Richmond. They had me in for an interview in West Palm Beach–Spring Training had already started by then. I didn’t hear back for a while, and my bosses needed to know if I’d be staying or going. So I called Montreal–I hated making that call. The people I spoke with said they’d have an answer within a few minutes. They called back and said: ‘Tell your boss you’ll be in Shea Stadium on April 8.’ I dropped the phone, looked at my wife, and started to cry. I was ecstatic…it was a dream come true.
The first thing I did after composing myself was grab a Rand McNally to find out where Montreal was. The next thing I did was call my broadcast partner Russ Taylor. He really took me under his wing, taught me what Montreal was all about. This was a bilingual city and province at a time of great political upheaval. The Expos were an escape from that upheaval. Later on they did a film of that season called “The Magic Summer.” Fans would come out to see Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose. Almost overnight you had a city whose heroes wore skates get new heroes.
BP: Did you have a particular style of announcing in mind when you started? Did you pattern yourself after other broadcasters at all?
DVH: I worked with a man named Frank Soden in Richmond for three years–the press box there is now called the Soden Press Box. He was my teacher when it came to baseball. He encouraged me to listen to as many major league broadcasters as I could to find ideas and develop a feel for tempo. The idea wasn’t to copy them though, it was to develop my own style.
BP: How did you develop your home run call, “Up, Up, and Away”?
DVH: This was 1971, maybe ’72. I was listening to the radio station replaying highlights from the previous night’s games, and the home run calls all sounded about the same. The sports segment ended and this song came on the air, “Up, Up, and Away.” It caught my ear. So I thought, ‘I’m going to do that.’ The next time an Expo hits a home run, I’d try it out. As soon as I did it, I got a lot of immediate feedback, most of it good. So I stayed with it.
DVH: I worked with Duke for 14 years and Kenny for seven. With someone like Duke Snider, or Kenny, who was a terrific player and is a terrific person, they can take the fan right onto the field. They’re both very gifted storytellers–they can recall details from hundreds of different situations. That’s what made us a success as a team.
BP: In what progression do you usually survey the field? Are you watching mostly the pitcher and catcher? Do you scan through every fielder?
DVH: I try to stay focused on the ball, since that’s what takes you from pitcher to hitter to fielder. I remember getting tongue tied once back in ’66 or ’67. Frank Soden said to me, ‘follow the ball, and let it tell you what to say.’ All those other things happen after the ball’s put in play.
BP: You’ll often hear some broadcasters praising particular players for their defense. At the same time, that may be because a fielder made a spectacular play–the broadcaster may not have seen whether the fielder was well-positioned in the first place or whether he got a good jump on the ball. Do you try to watch for those subtleties? Are you able to tell say, what a fielder’s range is given all that you have to watch?
DVH: I don’t know that I could sit down and go through the league and tell you about every player, who has average range, who has above-average range and who has exceptional range. What I can tell you is when I call a game, I have a good idea of whether a play’s going to be made or not.
BP: What’s the most memorable game you’ve ever called?
DVH: You know this is such a tough question, since there are so many after 35 years. Historically for Montreal, the first game had a lot of significance. In September of 1979 there were all those big doubleheaders in the middle of the pennant race. It’s easy for me to go to Dennis Martinez’s perfect game. It’s tough to choose just one.
BP: Was the 1994 Expos team truly good enough to win it all? What made that team special?
DVH: Was the ’94 team special? Let’s see…(Van Horne opens his wallet–next to a picture of his wife and daughter is the ’94 Expos’ starting lineup, rotation, bullpen and bench, plus stats, all typed onto an index card)
That was a team with talent and experience. There were a few young players on the team who didn’t have full-time roles, like Rondell White. Mostly it was a team made up of young veterans though. The bullpen had a great mix–Jeff Shaw, Mel Rojas, John Wetteland, Tim Scott. You had Jeff Fassero having a big year, Kirk Rueter throwing off-speed stuff, Pedro Martinez just starting to emerge, throwing aspirin tablets, Walker, Grissom, Alou…the blend was just outstanding.
Part II coming soon…