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The View From Pluto: Beloved Voice of the Indians Tom Hamilton Finalist for Cooperstown Honor

a photo of Tom Hamilton
ERIK DROST
/
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Tom Hamilton has been the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians for 30 years.

The voice of the Cleveland Indians may soon be honored in Cooperstown. Tom Hamilton is a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, presented to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says Cleveland fans have been hearing Hamilton on the radio for 30 years.

From the dairy farm to the baseball diamond
Pluto says Tom Hamilton grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconisin. “He thought about being in radio, listening to the Chicago Cubs and the old Milwaukee Braves, dreaming of getting off the dairy farm."

'Tom Hamilton knows the moment. He can just feel it coming on.'

Hamilton got his start with minor league teams in Milwaukee, Appleton, Watertown and Shell Lake, Wisconsin. He then moved on to the then-AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees, the Columbus Clippers. He joined the Indians in 1990.

Pluto says Hamilton's journey mirrors that of former Cleveland Cavaliers radio announcer Joe Tait, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. "Joe grew up on a farm in Illinois. They both gravitated toward Cleveland with the same dream of getting into radio, starting in small town radio."

Hamilton worked along alongside former Indians pitcher Herb Score until Score retired in 1997. And, after 30 years as the team's lead play-by-play broadcaster, Pluto said Hamilton has learned how to manage the fatigue. "He does seven of the nine innings. He worked into his contract some time off during the season." 

"He's a guy that decided, 'I'm not just going to chase going to a network. I'm going to do it here.'''

One of the greats in a sport meant for radio
Pluto said baseball is a sport that was made for the radio, and Hamilton is one of the greats.

"You can do a lot of things with a baseball game on in the background, because you can sort of tune in and out of it. And with knowing Hamilton's voice which is so expressive, it'll drag you right back into the game, whereas when you listen to basketball or football, there's just a lot more going on. It's just a noisier game."

Making Cleveland home
Pluto admires that Hamilton, along with Tait, made Cleveland home.

"I went to lunch with the two of them and the commonality of the rural Midwest background, coming to Cleveland, at almost the same age, a little starry-eyed about being in the big leagues and not sure how long this was going to last. And adopting Cleveland and Northeast Ohio as home and can't imagine living anywhere else.

They both were talking about how they are 'radio guys.' They're storytellers. Tom Hamilton knows the moment. He can just feel it coming on."

Pluto said Hamilton once turned down a good offer to work in Baltimore. "He's a guy that decided, 'I'm not just going to chase going to a network. I'm going to do it here.'"

Frick award finalists
The other nominees for the Frick Award are Joe Castiglione (Boston Red Sox), Jacques Doucet (Montreal Expos/Toronto Blue Jays French broadcaster), Ken Harrelson (Red Sox/New York Yankees/Chicago White Sox), Pat Hughes (Minnesota Twins/Chicago Cubs), Ned Martin (Red Sox), Mike Shannon (St. Louis Cardinals) and Dewayne Staats (Tampa Bay Rays).

The winner will be announced on December 11 at the baseball winter meetings in San Diego and honored during Hall of Fame Induction Weekend next July. 

The only other Indians broadaster to receive the Frick award was Jimmy Dudley in 1997, two years before his death at age 89. Dudley was the Indians' lead announcer from 1948 until his firing by the club in 1968.