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Beloved on the field and in the broadcast booth, Cleveland's Jack Graney gets Baseball Hall of Fame honors

Jack Graney called Cleveland Indians games for every season save one from 1932-53.
Cleveland Guardians
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Cleveland Guardians
Jack Graney called Cleveland Indians games for every season save one from 1932-53.

A Cleveland sports legend is getting recognition from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Jack Graney was named the recipient of this year's Ford C. Frick Award,
presented annually to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball."

Graney spent 14 years playing for Cleveland’s baseball team beginning in 1908. He went on to spend two decades as the team’s radio broadcaster through 1953.

Commentator Terry Pluto said he didn't know much bout Graney before doing some research.

"I knew he was a broadcaster, but that was it. There's a story here because if I don't know, I doubt very few people do," Pluto said.

Graney had a lot of "firsts" in his career. He was the first player to wear a number on the back of his jersey. He was also the first player to get a hit off of pitcher Babe Ruth.

"Cleveland was the first baseball team to decide to put numbers on the jersey, and Graney was always the leadoff hitter. So that's why, for example, with Ruth starting his first big league game, Graney leads off, he's the first one to do it," Pluto said.

What Pluto learned is that Graney, nicknamed Irish Jack, wasn't just an accomplished player and broadcaster, he was beloved in Cleveland, both on the field and in the broadcast booth.

Pluto said Jeremy Feador, the team historian and communications coordinator for the Guardians, wrote “the white paper” to make the case for Graney's Hall of Fame honors.

"[Feador] said to me, 'We talk about the first ballplayer turned broadcaster, first guy to face Babe Ruth. That's trivia. It's not why he should be in. If you think how Tom Hamilton is popular today with the baseball fans in Cleveland, that was Graney during his 21 years as the broadcaster, only maybe even more so because... hardly any games were on television.'"

Pluto said Graney had a knack for describing the games in cities like New York and Boston even though he was in Cleveland getting the plays through the Western Union wire.

"He sat in a radio studio at the old WHK in Cleveland. And [the wire] would say, Babe Ruth doubles to left field. And all of a sudden, Graney would whack the table go, 'There's a double down the left field line! There goes Babe Ruth into second base!'

"He was Mr. Cleveland Indian back then. The players came and went. The managers came and went. Irish Jack was around."
Terry Pluto

Pluto said Graney's years of playing baseball helped him paint a picture for fans.

"He would get the weather report off the wire and he could talk about the wind, the sun, whatever it is. He wasn't there. But he tried to make you feel there. And besides, if he was a little off, I mean, who knew?"

As much as Graney was popular with the fans, his dog, a terrier named Larry, was perhaps even more famous.

"During the game, the dog was in the dugout with the team. They had Larry trained 90% of the time to make sure he could go get the foul balls, because they didn't like fans to get the balls, because they cost money. He'd bring the ball back, they'd wipe it off and go back and play. But once in a while, Larry got a little bit too excited and went after a ball [in play]."

And there was the time Graney rode a horse into the outfield.

"They were playing an exhibition game, and Graney looks past the outfield fence and he sees a groundskeeper on a horse. So in the seventh inning, he hopped the fence, took the steed into the left field [and] just kind of stood out there for a while with the horse."

Graney died in 1978 at the age of 91. Pluto said it's great to see his legacy live on.

"When you talk about the 20 years when he was a player and before that when he's broadcasting, baseball was the king of sports. When you were the radio voice of your baseball team, you were really a big celebrity. He was Mr. Cleveland Indian back then. The players came and went. The managers came and went. Irish Jack was around."

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.