Yesterday as we were driving home from a fun Easter weekend spent in Portland, I came across some sad news in my Twitter feed. Lon Simmons, who was a broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants during the 1960s, 70s and 80s (and later the voice of the 49ers and Oakland A’s as well) passed away at the age of 91.
I’m part of the last generation of sports fans that had to follow their favorite teams primarily through radio broadcasts and daily box scores and articles as kids. There was no ESPN, Fox Sports or MLB network. For baseball fans like me, our connection came through transistor radios and Saturday games-of-the-week on NBC. And as a young Giants fans, I listened to countless games – many of them bad given the Giants performance in the 70s – with Lon Simmons in my ear.
When I was in 7th grade, I missed nearly a quarter of school in the Spring of 1978 with various illnesses, mostly allergy and asthma-related. I was confined indoors in our house, which was unbearable for a normally energetic 12 year old. But luckily for me, the Giants had gotten off to an uncharacteristically strong start that season and were actually competing with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. Listening to the Giants games was the highlight of each day and I created my own calendar of upcoming games, so that I would have something to look forward to between home tutors and doctor appointments. The Giants were energized by a young power-hitting right fielder, Jack Clark (who quickly became my favorite player). And me and my friends quickly learned how to impersonate Lon’s famous home run calls, “It’s hit deep to left field…way back, way back, TELL IT GOODBYE! A home run!!”
As far as I was concerned, Lon Simmons was the greatest broadcaster on the planet. And later in life I (and millions of others) had the opportunity to vote online to help elect Lon to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He made it in 2001.
I met Lon once, before the famous 1982 49ers-Cowboys NFC Championship game. A friend and I had decided to go to the game and buy tickets from scalpers on-site. We had no idea how long it would take us to find tickets given our minimal $30 budgets so we decided to leave at 9 am for the afternoon game. As luck would have it, we immediately found a broker who sold us the tickets and we soon found ourselves with hours to kill before kick off. We decided to roam around Candlestick Park and somehow found ourselves on the mezzanine level, where the broadcast booths and suites were located. We recognized Lon exiting an elevator and made our way up to say hello. He was much taller than I expected – a reflection of the former pitching prospect he once was – and was very gracious. We were too nervous (and he was too busy) for much of an exchange but we told him how much we loved him and he thanked us.
It was both touching and interesting to read the many tributes for Lon that flowed on Twitter and social media after new broke about his death. It hit Giants fans and media members hard. Many also noted the role that he played in their lives as young sports fans listening to games in the Bay Area. Its not often that people have an opportunity to touch so many others who they never touch but that is truly one of the magical powers of mass media. And I hope that Lon knew how many he touched with his distinctive voice and witty sense of humor.
In honor of Lon, I’m sharing one of his greatest and most famous calls as a 49ers announcer.