Go to the Hall, Miss Agnes Thompson's being honored

Go to war, Miss Agnes -- Chuck Thompson is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Orioles' legendary announcer was named yesterday as the 1993 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, given to a broadcaster who has made a major contribution to baseball. His legion of admirers responded to the selection with ringing endorsements, while no doubt proclaiming: "Ain't the beer cold."

Thompson, who has announced major-league baseball for more than six decades and also gained fame as the longtime voice of Baltimore Colts football, will be added to the broadcast wing during Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Aug. 1.

For the past 44 years Thompson has lived in the Baltimore area, where he became as well known as any of the athletes with whom he has been associated. For most of that time, Thompson has been a fixture in the Orioles' broadcast booth.

"Chuck's six decades as a major-league broadcaster, 33 years with the Orioles, have made him a Baltimore legend," said Hall of Fame president Ed Stack, who made yesterday's announcement. "His easygoing manner has endeared him to his listeners and viewers and his sense of humor have contributed to his popularity."

Thompson is the 17th recipient of the Frick Award, which was established in 1978. A special committee of baseball officials and broadcasters makes the selection each year.

Reached at his winter residence in Bradenton, Fla., Thompson, 71, admitted to being overwhelmed by his selection. "I'm a little better now than when I first heard the news [over the weekend]," said Thompson. "But I don't know if I'll ever get over the enormity and the prestige of this.

"I never felt this would happen -- I didn't think I was good enough," said Thompson.

Others were ecstatic over Thompson's selection. "It's richly deserved," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino. "The man has been an institution. He has been the personification of Orioles baseball for at least a few generations. I'm glad to see baseball give him the recognition he deserves."

When Thompson learned of his selection, one of his first phone calls was to Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman who was his partner on WMAR-TV for 10 years.

"Brooks has always been very public in his support for me and I wanted to share it with him," said Thompson. "He and [Robinson's wife] Connie got on the phone and all I can tell you is it was a great conversation with some wonderful people."

Robinson has long been outspoken in his belief that Thompson deserved Hall of Fame recognition, and reiterated those feelings last night. "It's been a long time coming and he's certainly deserving," said Robinson.

"He's a guy who could've done anything he wanted in the business, but he decided to stay in Baltimore. And I respect him for that," said Robinson.

"The thing that I remember most from working with him was that he always had the right words. It was amazing -- I don't know what it is, he just has the ability to say the right thing.

"Now," said Robinson, "it's time for him to enjoy it. He's going to have a ball up there [Cooperstown]. When I talked to him, I said 'you better start writing your speech.' I just think it's a wonderful thing."

Jon Miller, who has worked in an adjacent radio or television booth during most of his years in Baltimore, related a story that perhaps best exemplifies how his contemporaries regard Thompson. "It was about 12 years ago when I was with the Red Sox and I remember sitting on the bench talking with [broadcast partner] Ned Martin," said Miller.

"Ned told me if he had to pick someone to do one big game, he would ask Chuck. That shows the kind of respect he has among his peers.

"Chuck has that tremendous voice and the ability to paint a picture with words," said Miller. "But, to me, what says it all about Chuck and the regard in which he is held was that final weekend at Memorial Stadium [in 1991].

"How long was that ovation when he was introduced? It seemed like five minutes. I've never heard an ovation like that for anybody other than a former player. This [the Frick award] is a well deserved honor."

A native of Reading, Pa., where he began his career in 1939, Thompson did play-by-play of home games for the Philadelphia Phillies and Athletics in 1947-48. He came to Baltimore the next year to broadcast games of the Triple-A International League Orioles. He never seriously considered leaving.

"I think it's been a privilege to have had the opportunity to broadcast for three generations," he said of his tenure here.

It was during the early minor-league days that Thompson endeared himself to Baltimore sports fans by introducing such exclamatory phrases as "Go to war, Miss Agnes" and "Ain't the beer cold" when the local teams did something extraordinary.

It was also during those early years that Vince Bagli, who would go on to become the dean of late-night sports anchors in Baltimore, first met Thompson. Bagli marvels at the career he has watched from the start.

"I don't think anybody has ever 'worn' better than Chuck," said Bagli. "He's just done it -- and he got better. I honestly think he's as good now as he ever was.

"He's really loyal -- and he always looked out for the young guys. I remember meeting him as a student at Loyola College who wanted to get into the business and he invited me into the booth with him -- and then took me out for a hamburger.

"To have gone through that, and then to work with him for 12 years [broadcasting Colts games] was something special. To me, once the ball was in play, there was nobody better at calling the game," said Bagli.

Although he announced his retirement after the 1987 season, Thompson was never able to get far from the microphone. After filling in occasionally, he was lured back to the radio booth by WBAL and has worked about half the Orioles' 162-game schedule for the last three years.

"We are absolutely delighted," said Jeff Beauchamp, vice president and station manager of WBAL. "We're really proud and happy for Chuck -- and to have him out of retirement and back on the radio with us.

"Chuck is such a modest man, but this is one of the few times that I can sense his pride," said Beauchamp. "He's really a very happy man. And he should be -- he's very deserving."

Beauchamp revealed yesterday that WBAL is planning elaborate coverage of Thompson's induction. "We're going to have guys up there [in Cooperstown] and we're going to try and broadcast the ceremony.

"We're going to make a big deal of it, because this is something big. It's the ultimate honor," said Beauchamp.

Honored announcers

Announcers who have won the Ford C. Frick Award, given by the Baseball Hall of Fame for major contributions to the game by broadcasters:

1978 ... Mel Allen, Red Barber

1979 ... Bob Elson

1980 ... Russ Hodges

1981 ... Ernie Harwell

1982 ... Vin Scully

1983 ... Jack Brickhouse

1984 ... Curt Gowdy

1985 ... Buck Canel

1986 ... Bob Prince

1987 ... Jack Buck

1988 ... Lindsey Nelson

1989 ... Harry Caray

1990 ... By Saam

1991 ... Joe Garagiola

1992 ... Milo Hamilton

1993 ... Chuck Thompson