The words came slowly, occasionally mumbled or mispronounced. And by his own admission, the old Chicago Cubs' play-by-play man was a bit nervous upon his return to the broadcast booth. But for one shining moment, Ronald (Dutch) Reagan seemed almost prescient.
Extolling the athletic prowess of baseball All-Star and football running back Bo Jackson, the former President was interrupted in mid-sentence--"I don't know if there's ever been . . . "--by the crack of the bat.
Moments later, it was Reagan the Great Prognosticator again, calling out that "that one looks like it's going there, too!" as Wade Boggs followed Jackson's homer with another shot that ended up in the center field bleachers.
The on-the-ball predictions marked perhaps the high point of Reagan's one-inning, 16-minute return to broadcasting during the 60th All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, a place that he described to an estimated 51 million watchers nationwide as "the greatest baseball stadium in America."
Reagan told his audience: "You know it's a great honor for me after broadcasting several years in Iowa, and now finally make it to the big time of a top network sports broadcasting job. . . . Well, I've been out of work for six months and maybe there's a future here."
Yet, all the moments may not have been perfectly smooth as Reagan, who re-created Chicago Cubs games from teletype in the mid-1930s for a Des Moines radio station before trying his hand at acting and later politics, took a stroll down what he called "a very nostalgic lane."
And at the close of his appearance, former President Reagan said: "I'm so sorry that it's all over for me now, but I'd like to confess that I was a little uptight. . . . I get a little self-conscious when you know the people can see what is going on."
Indeed, Reagan made surprisingly few comments early in the inning on the air, letting play-by-play announcer Vin Scully lead the broadcast. At one point early in the game, he seemed confused as to who had just gotten thrown out stealing. At another point, he mispronounced the first name of Texas Rangers second baseman Julio Franco, saying it with a hard j, which proved contagious as Scully later made the same mistake.
Reagan sounded occasionally ill at ease as he read biographical statistics on the players from cue cards that he had prepared and brought with him to the game.
("He had stayed up late (Monday) night and prepared cards on the first five or six players in the lineup that he brought with him," along with a diagram of the diamond with each of the players at his position, NBC sports information director Kevin Monoghan said.)
Scully said the chance to sit side-by-side with Reagan--a former neighbor in Pacific Palisades--was the highlight of the game for him, telling the former president: "We were just so thrilled just to have you, sir." And former All-Star pitcher Tom Seaver, who relieved Reagan as color commentator, said he had "the most difficult and the largest seat to fill."
But after Reagan's departure, Scully noted Reagan's apparent discomfort, saying on the air that: "I kept looking at him and thinking that he really is. He really was nervous."
Fans noted that, as well. Don Israel of Anaheim, who brought a small Panasonic television with him to see the game live at the stadium, said: "Vinnie's doing all the talking. Reagan sounds pretty good, but he's not taking any risks. He's the color man."
Added Dan Rainey of Lake Forest, a Republican and American League fan who listened on a transistor radio: "He sounded to me like he was a little nervous. He probably wasn't comfortable talking without a script. It's been a couple of years since he called a game, but overall, he did OK."
Before the game, Reagan, under watch by Secret Service agents, had toured the dugouts of both leagues and of the umpires, signing a few autographs, chatting with ballplayers and telling a few jokes.
Reagan received no pay for the appearance, asking only for a hot dog and a Coke, said Monoghan of NBC Sports. After his appearance, he got just that as he visited for a few innings with Gene Autry in the Angels owner's box before leaving the stadium. Reagan, 78, joked on the air that the 81-year-old Autry made him feel "kind of like a kid."
Here are excepts from the broadcast:
Reagan, chuckling: " . . . You know it's a great honor for me after broadcasting several years in Iowa, and now finally make it to the big time of a top network sports broadcasting job. And, it's reassuring that only after six months away from a job that I had. Well, I've been out of work for six months and maybe there is a future here."
Scully: " . . . I was worrying as was the nation when we read about your horse bucking and rearing and throwing you off, and we thought you might have more than fractured syntax."
Reagan: "Well, I want to tell you, I am several shades of color underneath my clothes here, most of them being black and blue. I'm glad that you said that I didn't fall off the horse as some people said. No, I was bucked off and I think I'm very fortunate that I didn't have a lot of things broken."
Scully: " . . . You brought a little excitement to the night."
Reagan: "Well, I'd like to think that, but I'm so sorry that it's all over for me now, but I'd like to confess that I was a little uptight. But as I say, when I was up sitting at a place like this, I had to tell the people (listening on radio) what was happening because they couldn't see it, but now I get a little self-conscious when you know the people can see what is going on."
Scully: "We were so thrilled just to have you sir."
Reagan: "I want to thank you for the opportunity and for letting me be up here a little while, it's taken me down a very nostalgic lane."
Scully: "Now for the first time using the designated hitter in the All-Star game and the honor belongs to Pedro Guerrero. . . . Interesting how baseball has spread around. For instance, of the 56 All-Stars in the game today, six are from Latin countries, Pedro from the Dominican Republic."
Reagan: "They've got quite a baseball training ground down there for our major leagues. They do indeed."
Scully: "The pitch down and away, and it's a double steal. Eric Davis got a huge jump and Howard Johnson steals easily. National League leads 2-0. A drive into center field, coming in a hurry to pick it off, a fine catch by Bo Jackson and that saves the American League from further damage." (At the end of half an inning, the National League team leads 2-0.)
Scully: "Bo Jackson comes up."
Reagan: "Yes, I played the Gipper, but I also played for real in a much earlier time. But that Bo down there, that's a pretty interesting hobby he has for his vacation when baseball ends, he winds up playing football, I don't know if there's ever been . . . (Jackson hits a home run that makes the score 2-1 National League.) You know that could set it up pretty interesting for the end of this season when he goes back to the Los Angeles Raiders."
Scully: "Do you feel a great deal different sitting here doing a television game as opposed to the days of re-creating?"
Reagan: "It is different, I can't quite get used to this."
Scully: "Do you remember the first game you ever did re-create? Was it a Cub game or a White Sox?"
Reagan: "It was a Cub game."
Times staff members Jean Davidson, Nettie Mackley and Joe Bel Bruno contributed to this report.