Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Gunner In Hawaii

Written on the back of the photo: "Honolulu in the summer of 1967"

I didn't buy this photo because of it's connection to Hawaii.  No knock on the state, but Hawaii is one of five states I've never visited, and while I'd love to make the trip,  I don't pine for it's blue lagoons.  (Does Hawaii have lagoons?)  I picked up this image because the man looks like Bob Prince.

For those without a Pittsburgh connection, Bob "The Gunner" Prince was the longtime voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for me, a cherished childhood memory.  Prince was born in Los Angeles, my current home, in 1916.  His father was in the army,  so L.A. wasn't home, so much as a stop on an ever changing map.  Prince would become a Pittsburgher latter in life, graduating from Schenley High in the North Oakland neighborhood of the city.  (Andy Warhol was also a Schenley High grad.)  A star swimmer at The University of Pittsburgh, after graduation, Prince went into broadcasting, and in 1948 joined the Pirate broadcast team as color man for Rosy Rosewall, taking over the top spot for the team when Rosewall died in 1955.  In 1969, broadcast rights for the Pirates had passed from Atlantic Richfield to Westinghouse Broadcasting, and Bob Prince never got along with his new employers.  For five years, the Pirate organization intervened every time Westinghouse tried to get rid of him, but in 1975, they gave up defending him, so Prince and his broadcasting partner Nellie King, were shown the door.  Prince did a year with the Houston Astros before being fired.  He also did part of a season on ABC's Monday Night Baseball broadcasts, but was let go when he attacked management, on air, for not letting him call games the way he wanted to.  He did radio for NHL,  Pittsburgh Penguins for part of a season, but he didn't know the game and had trouble with French Canadian names, so that didn't work out either.  In 1982, he returned to the Pirates, calling a handful of games on a cable station, and returned to start the 1985 season on radio only.  Bob Prince didn't finish the season, but not because of disputes with his employers.  A heavy smoker, Bob Prince died of mouth cancer, mid season.

The official story on Bob Prince's nickname, The Gunner, was as a reference to his fast, staccato style of speech.  The unofficial story is that he had a near miss from a gun totting, jealous husband.

Prince was a colorful presence in the broadcast booth.  He had a love of really bad sports jackets, a tendency to give nicknames to  players, and was the inventor of more than a few colorful phrases.  If the Pirates were down by a couple of runs, we needed a "bloop and a blast." When Roberto Clemente came to the plate it was, "Arriba, Arriba."   Clemente hated that one, considering it a bit racist.  I can remember an interview he did with Hank Aaron, where he suggested that once Aaron tied Babe Ruth's all time home run record, he should retire mid game and not risk hitting number 716.  Hank looked somewhat baffled at that one.  And of course, Bob Prince invented the Green Weenie, a green plastic rattle,  modeled after the souvenir pin given out by Heinz to those who took the pickle factory tour.  The Green Weenie was closer to the size of a foot long hot dog, and well, to put it mildly, a lot of fans thought of it as a green penis.  I know I did.  Hey, I was a teenager, what do you expect.

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