Matthews one of a kind
Frick Award places Royals' voice among broadcasting elite
KANSAS CITY -- One voice, one team, one for the ages.
Denny Matthews, who called the Royals' inaugural game in 1969 and has been at it ever since, was overwhelmed Thursday when he was named the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award.
"It's a big day. Very cool, very nice," Matthews said. "Words escape me."
That, of course, has rarely happened over the years, as he described more than 6,000 Royals games.
Matthews, who was among 10 finalists this year, will be honored at National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on July 29 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"[Royals owner] David Glass said, 'You probably feel like you're on Cloud 9,'" Matthews said. "And I said, 'Well, I'm in double-digits. I feel like I'm on Cloud 10 or 11, a layer or two above Cloud 9.'"
Matthews' special day in Cooperstown will also mark the induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, who played their entire careers with the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres, respectively.
Not only that, but Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who won the 2007 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing and will join Matthews in the "Scribes and Mikemen" exhibit between the Hall of Fame gallery and the main library of the museum, has covered only the Cardinals in his career.
"That's a great point," Matthews said. "I hadn't thought of Rick in those terms, but that is a nice little connection, St. Louis and Kansas City, for the Cardinals and the Royals. But that's a great point -- I guess the theme of the induction this year would be staying in one spot. I guess that indicates stability if nothing else."
So the emphasis will be on that baseball rarity -- one man and one team for an entire career.
Coming up is Matthews' 39th season with the Royals. He got his start with the expansion club in 1969 as the No. 2 broadcaster alongside veteran announcer Buddy Blattner.
"I talked to [Blattner] two days ago. They're in Florida and he's still on the road to recovery. He's doing well," Matthews said.
Blattner recently had a lung removed and had a surgical procedure done on his voice box.
"It worked out for him, and we had a great conversation," Matthews said. "He could project. It's a little bit gravelly, but you could recognize the voice, obviously, and he's beginning to do some physical things he couldn't do a month ago."
Blattner mentioned that he'd seen Matthews' name on the list of potential Ford C. Frick Award winners.
"I said I've been on this list for four or five years and the thing now is to get off the list. And I guess we accomplished that today," Matthews said.
|"For a lot of people who aren't able to come to games but listen to us on the radio, Denny is the Royals."|
|-- Royals owner David Glass|
His late father, George, was an All-America selection in baseball at Illinois State University, and he was a Cardinals fan. So when young Denny listened to the Cubs' games, he had to be certain he was out of his father's ear range.
"I look at the list of previous recipients and, gosh, those were guys when I was kid I was lying in bed and twisting the radio dial and listening to -- Jack Buck and Joe Garagiola and Harry Caray and all the Chicago broadcasters," Matthews reminisced.
"Even some nights in central Illinois, when the weather conditions were just right, I could pick up Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota and some other games. It was kind of a joy just twisting the dial around and listening to the different broadcasters and their different styles and how they approached the game. Little did I know at that time, I was under the influence of those guys."
Matthews recalled that the late Jack Brickhouse, TV announcer for the Cubs, helped him make audition tapes in Chicago and made calls to Kansas City that aided his job quest with the Royals.
One of about 250 applicants, he got the job and stayed with it. He became the No. 1 voice in 1975, worked with Fred White for 25 years and has partnered with Ryan Lefebvre since 1999.
"He was very easy to work with all through those years," White said. "Denny's very much a live-and-let-live kind of a guy. I always admired his accuracy. I think he's as accurate and descriptive as anybody I've ever heard."
Although Matthews received offers to do the White Sox and the Cardinals over the years, he decided to stay in Kansas City.
"I'm really tickled for him. I'm very proud of him and it's an honor that is well-deserved and I'm exceptionally happy for him," Glass said. "He's just really good at what he does.
"There are some great names that have received the Ford Frick Award -- people that Denny grew up listening to -- Harry Caray and Jack Buck and folks like that."
This honor stamps Matthews as one of the elite in baseball broadcasting. Among the first he called were his mother, Eileen, and brothers, Steve, Doug and Mike, in central Illinois.
"My dad said a long time ago that if you hang around long enough, you work hard, you do a good job and you buy a tux, you should get an award here and there," Matthews said.
"I still don't have a tux but I guess I'm getting a pretty cool award."
As a broadcaster in five decades, Matthews has seen technology change. He remembered an incident from years ago at Fort Myers, Fla., involving late radio network engineer Ed Shepherd. Matthews was announcing a spring game from a platform on the Terry Park roof, about 80 feet from Shepherd and his equipment.
"In our high-tech capabilities of the time, when Ed wanted a station break, he'd lean out of the booth and drop an empty Coke can and when it'd hit the metal roof we'd hear it and that was our cue for the station break," Matthews recalled.
"But he got mad at us because apparently we weren't taking the cues, and he leaned out a little bit too far. We certainly heard Ed hit the roof, and we took the break."
Yep, Matthews has seen a lot and Royals fans have heard a lot.
"For a lot of people who aren't able to come to games but listen to us on the radio, Denny is the Royals," Glass said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.