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Legendary broadcaster Hamilton enters Register sports hall

Fairfield native announced Aaron’s 715th home run
By Bryce Miller/Des Moines Register | Aug 11, 2014

One voice provided the soundtrack behind Hank Aaron’s 715th home run that toppled Babe Ruth, Pittsburgh’s “We Are Family” World Series championship, Nolan Ryan’s history-making 4,000th strikeout and Barry Bonds’ 70th homer.

It was the distinctive, no-nonsense voice that accompanied a staggering 11 no-hitters during a broadcast run that eclipsed six decades.

One of the best ways to gauge the significance of Milo Hamilton’s career, though, is to consider the person who visited him at Houston Methodist Hospital in 2007 as he recovered from hip-replacement surgery.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who was being treated on the same floor, popped in — hospital gown and all.

“When he was leaving, he said, ‘I’d like to call Drayton [McLane, owner of the Houston Astros at the time]. Do you have his number?’ “ Hamilton recalled. “Then he said, ‘Better yet, let me give you my number.’ Well, the Secret Service guys in the hallway were cringing.

“So he just starts saying his number. Anyone within a half a mile could hear him.”

Hamilton, a broadcast legend and part-time caretaker of Presidential telephone numbers, is the 215th inductee into The Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.

The man who grew up in the southeast Iowa town of Fairfield roamed radio booths for the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves and his beloved Houston Astros during a baseball marriage stretching back to 1953.

All of it happened because Hamilton picked up a copy of a military newspaper as an 18-year-old serving in the Navy.

In 1945, Hamilton saw an advertisement soliciting cast members for a play. He hopped into a jeep to try out for a part. While there, he met representatives of Armed Forces Radio seeking someone to handle radio duties for a touring baseball team in Guam.

Hamilton admitted to zero experience behind a microphone, but mentioned he was familiar with the game. He landed the job, unknowingly triggering a career path that transformed him into one the most iconic sports broadcasters in the United States.

“That was a total freak accident,” he said. “What if I hadn’t gotten in the jeep that night and gone to the base to audition for that play? That changed my whole life.”

Hamilton was born in 1927, meaning his earliest memories were framed by the financial ruin of the Great Depression. He delivered the Davenport Democrat & Leader newspaper to his 18 customers as he soaked up lessons about hard work and lending a hand.

It’s been estimated that Hamilton has been involved in charitable events in the Houston area alone that have generated $50 million.

“During the Depression, my dad was making $12 per week at a feed company,” said Hamilton, who will turn 87 on Sept. 2. “My mom always had time to do things at the church. We’d feed people from the other side of town who were really destitute.

“She’d have me stand by her and help serve, so I could see what it meant to give back. I think that stuck with me.”

The link to Iowa and the town where he grew up never left Hamilton, even as his broadcasting career turned him into a baseball celebrity. Hamilton made annual trips to Fairfield to visit friends and attend a University of Iowa football game.

Former Hawkeye and Kansas City Chief football player Ed Podolak, left, talks football prior to kickoff against Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.(Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Hamilton always footed the bill for those dinners, spending an estimated $25,000 during a quarter century’s worth of trips.

“The thing about Milo, despite all his travels, his World Series ring, he would still come back here almost every fall,” said Tom Gamrath, a family friend from Fairfield. “I was always impressed by a guy who did all that, to be in the limelight like that, and keep the attraction to the town where he grew up. It’s not like he forgot about the place, I can tell you that.

“He never forgot his roots. He’ll talk about sports stars from Fairfield with the same energy as Hank Aaron.”

Those roots continued to take hold across eastern Iowa, as Hamilton landed radio assignments while a student at Iowa and later as a young broadcaster in the Quad Cities.

Hamilton entered the world of Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Browns before eventually working alongside giants such as Jack Brickhouse, Jack Buck and Harry Caray.

Away from the microphone, he became known for his meticulous preparation. Long before the days of online sites and automated stat systems, Hamilton developed a reputation as one of the most innovative, organized numbers guys in the game.

Former Houston manager Phil Garner remembers marveling at Hamilton’s preparation while a coach under then-Astros boss Art Howe.

“He worked on his books endlessly,” Garner said in a telephone interview with the Register. “He spends hours keeping track of pitchers vs. right-handers, vs. left-handers and all those things before all of it was available to everybody.

“I would watch Milo and Art Howe sit on the airplane, and Art would use Milo’s stats prior to the next series to get ready. Before all the stat geeks you have now, Milo was that guy.”

Hamilton employed an elaborate, color-coded system to score games and catalog stats. Hits would be marked in red, the side of the plate where a player batted was tracked in purple and blue stars marked big plays or milestones. “Blue Star” plays became a signature feature of Hamilton’s baseball coverage.

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