Bob Costas’ journey to Cooperstown began in the driveway of his Long Island home.
“When I was about 12 years old, I remember sitting in my father’s car in the driveway of our house in Commack, fiddling with the radio dial,” Costas said Wednesday in a phone interview. “In those days, you got better reception on the radio in the car than in the house. If the Mets or Yankees weren’t on, I’d try to pick up Ernie Harwell from WJR in Detroit, or Bob Prince on KDKA in Pittsburgh or Chuck Thompson on WBAL in Baltimore, or Harry Caray and Jack Buck on a very clear night all the way from Long Island, beaming in from St. Louis on KMOX.”
Radio immortals, all, and now Costas is one of them. The 65-year-old Commack High School South and Syracuse University graduate, was named the 2018 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to a candidate who displays “excellence in broadcasting.”
Costas is a nationally known television personality who has broadcast college basketball, the NBA, NFL and MLB as well as being NBC’s prime-time host for 11 Olympics. But baseball is his first love. “It’s always been my favorite sport to broadcast and I think that I’m something of a historian on the history of the craft,” he said. “In the early 1960s, we lived for a year and a half in Los Angeles. I was a transistor radio kid and I listened to Vin Scully.”
He honed his craft in his Commack backyard while playing that suburban staple – whiffle ball. “Like a million kids, I did imaginary play-by-play of our whiffle ball games,” Costas said. “I was Mel Allen or Red Barber. Or when I shot hoops in the driveway, I was Marv Albert.”
Favorite baseball games that he’s called? “The two most memorable I wasn’t even the play-by-play guy,” he said. “I was in the Red Sox dugout when the ball goes through (Bill) Buckner’s legs (against the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series). I was in the corner of the Dodgers’ dugout when Kirk Gibson hits his home run (a walk-off blast off Dennis Eckerlsey of Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 Series). I ran over to him after he crossed home plate and did an interview.”
Of the games for which he was calling the action, Costas cited Game 7 of the 1997 Series, when Edgar Renteria’s walkoff single pushed the Marlins past the Indians, and Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, the Jeffrey Maier game. “Jeter hit that home run that probably shouldn’t have been a home run,” recalled Costas, who has been with the MLB Network since 2009, narrating documentaries and doing play-by-play of regular-season games.
He has won 28 Emmys in a distinguished career, but Cooperstown and baseball hold a special place in his heart. He grew up never imaging he’d be joining the voices of summer and the boys of summer.
“The idea that in some small sense I’m part of that fraternity, that you’re mentioned with them and the words Hall of Fame are in the same sentence, is amazing,” said Costas, proud that he was asked to deliver eulogies for his childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, as well as Stan Musial. “I remember the first time I visited the Hall of Fame and I thought it was like walking into a grand cathedral. This is one of the great experiences of my life.”