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Bob Costas’ speech worthy of a Hall of Famer

Sheldon Ocker and Bob Costas at the Cooperstown

Sheldon Ocker and Bob Costas at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction on Saturday. Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame a / Please credit Parker Fish

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Anyone who has listened to Bob Costas call a baseball game won’t be surprised to learn he is this year’s winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, which is presented annually by the Hall of Fame to honor excellence in broadcasting.

The surprise is that the 66-year-old Commack product hadn’t already been so honored. But, as Costas explained on Saturday, he wasn’t on the ballot until this year. So he can take pride in being a so-called first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Also to no one’s surprise, he gave a Hall of Fame-quality speech in accepting the honor on Saturday evening at iconic Doubleday Field.

Costas, who has won 28 Emmy Awards for his work in all sports, is perhaps best known nationally for his former role as host of the Olympic Games. But baseball is his first love. He currently calls games for MLB Network.

“For me, baseball has always come first,” Costas said. “And so this day, and this honor, will always come first, too.”

Costas told of getting the call in December from Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson that he had won the award.

“I recognized the 607 area code,” Costas said. “I knew it was from Cooperstown and I was aware I was on the ballot. I was pretty sure Jeff wasn’t calling to say, ‘Bob, you missed by just this much. We feel so bad. Better luck next time.’ You get that butterfly feeling as you say hello and he let me know that I had been selected.

“Once that word got out, within minutes, I got a call from Vin Scully. One of the phrases that Vin uttered was, ‘Welcome to the club.’ Well, if the club includes Vin Scully, where do you sign up for membership? And then only a few minutes — maybe less than an hour later — Dick Enberg also called, and that was only days before he unexpectedly passed away. So that was the last conversation I had with him. I think that what that shows is that in this fraternity, you not only have talented and accomplished people but a lot of classy people.”

Costas also told of a project in which the MLB Network tried to pull clips of him calling big moments by the six players who make up the Class of 2018 (Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell). Costas said they found great clips of meaningful plays for four of the Hall of Famers.

“When we got to Trevor and Vlad, all we had was one strikeout from an All-Star Game and a throw from leftfield from an All-Star Game,” Costas said. “That’s all we had. We felt that if we had the first four and then we kind of fell off the cliff with Trevor and Vlad, it wouldn’t be fair. So we went in a different direction.”

Costas’ first visit to Cooperstown also was a memorable one.

“The first time I was at the Hall of Fame was in 1974,” he said. “I was a student at Syracuse. Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle got inducted the same day. We drove from Syracuse, a couple classmates of mine, and Mickey had a friend who was a restaurant owner in Syracuse. This friend knew me and he kind of snuck me into the library of the Hall of Fame — a 22-year-old kid who looked like he was 11 — and said to Mickey and Whitey, ‘This kid’s OK. You can talk to him.’ So I interviewed Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.”

And a star was born.

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