The Florida Marlins can’t have Dave Van Horne. Sorry.
It’s nice he’s called games for that National League franchise since 2001 – including its 2003 World Series win – but, seriously people, he’s the voice of the Montreal Expos and that’s all there is to it.
For the first time this weekend, Cooperstown will open its doors to a player wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap. It is right and fitting Roberto Alomar go into the pantheon – the second baseman should have been a first-ballot choice, but why quibble? – and his No. 12 become the first Jays jersey number retired because he is the only Toronto player who is in the discussion when baseball people talk about the best-ever at any given position.
Same with long-time general manager Pat Gillick.
But it is also fitting it is on this weekend that Van Horne’s name be inscribed alongside those of previous winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence. Because if you were to chisel out a Mount Rushmore of people who have influenced Canadian baseball, you’d have to find room for Van Horne’s visage.
This is a big country, and for generations of baseball fans, he was the voice of the game coast-to-coast. Before the birth of the Blue Jays, he had the whole thing to himself and not once did he abuse the privilege.
Think of the gamut of Expos teams: From giddy expansion squad to the monstrously-talented but ultimately underachieving teams of the 1980s, right through to the day late and dollar short days of the 1990s, as the Expos were playing second fiddle to the Blue Jays.
Think of the technology: Van Horne broadcast the Expos’ 2000 season on the Internet only after ownership pulled the plug on English-language broadcasts.
Through it all, he and regular partners Russ Taylor, Duke Snider, Gary Carter and the sublime Ken Singleton told the story, sometimes wearing ridiculous coloured blazers. (Think of the blazers!)
“Obviously, you can’t last long if you don’t have a love for the game, because if you go to the booth bored, people figure you out pretty quickly,” Van Horne said. “And you need to have a pride in your work and you need to be a good employee. But in the end, you need to be an easy listen. You want generation after generation to follow the team and follow the stories, and you can’t do that unless you’re an easy listen.”
The beauty thing of the Frick Award – named after the former MLB commissioner who started out as a public relations director and club broadcaster – is that it honours a body of work.
It is, as Van Horne said, “in a general sense, an honour for Dave Van Horne: baseball broadcaster. But there’s no denying that those 32 years [with the Expos] are huge.”
So Van Horne will let others decide about the voice of the Expos/voice of the Marlins thing because “it’s a pretty good body of work. I’m happy on all counts.”
Van Horne was selected as the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award in a combination of on-line balloting and a committee vote of previous Frick winners, as well as broadcast historians and columnists.
Among those also under consideration were the voice of the Blue Jays, the late Tom Cheek, and the hugely underappreciated Expos French-language voice, Jacques Doucet – and their time will come. In Toronto, there is a longing for Cheek to receive recognition he so richly deserves. Most assuredly, he will.
There is tawdriness in some ways to the online voting element, because it lends itself to shilling for people whose underlying strength, regardless of language or style, is they seldom verge on the tawdry or maudlin.
So however you greet Van Horne’s honour this weekend, it is wise to do so having made peace with the past. There are still wounds from the manner in which Jeffrey Loria and David Samson took advantage of a lack of will and general thumb-twiddling on the part of their local partners to expedite the Expos’ departure from Montreal and parlay the threat into an ownership switch involving John Henry and Major League Baseball.
Funny how it works: It was on the Loria’s watch that broadcasts were pulled from English-language radio in Montreal because Loria tired of essentially giving away the rights. Van Horne says he knew then change was coming – “that I’d either be working some place else or retiring.” He was hired by the Marlins in 2001, and 12 months later, found himself working for Loria, who now owned the Marlins.
“As soon as the transaction was completed, they called me and said: ‘Look, don’t go anywhere. We want you,’ ” Van Horne said. “Now, Jeffrey’s told me I can call games as long as I want.”
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