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The Voice of Summer

Cubs radio man Vince Lloyd died last week. Maybe now the ball club will give him his propers.

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As a frustrated Cubs fan who fears that another deep, dark slide will consume the second half of this season, I call for a brief but important time-out. I interrupt our agonizing debates over Dusty Baker's social commentary, a replacement for Corey Patterson, and the recent slip from first place to remember a friend. Summer after summer, the steady and trustworthy voice of Vince Lloyd brought Cubs games to the colorful stadium of our own minds.

There is no one quite like the play-by-play radio guy. From spring training through June swoons to those chilly, anticlimactic Septembers, Lloyd was there to punctuate the baseball season for us, to give it place and purpose and scope. His play calling was crisp, articulate, and dependable, and though he never quite acquired the reputation of a Jack Buck or Ernie Harwell, he earned it.

There was a moment of silence last Friday at Wrigley Field for Lloyd, who died of stomach cancer last week at his home in Arizona. He'd broadcast Cubs games on WGN radio for 23 years before retiring in 1986, and on WGN TV for 15 years before that. Lloyd had joined us on car trips, at beaches and barbecues, and during the lawn mowing and garage cleaning we could not get out of even when a crucial game was on the air.

Trust is more essential between a fan and a radio announcer in baseball than in any other sport. As in a friendship, trust deepens until it is ironclad. We learn to count on the inflection of a voice to tell us how hard a ball was hit, whether it has a chance to leave the park, whether a fielder might reach that line drive down the line.

And that's all we have. But when plays called by Vince Lloyd unfolded, I know I was "seeing" what 25,000 other fans saw in person at Wrigley Field. Lloyd was there with me when I started to love baseball, and in college years when I still followed the Cubs every step of the way. I remember trying to tune in Cubs broadcasts from deep in Missouri, to extract Lloyd's voice from the static and get a sense of how the north-siders were doing some 350 miles away. Once I could hear his voice, I was home.

So many indelible baseball memories came by radio. I can still hear Vince Lloyd calling Willie Smith's 1969 game-winning opening-day shot against the Phillies, his description of the Cubs "mobbing" Smith at home plate. I can hear the cowbell he rang after a crucial Cubs home run, the holy mackerel! that made a Cubs win all the more thrilling. I can hear the banter with Lou Boudreau that survived season after frustrating season. Lloyd knew just when to seek the expertise of the "Good Kid," and that's when Boudreau would pipe in with a valuable lesson "for all you youngsters" listening at home.

I can hear a late-season game in the early 80s when the Cubs were down to their last out in the bottom of the ninth. And Cliff Johnson, a journeyman outfielder, went deep for a Cubs win. It felt like a pennant-winning shot the way Lloyd called it, rather than the last hurrah of a team going nowhere. To Lloyd every Cubs win was glorious, especially if it ended with a holy mackerel! and a cowbell.

Harry Caray's statue commands the corner of Addison and Sheffield. We can remind ourselves of Jack Brickhouse's famous "hey, hey!" calls simply by glancing at the foul poles. But there are no visual memories of Vince Lloyd at the Friendly Confines. In the 80s, Lloyd's final years in the broadcast booth, the Cubs relegated him to delivering out-of-town ball scores. Slick but more impersonal voices provided the play-by-play. The Cubs have had years to honor Lloyd in a fitting way, and yet they've never done quite enough.

On rare occasions Lloyd and Boudreau would come back to Wrigley for some turn-back-the-clock event that allowed them to sit before a mike and call a few plays. It was usually late in the season, the Cubs by then out of the race. The older Lloyd wasn't quite as sharp, I admit, but the voice was still crisp and clear. It swept me back to the summers of my youth. Somewhere inside that voice was nothing less than the reason I will always love baseball.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/courtesy the Chicago Cubs.

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