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Published: Monday, 5/17/2010

Spirit of Hens: Gilhooley more than deserving of IL award

DAVE HACKENBERG
COMMENTARY

Frank Gilhooley would judge his "day" as perfect. It didn't rain and the Mud Hens rallied to win 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Gilhooley hated rain delays. Listeners loved them because Frank would tell stories. And nobody had more stories or told them better.

Sunday's only imperfection was that the Hens couldn't convince Frank to do an inning or two of play-by-play. Instead of watching the game from the radio booth in the press box, where he brought so much professionalism and became Our Town's living sports media legend, Gilhooley and his party watched from a private suite.

Frank broadcast his first Toledo baseball game in 1953. Heck, I guess he deserved a day off.

It was long before then that Gilhooley had his first brush with baseball greatness. There is a framed picture near his easy chair at home from 1926, he guesses, when he would have been 2 years old. Frank's father, a pro baseball player, is standing next to another guy. The other guy is holding young Frank. The other guy was Babe Ruth.

Gilhooley started the first phase of his Mud Hen career in April, 1937, working as a bat boy and clubhouse attendant at old Swayne Field. After starring in the sport at Central Catholic and in college at Notre Dame, Frank sat down behind a microphone for the first time in '53, when the

Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee and the minor league Brewers quickly relocated to Toledo and were named the Sox.

The team needed an announcer. Gilhooley needed a job. He never had to look too hard or far for another one.

Frank did so many things through the years - Ohio State football with the Taberner brothers on radio and University of Toledo basketball on TV. He set the standard for generations to come as sports director at Ch. 13. When he called it a career from that job in 1987, he moved back into the radio booth and knocked off another 1,500 or so baseball games.

His participation has been hit and miss the last couple seasons because of health issues, and when league president Randy

Mobley came up with the idea for a "Spirit of the International League" award, there was only one candidate as the inaugural recipient.

So yesterday was proclaimed "Frank Gilhooley Day" by the city and the Mud Hens gathered a bunch of his close friends for a pregame ceremony. It was like a who's who of local media legends -

Orris Tabner, Jim Tichy, Frank Venner, Gordon Ward and Jim Weber, to name a few - with the Catholic diocese and the city's fire department, two of Gilhooley's favorite institutions, also taking part.

"It started for me with the Hens in '37 and it has been a magical ride," Gilhooley, 86, said after a standing ovation from a crowd of 7,729. "I've always said there's no place like Toledo, with the best, most loyal, most knowledgeable fans in baseball."

If that's true, it's only because we learned from the best for more than six decades.

One of the pregame speakers pointed out that the personality traits and on-air demeanor that made the late Ernie Harwell so beloved in Detroit were the same reasons Toledoans embraced Gilhooley for so many years.

Frank responded that mentioning his name in the same breath as Harwell's was like "putting whitewalls on a garbage truck."

We disagree. Harwell would have, too. Trust me when I tell you Ernie was a big Gilhooley fan.

But, then, aren't we all?

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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