Expos' voice Van Horne off to Cooperstown

Dave Van Horne, the longtime voice of the Montreal Expos, is headed to Cooperstown as the 2011...

Dave Van Horne, the longtime voice of the Montreal Expos, is headed to Cooperstown as the 2011 winner of the Ford C. Frick award.

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Before Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth, but not before Ernie Harwell, Canadians listened to Dave Van Horne’s gentle voice, worrying if that ball was deep enough to be “up, up and away.”

In the pre-Blue Jays days the Montreal Expos had a coast-to-coast radio network.

Van Horne and Hall of Famer Duke Snider explained, entertained and educated fans listening on cottage decks, driving in cars or sitting in the back yard.

Before the Jays became a force, the Expos were eliminated on the final day of the 1979 season by Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

On the next-to-last day of 1980 they were eliminated again as Phillies’ HOFer Mike Schmidt homered.

And a ninth-inning homer by Los Angeles Dodgers’ Rick Monday prevented the Expos from reaching the 1981 World Series.

Van Horne painted pictures in a professional, soothing manner and he will be honoured as the 2011 winner of the Ford C. Frick award Saturday at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

Philadelphia’s Bill Conlin receives the J.G. Taylor Spink award for “meritorious contributions in the field of baseball writing.” The legendary Philadelphia Daily News scribe is the only interloper on Canada weekend in Cooperstown.

Former Blue Jays great Robbie Alomar, the first with a Jays logo on his plaque; ex-Toronto general manager Jays Pat Gillick, a Canadian citizen since 2005 and Bert Blyleven, who spent four years in rural Saskatchewan as a youngster, will be inducted Sunday.

The Frick award goes annually for “major contributions to baseball.” Besides this being his 43rd year in the booth — 32 with the Expos, in his 11th with the Florida Marlins — Van Horne suggested the Expos hire as a part-timer a tall drink of water named Thomas Cheek from Burlington, Vt. That led to Cheek’s job with the Jays.

Now, that’s a contribution.

The 1982 Expos media guide shows an English radio network consisting of 33 stations in nines provinces — Prince Edward Island took a pass — and three states: New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Ken Singleton was doing 50-to-60 TV games in 1985 when the Expos asked him to move to radio.

“Who better to learn from than Dave Van Horne?” said Singleton, a New York Yankees broadcaster with the YES Network. “Dave taught me the pacing of a game, how to be organized, how to find information quickly. We couldn’t look things up on our laptop back then.”

The Expos had good teams and some not-so-good teams, during Singleton’s years.

Making lopsided games sound interesting is always a challenge, no matter the club.

One night at Dodger Stadium in 1995, Singleton brought his friend, Japanese broadcaster Pancho Ito into the Expo booth as Hideo Nomo was on the mound.

“We sat him between us but we didn’t tell listeners,” said Singleton, who remembered it unfolding like this:

Van Horne: “Kenny you’ve been to Japan, do you speak Japanese?”

Singleton: “Dave, it’s a very difficult language.”

Van Horne: “Give it a try ...”

Singleton: “OK, here’s Wil Cordero.”

Then, Ito jumped in, broadcasting in Japanese.

Van Horne at the end of the at-bat: “Sounds great Kenny, care to do another hitter.”

Singleton: “I’m a little rusty, but it’s coming back, here’s Rondell White.”

Singleton pointed at Ito and away he went in Japanese.

Singleton: “Now it’s Darrin Fletcher.”

Singleton nodded to Ito.

“After the commercial we told the audience what we’d done,” Singleton said. “I get to Montreal and there’s a note obviously from a Japanese-Canadian couple saying how nice it was to hear the game in Japanese. At the end was: ‘P.S. We knew it wasn’t you.’”

Singleton called Van Horne with congratulations on his award in December and thanked him, for he says he wouldn’t be in his 27th year without Van Horne’s help.

“It’s still fun, the Yankees are a fun team to cover,” Singleton said. “I tell David Cone all the time there are worse jobs.”

Singleton remembers another Dodger Stadium day in 1991.

Dennis Martinez got Chris Gwynn to fly out to centre for the 27th and final out.

Van Horne gave his famous “El Presidente! El Perfecto!” call.

And Singleton thought “I can shut up now.”


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