The Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame is full of people whose departure from the team was not of their own volition.
And although broadcaster Jimmy Dudley, who was announced as an inductee this year with Omar Vizquel, holds a special place in the hearts of Indians fans of a certain age, he was unceremoniously cut loose as well.
James Dudley was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1909, and graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia, where he played football and basketball. Dudley went to work for DuPont, but in 1937, took a job at a radio station in Charlottesville, home to his alma mater.
Dudley ended up calling Cubs and White Sox games in Chicago for WIND radio, riding the crest of southern broadcasters calling games (like Red Barber, Mel Allen and Ernie Harwell). After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, Dudley’s mellifluous voice was heard by an official at Erin Brew, then the sponsor of Cleveland Indians broadcasts.
Beer companies held a lot of sway over baseball broadcasting (it was not uncommon for announcers to become so intertwined with the brewery that sponsored the games that when the sponsor changed, the broadcaster would as well), and when the official said he wanted Dudley calling Indians games, that’s what happened for the 1948 season, which turned out to be a magical one for Indians fans.
On WJW and WERE radio, Dudley was paired with Jack Graney, a member of the Indians’ championship 1920 team and believed to be the first player to go into the broadcast booth. After Graney retired in 1953, Dudley was paired with Ed Edwards for two years and Tom Manning for one. Dudley greeted listeners by saying, “Hello, baseball fans everywhere,” and signed off by saying “Lotsa good luck, ya heah.” He did commercials for the Aluminum Siding Corporation, whose phone number of “Garfield 1, 2-3-2-3” is known to pretty much any Clevelander over the age of 30 thanks to incessant jingles that ran into the 1980s – and remains the company’s website.
Dudley also called games for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts, as well as Ohio State football. Beginning in 1957, after Manning retired due to the stress of traveling with a major league team, Dudley was paired with Bob Neal, who had called Browns games for radio and television since the team’s inception in 1946. It was not a team of mutual admiration. In fact, they hated each other, and wouldn’t even talk to each other on the air.
After the 1967 season, a power play by Neal forced Dudley out, and he was replaced in the radio booth by former Tribe pitcher Herb Score, who had called games on television for the previous four years. Score would go on to be the radio voice of the Indians for 30 years. Score was replaced in the television broadcast booth by Mel Allen, who had become a free agent after being fired by the Yankees in 1964.
Dudley was incensed by the move, which came shortly before spring training, not allowing him time to latch on with another team.
“I consider it a kick in the teeth and a lousy thing to happen after all the years I have been with the Indians,” he was quoted as saying in a United Press International story. “When I left Cleveland last month I understood everything was OK. If they had let me know at the end of the season that I wasn’t wanted, then I would have had time to get another job in baseball broadcasting. Now, it’s too late.”
Dudley sat out the 1968 season, and found a job as Major League Baseball expanded in 1969, as part of the broadcast team for the Seattle Pilots. After the Pilots moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers, Dudley was able to call minor-league games in Arizona, where he made his home, and games for the University of Arizona. But he never called another MLB game again.
Dudley received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, two years before he died in Arizona at the age of 89.
“There was not a better baseball announcer than Jimmy Dudley,” Bob Feller said on the occasion of Dudley’s death.