How an epic storyteller found his radio voice -- and himself -- in Cincinnati
When the Brooklyn Dodgers released Waite Hoyt in May of 1938, the former star’s career options were limited. Pushing 40, he had given up on the idea of bouncing to yet another team. Having long ago forfeited his dream of attending college, his prospects of joining the business world were slim. Vaudeville, which had provided his biggest paydays, was over, and he had flunked his Hollywood screen test.
Any possibility of continuing as a manager, coach or even an employee of a professional baseball team was unlikely, to say the least. Weeks before the Dodgers fired him, Hoyt published a screed in the Saturday Evening Post in which he savaged the National League and its players as inherently inferior to denizens of the American League. The Dodgers were a National League team.
Why he did this is a mystery but it was effectively a suicide note in terms of ever playing the game again professionally. Even so, Hoyt managed to hang on as a semi-pro for the balance of the season by pitching semi-pro ball for the Brooklyn Bushwicks, playing against legends like the great Josh Gibson, while he considered his future.
With a wife and a young son to support, he didn’t have much time to ruminate.
It didn’t take long for Hoyt to land on radio sportscasting as his next move. He had done some radio work already at WNEW in New York and enjoyed it. He was, at his core, a performer, after all. The leap to the broadcasting booth would not be easy. While his name recognition was high and his natural talent for talking evident, the prevailing opinion at the time was that athletes were too dumb and inarticulate to make it on the radio.
Not only did these pejoratives not apply to the eminently loquacious Mr. Hoyt, he brought something professional broadcasters did not: knowledge of what it was like to be on the field, playing the game. He was also a gifted storyteller, with personal memories of baseball gods like Ruth, Gehrig and Cobb, that no one could match.
Hoyt went to work preparing himself for this new career. He attended classes and lectures on broadcasting, gave speeches to hone his skills, and aggressively pursued any and every opportunity to establish a radio program in New York City. The experience was no doubt beneficial, but none of it worked. One after another, his big radio breaks broke.
Then along came an opportunity from Cincinnati, Ohio. It wasn’t exactly what Hoyt had in mind but he submitted a demo that captivated his potential sponsor, The Burger Beer Company, because it was just so very different. Instead of pretending to reconstruct a game as a play-by-play, he did what he did best: he told stories. Thus began a 24-year career as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds.
To this day, Waite Hoyt is best remembered in Cincinnati by fans who did not necessarily recall his heyday as the ace pitcher of the 1927 New York Yankees. They just knew him as a warm and witty friend who not only captured the action on the field but also brought a perspective to the game and its history like none other.
Indeed, Hoyt’s finest moments were during rain delays, when he was required to hold forth on-air until the action resumed.
He regaled listeners with stories from his playing days that were so compelling, it’s said his ratings were higher when the Reds weren’t playing than when they were. Most famously, he honored Babe Ruth with a nearly two-hour, unscripted, on-air tribute the day the slugger died. These recordings can still be found online.
Hoyt was also known for a particular quirk, in that he announced games in the past tense. He once explained that this was for accuracy’s sake, given that anything that happened could only be reported after the fact. It’s possible that this habit was formed in his early broadcasting days when games were not announced live but were rather reconstructions of contests that had already ended.
Maybe somewhere, deep down inside, Waite Hoyt’s incredible 24-year career in radio was a subconscious manifestation of his wish to be what in fact he had become: a journalist. Even more important, he came into his own as a man.
As he put it: My relationship with the fans remade my life. I found security in the feeling that I belonged to the Cincinnati community and would hold a place in it even if I could not burn a fastball over the plate for them to watch.
Whatever it was, Hoyt found a certain satisfaction in the Redleg radio booth he never experienced on a ball field, which is incredible considering his amazing heroics as the ace pitcher of the 1927 Yankees.