FRANK GILHOOLEY - A TOLEDO BROADCAST LEGEND
By John R. Husman
Toledo Mud Hens Team Historian
Frank Gilhooley's first radio broadcast was also the first game played by the Toledo Sox in April of 1953. His last radio broadcast of a Mud Hens game came in 2009. In between, Gilhooley did it all in Toledo sports broadcasting. Besides broadcasting countless Toledo baseball games, he was a sports director in both radio and television, covering all sports for northwest Ohioans. But since he was very young, baseball has been Frank's great sports love. His association with the Toledo Mud Hens began in the spring of 1937 when he was batboy and clubhouse attendant at the city's landmark ballpark, Swayne Field.
Francis Patrick Gilhooley, Jr. was born to Frank, Sr. and May Gilhooley on June 15, 1924 in Toledo. Baseball was in his genes. At the time of his birth, his father, was spending his summer patrolling the outfield for the International league's Toronto Maple Leafs. The senior Gilhooley was in the midst of a 13-year Hall of Fame International league career that followed nine years in the major leagues with the Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox. Frank's earliest baseball memories are of joining his father along with his mother and sisters at his work place following the end of the school year.
The elder Frank Gilhooley's baseball connections no doubt helped his son land any boy's dream job. Frank became the Mud Hens batboy and all-purpose clubhouse worker as a 12-year-old in 1937. He stayed with the team for three seasons and counts Roy Cullenbine, Benny McCoy, Babe Herman, and player-manager Fred Haney among his favorites. He fondly remembers first baseman George Archie as the "nicest guy I ever met at Swayne Field."
In the fall of 1938, Frank enrolled at Central Catholic High School and began a sports career of his own. He played both basketball and baseball there, earning three letters in each. In his senior season, the Irish basketball team went all the way to the state championship game before losing to Xenia Central. He continued in both sports at the University of Notre Dame. Both teams were successful during his time. Gilhooley earned two varsity letters and was the centerfielder and captain for the baseball team. Frank recalled, "Those were the best times of my life down in South Bend. The friendships I made and still maintain are special to me." Among those friends is former roommate Johnny Lujack. Lujack won the 1947 Heisman Trophy and Frank calls him "The best all-around athlete I have ever seen." He graduated with a degree in Commerce (Business) in 1947.
Frank had been drafted into the army shortly after entering Notre Dame but was rejected because of a hernia. He was drafted again in 1948 and served until 1950 at Fort Meade, Maryland. He continued playing basketball for the army there. After his discharge, he joined with the famed Toledo Jeeps professional basketball team. In those years, the Jeeps were the opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters. He traveled with them all over the country, playing for two years and working as courtside announcer for another. When he returned home in 1953 his mother had a message for him that would launch his broadcasting career.
Mom's message was from Red Smith, the general manager of the Toledo Sox. The Sox, who had just moved to Toledo, were the top minor league team of the Milwaukee Braves. Smith was also a Notre Dame man and knew Gilhooley. Smith asked for a meeting with Frank because he had a proposition. He told Frank that he needed a radio announcer. When Frank replied that he did not know who might be available, Smith retorted that he was interested in Frank himself. Even though he had never spoken a word into a broadcast microphone he took the job. Smith arranged for training with the Cincinnati Reds' announcer, Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt. During his three-day tutorial, Frank learned to keep score and was also advised on three basic rules he always followed: you can't give the score too often, you can talk too much and never criticize anyone. In terms of broadcast technology, 1953 was a very long time ago. He recreated the Sox road games from a ticker tape. He recalls delaying his play-by-play in order to have the game end exactly when the allotted time expired. If he needed to speed the game up at the end, he simply had everyone hit the first pitch. He realized that, despite using taped crowd noise and bat/ball contact sounds, he was not fooling his listeners.
During this time, Frank met the woman he later called his best friend. He married Lydia DellaBona on March 23, 1954. Lydia died in March 2010. She and Frank enjoyed 56 years of married life. They had one daughter, Suzanne Schlee.
Baseball left Toledo following the 1955 season but Frank stayed, still working sports on the radio. He recalled a disappointment when he worked only the first two games of the 1956 World Series. He returned to the radio station in Toledo because of pressing business, skipping game three in Yankee Stadium. He missed Don Larson's perfect game that day. When baseball returned to Toledo in 1965, he was again in the baseball broadcast booth. Following the 1969 season, though, he became sports director for Channel 13. While in television he teamed with Frank Venner and Gordon Ward to form Toledo's number one news team. He "retired" from television in 1987. Almost immediately, Mud Hens General Manager Gene Cook reached out and brought Frank back to the Mud Hens where he worked alongside Jim Weber for more than two decades. Frank was always more comfortable on radio than on television and spent many years working with Joe Taberner on the radio. Besides Toledo baseball, Gilhooley counts doing Bowling Green State University football during the Don Nehlen era, University of Toledo basketball under Bobby Nichols and 11 seasons of Ohio State football when the Buckeyes were coached by Woody Hayes among his highlights.
Frank Gilhooley broadcast only one game in both 2008 and 2009 and will not likely do another. But 2010 saw Frank at Fifth Third Field and in his former spot in the broadcast booth but only as a visitor. He was a most welcome guest on a very special day - Frank Gilhooley Day. The day was Sunday May 16, 2010 and the event was to pay tribute to a man who has meant so much to so many for so long. Gilhooley, a reserved and modest man, resisted having an event for him but finally relented. Perhaps he changed his mind when he was reminded that many people would enjoy seeing him honored. More than 7,000 turned out to see the event that was held prior to a Mud Hens game. Special guests and local media celebrities were on hand to tell stories and celebrate with Frank.
Tributes were given by several people who could not attend. Lujack sent a message calling Frank a "Toledo treasure." Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist, said in a video message that "I might not be doing what I am today if it were not for the warm welcome I received into the sport of baseball from Frank." Gordon Ward, former news anchor on Channel 13 and former broadcast partner also via video, told Frank that "it was an honor working with you." Yours truly commented that Frank Gilhooley has always treated everyone with kindness and respect. Jim Weber, the Toledo Mud Hens broadcaster, told several Frank stories that occurred over their two decades plus of broadcasting together. Dave Hackenberg, The Blade's sports columnist, eloquently stated that what he had said earlier about the great Ernie Harwell also applied to Frank. Thomas Jaksetic, Toledo Fire Department Battalion Chief, recognized Frank as a firefighter or "one of us" and stated that Frank "set the standard for personal and professional conduct." Jim Tichy, former sports director at Channel 24, told all that Frank "showed us all [sportscasters] how it was supposed to be done." The Very Reverend Michael Billian described how Frank publicly practices his faith. Dan Cummins, current Channel 11 sports director, told that Frank's work shows that "he loves Toledo, loves us, loves the Mud Hens and loves baseball." Diane Larson, Channel 13 news anchor, knows Frank as "full of laughter, full of life and a very great man." Brothers Orris Tabner and Joe Taberner recounted numerous stories from different perspectives. Orris was a direct competitor of Frank's as Channel 11 sports director and Joe was a radio broadcast partner. Frank Venner, also former news anchor on Channel 13 and former broadcast partner, called Frank "a true legend, an honest, caring individual and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet in this world."
Following these remarks, Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Mud Hens commented that Frank was at the celebration clearly against his will and was there because he was persuaded to do so by his daughter Suzanne Schlee. Joe said that the club had wanted to have an event to honor Frank for four or five years. He presented Frank with a care package from the fine folks at Budweiser and then shared a portion of a City of Toledo Proclamation declaring May 16, 2010 as "Frank Gilhooley Day" in Toledo. He read words he originally penned "Whereas Frank Gilhooley's name is synonymous with professionalism, stewardship, friendship, he's a great storyteller, a man's man, husband, father, grandfather, athlete and Irishman."
The day's final speaker was Randy Mobley, president of the International League, who was on hand to present the inaugural "Spirit of the International League" award to Frank Gilhooley. Mobley explained that the award was created to recognize individuals who "dedicate themselves on a nightly basis to helping fans have the most enjoyable experience possible."
Frank himself was actually the day's final speaker. His first comment was "to set the record straight" in his usual humble style. He said that Hackenberg's comparison of himself to the late Ernie Harwell "was like putting whitewalls on a garbage truck." He then said that there are probably 200 people more deserving of the award he had just received but that he would keep it anyway. Frank left the crowd with thank yous and said "There is nothing like Toledo which has the best and most loyal fans in all of baseball."
Bringing the event to a close was the unveiling of a large sign on the left field side upper deck façade-a microphone with the name Gilhooley alongside a similar tribute to Gene Cook.
After all that, there was baseball.
Frank completed his day with a wish come true - a Mud Hen win.