The Obit For Mel Allen


GREENWICH, Conn. (Jun 16, 1996 - 23:47 EST) -- Mel Allen, one of the great voices of baseball broadcasting, died Sunday at home. He was 82.

A family member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the death, adding Allen had been ill for some time with an undisclosed condition.

Allen had planned to return to work on a baseball project next week. He had been working part-time recently doing commercials and narration for baseball anthologies.

"Mel Allen meant as much to Yankee tradition as legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle," team owner George Steinbrenner said. "He was the voice of the Yankees."

In his 58 years as a sports broadcaster, Allen did it all, from baseball's World Series and All-Star game, to college football and boxing.

He was best known, however, for applying his Alabama drawl to Yankees broadcasts and, for 17 years, as the voice of the weekly syndicated show, "This Week in Baseball."

"How about that?" Allen asked so often, and it became his signature phrase, three words repeated over and over for years by young Yankees fans from the Bronx to Bayonne and back.

As a youngster, Allen yearned to make the Hall of Fame as a player, but he was cut from the University of Alabama team.

"As a kid, I woke up every day for sports," Allen once said. "I wasn't good enough to win a baseball letter in the field at Alabama, so I got one by being student manager of the team."

And he eventually would earn his trip to Cooperstown as a Hall of Fame announcer, the only one ever to call baseball games in seven decades.

Originally, Allen intended to become a lawyer, not a broadcaster. He did get his law degree, but he never hung out his shingle.

Instead, he went to work in Birmingham, Ala., broadcasting football games. It was obvious Allen did it for love. His salary was just $5 a game.

It wasn't long before his career took a turn for the better.

In 1936, he was in New York when CBS Radio called for an audition of announcers. A friend at CBS suggested he give it a try and, at age 23, he won out over 60 applicants.

Allen became a staff announcer in 1937 and worked his first major assignment the next year. In 1940, Allen became the Yankees' lead announcer and, except for a four-year tour in the Army, he did that job until 1964. He returned to the Yankees in 1976 and continued with the team until joining "This Week in Baseball."

Allen always kept busy. He had a weekly network program of his own, did newsreel broadcasts and covered the World Series and All-Star games. In 1952, he managed to work in a Rose Bowl assignment.

In all, Allen did 20 World Series, 24 All-Star games, 14 Rose Bowls, five Orange Bowls and two Sugar Bowls.

Although Allen's Yankees were in many of the World Series he covered, he insisted on playing it straight down the middle.

In fact, in the last game of the 1953 World Series, when the Dodgers' Carl Furillo hit a two-run homer in the ninth to tie it, Allen got so excited the Yankee Stadium switchboard buzzed with calls from irate fans. They thought their beloved Mel had jumped ship.

Allen began college at age 15 and worked as a shoe clerk to pay his way. In the height of his career in the 1950s, he might have been the highest-paid sports announcer in the country, making between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, an unheard of salary.

In 1950, he was honored with a "Mel Allen Day" at the Stadium. Some 50,000 fans showered him with hundreds of gifts and about $14,000 in cash, all of which he gave to establish the Lou Gehrig Scholarship Fund at Columbia University and the Babe Ruth Scholarship Fund at Alabama.

It was a sad day for Allen, and many of his fans, when he was replaced as a Yankees broadcaster by Joe Garagiola in '64.

In 1968, at age 55, Allen underwent surgery for an undisclosed illness, but he was far from through. He returned to the Yankees eight years later and also did broadcast work on cable while beginning a second career on "This Week in Baseball."

His induction into the Hall of Fame came in 1978 along with another famed baseball broadcaster, the voice of the Dodgers, Red Barber, who died in 1992.

For several years, in fact, both Allen and Barber worked Yankees broadcasts.

Funeral plans were not disclosed.