Frank Gilhooley to be honored for storied careerWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week was a difficult one for many baseball fans in the Toledo area. Ernie Harwell, famed radio broadcaster of the Detroit Tigers, passed away at the age of 92 after a bout with cancer.
Harwell was the voice of summer to many who used to hang on his every word as he described the sights, sounds, and events of Tigers baseball.
Toledo has its own icon and voice of summer. Frank Gilhooley has been a part of Toledo Mud Hens baseball and local sports in the Glass City for 60 years.
“Frank has been an icon in the broadcasting industry in this town,” said Joe Napoli, Mud Hens president and general manager. “He is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats to pass through the broadcast booth.”
On May 16, the Mud Hens, the International League and Toledoans will honor Gilhooley at Fifth Third Field with the inaugural “Spirit of the International League Award.” Prior to the Hens game, an on-field ceremony will honor the legendary broadcaster for his career.
“For Frank to receive this award makes our entire organization extremely proud,” Napoli said. “We are just so happy and there are no words that can express how proud we are that this award will bestowed to Frank.”
When a young Gilhooley returned from another long basketball tour as a member of the Toledo Jeeps, he had some much unexpected news waiting for him at home.
“My mother told me that the owner of the Mud Hens, Red Smith, had called and he wanted to have lunch with me,” Gilhooley said.
Shortly before the baseball season began, the Milwaukee Braves needed a minor leagues affiliate. Because Toledo had the facilities available and no team to use them, the Glass City was the obvious choice.
Gilhooley, unsure what Smith would want, met him at a restaurant at the corner of Detroit and Monroe.
“Red told me he needed an announcer,” Gilhooley said. “I just looked at him and said, I have never talked into a microphone before in my life. Red just looked back at me and said, ‘Well you’re going to start.’”
Gilhooley was no stranger to the game of baseball. His father, Frank Sr., had played in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. His father roomed with Babe Ruth during his playing days in Boston.
During his childhood, Gilhooley was a batboy for the Mud Hens, and he spent his summers taking in America’s pastime during his father’s playing career and later as a manager.
Frank Jr. was no slouch on the diamond either. Gilhooley played baseball and basketball at the University of Notre Dame and he was a part of many Harlem Globetrotters tours as a member of the Toledo Jeeps, an all-star team that was assembled to take on the Globetrotters.
But watching the game and calling one on the radio are very different, so Gilhooley took a crash course in broadcasting with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame radio announcer Waite Hoyt.
“In those days, after spring training broke, the teams would play exhibition games against one another in towns as they worked their way back up to their home cities,” Gilhooley said. “Detroit and Cincinnati were playing a series in Richmond, Ind., and Red sent me over there to learn some tricks of the trade.”
Gilhooley observed the series, studying Hoyt’s styles and techniques.
“He was such a great announcer,” he said. “During one of the games, he looked up at me and he said, ‘I haven’t told you much because I started out like you did with no experience, but I will give you some tips’,”
Hoyt told Gilhooley three key rules that were like gospel to him during his entire broadcasting career.
“He told me I could never say the score enough, to never criticize the organization, and you can talk too much,” Gilhooley said. “When I got back to Toledo I made sure I remembered all three of those things.”
Gilhooley worked as an announcer for the Hens several different times, but he also called games for many other sports. The Toledo native called games for the UT basketball teams coached by the legendary Bob Nichols, BGSU basketball with Hens broadcasting partner Jim Weber and Buckeyes football.
“I got to see some really great games and teams play during my time in the booth,” Gilhooley said. “I was a part of the Woody and Bo days of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and Bob Nichols’ Rocket teams were always a joy to watch.”
Gilhooley also served as the sports director at 13abc for more than a decade. He was a part of both evening broadcasts and he also went in the field to cover sports figures when they were in town.
“That was a good time, but I always enjoyed the radio a little more than the TV side of it,” he said. “I didn’t mind the field reporting, I was never a fan of going on and reading some of the sports scores, but it was still a pleasure to work at Channel 13.”
A lesser-known piece of Gilhooley’s time in Toledo is the special relationship the 86-year-old maintains with the Toledo Fire Department (TFD).
“When I was a boy, the local fire station in my neighborhood had a basketball court on the second floor of the firehouse,” Gilhooley said. “They hung a hoop for us and we used to play for hours there.”
Gilhooley remembers hearing the bell ring, and he said he would run down the stairs, hoping to get to tag along on a run.
“They always would try and get me to try taking the pole down,” he said with a chuckle.
Even as he got older, Frank never forgot TFD, and he made frequent visits to Station 1 and Station 5 in Downtown Toledo.
“I always stopped in and we would banter back and forth with each other,” Gilhooley said. “They would put on a pot of coffee for me and we would share stories.”
Gilhooley is so close with many of the Toledo firefighters that he was named an honorary firefighter in 2008.
“I was a wannabe fireman as a kid,” he said, “and even to this day I still am. They are a great organization and I have many good memories from them.”
Mud Hen for Life
After retiring from 13abc in 1987, Gilhooley was invited to join longtime play-by-play announcer Jim Weber in the broadcast booth for the Mud Hens.
“I had known him for awhile, and we were both born and raised in Toledo, so we clicked right away,” Weber said.
For 21 years, the duo called many games together.
“I figure that we have called over 1,500 games together,” Weber said. “I don’t know that anyone worked with Frank calling games as much as I have over the years.”
Bill Clark, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate, has taken Gilhooley’s chair at the ballpark since 2008. He said it was a special honor for the St. Johns Jesuit graduate to fill in for one of his boyhood idols.
“I have known Frank since I was a teenager in high school,” Clark said. “Frank and my mother went to grade school and high school together, and when I wanted to get into the business, she ran into Frank and he let me come in every Friday and help put together the sports broadcast at WTVG. So he’s been a mentor to me.”
Jason Griffin, Mud Hens director of public and media relations, said Gilhooley eased his own transition, when he moved to the Mud Hens from the Toledo Storm organization.
“I was a 28-year-old kid and I was kind of intimidated to be calling games with two of Toledo’s most iconic announcers,” Griffin said. “But as soon as I met them, all that went away; Frank was kind and welcoming. It has been a real pleasure working with them.”
Since being diagnosed with a heart ailment in 2007, Gilhooley has been prohibited by his doctor from calling Hens home games on a daily basis. Weber said at first it was tough for the broadcast team to adjust.
“When you see someone almost every day, like Frank and I did, it becomes part of your routine, like breathing,” he said. “He was a legend when I started with him in 1987 and he is even more of one now.”
Despite his inability to make it to Fifth Third Field on a daily basis, Gilhooley is on the minds of many.
“We made sure he has a segment during every pregame show,” Clark said. “That was very important to everyone here that he still has a part in our broadcasts.”
Griffin said Gilhooley is welcome to occupy his chair and call a game.
“He is always going to be a part of the organization,” Griffin said. “He is always welcome when he would like to do a game because he is such a legend in this town. It is very important to us to make sure he is always included.”
Gilhooley is thankful for the run he has had with the Hens.
“The Mud Hens have been so good to me over the years,” he said. “I worked with some great people like Jim [Weber], Jason [Griffin], Bill [Clark] and Joe [Napoli]. Those were some of the best years of my life.”
Spirit of the IL
When Randy Mobley became the president of the International League in 1991, he always wanted to create an award. Mobley’s idea was to honor those who have enriched the experience of International League baseball.
“This award was something I had in the back of my mind for awhile,” Mobley said. “We had many awards that recognized staff and players. But we never had an award for those people whose involvement in daily events helps enhance the minor league baseball experience. But it never really materialized.”
A call from Napoli and Griffin helped make Mobley’s idea a reality.
“When they called and were looking for a way to honor Frank, I thought this might be something to move from the back burner to the front burner, and we came up with the ‘Spirit of the International League’ award.”
Gilhooley will be the award’s inaugural recipient and Mobley thinks that there is no better person to receive the first award.
“Frank is a guy people recognize, and he has been enhancing the experience for Mud Hens fans for so many years. We could not think of anyone else who deserved this award more than him,” Mobley said.
“This is the proper way to respect everything that Frank is about,” he said. “Frank embodies the spirit of all the things that you love about sports. He is a great storyteller and he is so passionate.”
The award will be presented by Mobley. Gilhooley said he is humble by the honor.
“It feels nice to be the award winner and I am thankful to the selection group for choosing me,” he said.
“But they must’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for a recipient,” he said with a smile.
Gilhooley’s award represents a fitting end to a phenomenal career, summed up best by his pupil Clark.
“He’s been a mentor and a friend to so many people in this city,” Clark said. “He is a great announcer and, more importantly, a great person. The only way to sum him up is Frank Gilhooley is what’s best about the city of Toledo.”