I announced a high school basketball game last night. This morning, drinking my first cup of coffee, I read this sad news from the San Diego Union–Tribune:
Legendary sports broadcaster and former Padres play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg died Thursday morning at his La Jolla home, said his wife, Barbara. He was 82.
Barbara Enberg said the family found out later in the day after Dick Enberg failed to get off a flight in Boston, where they were scheduled to meet. She said her husband appeared to be waiting for a car that was set to shuttle him to San Diego International Airport for a 6:30 a.m. flight.
“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” she said. “We think it was a heart attack.”
Enberg defined versatility as a broadcaster, covering 28 Wimbledon tournaments, 10 Super Bowls and eight NCAA basketball title games as the play-by-play voice of the UCLA Bruins during their dynasty-building run.
Enberg’s talented voice was paired with relentless preparation and a zest for telling the stories behind a generation’s biggest games. He cared as much about calling a water polo match as a rising star in Los Angeles as the Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, Olympics and Breeders’ Cup spotlights that followed.
His last full-time role came as the TV voice of the Padres. He retired after the 2016 season.
“We are immensely saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg,” the Padres said in a statement released late Thursday night. “Dick was an institution in the industry for 60 years and we were lucky enough to have his iconic voice behind the microphone for Padres games for nearly a decade. On behalf of our entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara, and the entire Enberg family.”
The farm kid raised in rural Armada, Mich., also gained a fierce appreciation for the small guy, the underdog and especially education — sparking the Central Michigan graduate to fund an annual scholarship.
“I’m heartbroken,” former Padres broadcast booth partner Mark Grant said Thursday night. “It’s so sad. I thought Dick was the type of guy who was going to live until he was 100, going on the circuit, talking to everybody about baseball and football and tennis.”
Enberg — known for his signature call of “Oh, my!” — channeled his passion for sports and the people behind them into a new podcast called “Sound of Success,” interviewing stars such as Billie Jean King, Bill Walton, Johnny Bench and Steve Kerr.
He told the Union-Tribune earlier this week that he hoped to lure NBA legend Magic Johnson, controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz and actor Jack Nicholson to his online world.
“At the very top of the list,” he said, “is Serena Williams.”
Enberg’s six-decade career felt unparalleled.
Former NFL partner Dan Dierdorf told the Union-Tribune for a 2016 story: “The man is a walking monument to sports television.”
In the same story, tennis great John McEnroe put Enberg’s mammoth, unmatched resume in perspective.
“If people ask me the top tennis players, when I throw out (Rod) Laver, (Pete) Sampras, Rafa (Nadal), Roger (Federer), I would put him in the same category,” McEnroe said. “He’s a Mount Rushmore guy.”
Service information is pending. Padres Chairman Ron Fowler, who has known Enberg for more than 25 years, said Thursday night that the team has offered the family use of Petco Park for a celebration of life.
The Los Angeles Times adds:
Long recognized as one of the most versatile and enthusiastic sports announcer of his era, Enberg did it all: major league baseball, college and pro football, college basketball, boxing, tennis, golf, Olympics, Rose Bowls and Super Bowls, Breeders’ Cup horse racing — earning a trophy case full of Emmys, awards from the pro football, basketball and baseball halls of fame, niches in several broadcasting halls of fame and other assorted honors.
He also was an author, a longtime fixture at Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses parade, the host of several sports-themed TV game shows and was still calling San Diego Padres baseball games into his 80s.
“Sportscasting is a kid’s dream come true, which is one of the reasons that I keep doing it,” he said in his autobiography, “Dick Enberg, Oh My!” the “Oh my!” having been his signature call. “I can’t let my dream go. I’m still in love with what I do.”
And how well did he do it? “He could orchestrate a telecast better than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Billy Packer, former college basketball analyst and longtime Enberg broadcast partner, once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think anybody who worked with him would just stand in amazement at how great he was at anything he undertook.”
As a former teacher, Enberg was noted for his preparation and his knowledgeable yet eager approach to his craft.
“As a broadcaster, you have to be entertaining, you have to be well informed, you have to be excited about what you know and you have to have a sense of your audience — just like in a classroom,” he wrote in his book. “In fact, when I look into the camera, I’m looking into my classroom. When I’m calling a game, I can envision hands shooting up all over the country with questions. ‘Whoops,’ I’ll think, ‘perhaps we need to explain that concept or strategy a little better.’ ”
Even research and preparation weren’t always foolproof, though. Fans could be picky, and when Enberg began using one of his pet calls, “Touch ’em all!” for opposing teams’ home run hitters, Padres faithful rose up in protest and he quickly reserved that call for Padres’ home run hitters.
“Oh my!” was an Enberg family saying, his mother using it to express dismay, such as during the many hours young Dick spent broadcasting imaginary games. He used it to express wonder at athletic grace, but it could just as well have applied to his life.
Richard Alan Enberg was born Jan. 9, 1935, in Mount Clemens, Mich. The family moved to Southern California for several years, then back to Michigan, to a farm near the village of Armada. “We had a one-room schoolhouse and a two-hole toilet,” Enberg recalled for The Times years ago.
He quarterbacked his high school football team, then after graduation, enrolled at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, where he played college baseball. And, fortunately, took a course in debate. One of his debate classmates was the public-address announcer for the Chippewas’ football and basketball teams, and when he graduated the job was passed down to Enberg. He also applied for a job sweeping floors, at $1 an hour, at the local radio station. A station employee liked Enberg’s voice, and instead of a broom he was handed a microphone and went to work as a weekend disc jockey, still at $1 an hour. When the station’s sports director left, Enberg moved into that slot, producing a 15-minute nightly wrap-up.
All of that was fun, but Enberg had more serious things on his mind. After graduation, he enrolled in graduate health science studies at Indiana University, eventually earning both master’s and doctoral degrees. Just as he was arriving in Bloomington, though, a Hoosier radio network was being put together and Enberg was hired, at $35 a game, to broadcast football and basketball.
Four years later, doctorate in hand, he applied for a teaching job at Indiana University. He didn’t get it, but a flier on the health sciences bulletin board, offering a teaching position at San Fernando Valley State College — now Cal State Northridge — caught his eye. Recalling his early boyhood days in Canoga Park, he applied for and got the job, teaching health science and assisting the baseball coach.
The pay was small, and the now-married Enberg went looking for extra income in the other area he knew, broadcasting. He tried more than a dozen stations in the spring of 1962, getting no call-backs. Changing tactics, he began identifying himself as Dr. Enberg, finally got put through to program directors and was able to pick up part-time work.
He got his big break in 1965. KTLA, Channel 5, was looking for a sportscaster and Enberg was hired, at $18,000 a year. “I felt guilty because that was triple what I made as a teacher,” he recalled for The Times in 1987. “Then I found out I was being paid 10% under the union minimum.”
In quick succession, Enberg was calling the weekly televised boxing cards at Olympic Auditorium, became the radio announcer for the Los Angeles Rams, and began working UCLA telecasts during the Bruins’ John Wooden-Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) glory years.
Then it was on to a decade-long association with the Angels, until NBC called. There, he, McGuire and Packer formed an unforgettable NCAA tournament trio, Enberg serving as buffer between the “What will he say next?” McGuire and the almost dour, statistics-driven Packer. So taken was Enberg with the irrepressible McGuire — “My most unforgettable character, and there’s nobody in second place!” — that he later wrote a one-act play about him, “Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire.”
Basketball also gave Enberg, and his fans, an especially memorable experience. In a UCLA-Oregon game in 1970, Oregon went into a stall, leaving Enberg with little to talk about and air time to be filled. He began humming “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from the big movie of the previous year, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
At the next game, UCLA’s pep band played the song and the student section called for him to sing it. He demurred, saying he didn’t know the words, but they insisted and he promised he’d learn them. Then, after the last home game of the regular season, he walked to mid-court and sang.
A few days later, he heard from a music professor, who wrote, “I’ve spent 30 years studying music and you hit two notes I’ve never heard before.”
Dan Patrick pays a nice tribute:
I’ve written here before about Enberg’s announcing the football games I played on the front lawn or the street. He was my favorite announcer, so this feels like a personal loss. It’s not as if I sound like him, but the importance of preparation he always felt, and the enthusiasm he brought to every event he did are something every announcer, full-time or part-time, needs to bring to any broadcast.
I read this this morning, and it’s excellent advice, reportedly from July 2016:
“Mr. Enberg, what is the biggest piece of advice you’ve received during your career that you now pass along to future announcers?”
“Never say No to anything you’re offered. Big city, little city, Big pay or no pay, You never say No.”
Excellent advice that I have inadvertently followed.
To quote Dave Matthews, everyone goes in the end, but it’s kind of sad to watch highlights of Enberg’s 1980s NBC games with Merlin Olsen and know that neither of them are with us anymore …
… similar to watching 1970s Monday Night Football games with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and either Don Meredith or Alex Karras and now that none of them are around anymore.