The first time I heard Dick Enberg’s work was the first time I had even heard his name. It was January 20, 1968, and the buildup to the UCLA-Houston college basketball game at the Astrodome was about as big as the hype would be a few years later for Ali-Frazier at Madison Square Garden.
UCLA hadn’t lost a game in two and a half years. These were John Wooden’s Bruins, featuring Lew Alcindor, who of course later became known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They faced Elvin Hayes’ Cougars who were unbeaten at the time, and it was interesting to me that a virtually unknown broadcaster would call such a high profile event. By the end of Houston’s upset victory, a nation of sports fans had come to understand why.
He was so smooth; his enthusiasm was infectious. He also had a command of the language coupled with a delivery that suggested familiarity that made it seem as though even a first-time listener had known him forever.
Although I enjoyed all of his work in a variety of sports as a fan, I hardly knew him. When he returned to baseball to call San Diego Padres games several years ago, I made it a point to say hi to him and welcome him back to the sport. This was a couple of months into the season, and when I asked him how it felt to be back, he looked up from the preparation in which he was immersed, and with a somewhat overwhelmed and exasperated expression he simply said, “It’s relentless!”
Baseball broadcasting is all of that; the schedule is truly unforgiving, but we do it because we love it. Despite the grind, and how it might have been getting to Dick several years ago, it never showed in his work. He always sounded as though he was the happiest guy in the ballpark. We were happy and privileged to have enjoyed his mellifluous sound for decades.