there's just this one thing
oscar run xiii: pieces of april

lon in the hall

I've spent almost my entire life in the Bay Area. I grew up in Antioch, about 45 miles from San Francisco. I spent a year in Capitola, which was little farther from the City (75 miles or so). I lived in Indiana for a year, and that's a long ways away. Then back to Antioch, and finally Berkeley, where we've lived for most of the past three decades.

My point is that I don't have a very good feel for what life is like in other parts of the country, or the world for that matter. What I can tell you is what it's like to live in the Bay Area. And, if you are a sport fans in the Bay Area, or even if you've just lived here over the years, you likely have heard the voice of Lon Simmons.

Lon (for that's his name, none of us would ever think to call him "Simmons") was the voice of the baseball Giants for 25 years, the voice of the baseball A's for 15 years, and the voice of the football 49ers for 20+ years. He was known for his sense of humor, full of bad puns, able to turn the most boring contests into must-hear radio. I imagine there'll be quite a few tributes like this one to Lon over the next several months, now that he's made it into baseball's Hall of Fame. Most of us will recall a particular joke, as if that gets to the essence of the man. (Here's mine: he once said, and of course I'm paraphrasing, for all I know this is apocryphal, he once said "The x-rays came back negative. Aren't ALL x-rays negative?")

I brought up all that stuff about being a Bay Area Guy because I don't know if Lon Simmons is unique. I assume that every area has its beloved sportscasters. Baseball especially lends itself to this kind of affection ... a baseball season lasts 162 games over six months, each game a few hours long, and the voices we hear season after season work their way into our hearts in unfathomable fashion. It takes a certain, specific talent to be that intimate with a large audience for such a long period of time. And, like I say, perhaps other areas have their Lon Simmons, so I don't know if Lon deserves this highest of accolades.

I can tell you this: the Bay Area has been blessed for pretty much my entire life with exceptional sports announcers. Bill King, master of three sports, and the greatest basketball play-by-play man I ever heard; nationally-known stars like Jon Miller and Ted Robinson (and don't forget Al Michaels, who spent some time doing Giants game before he became famous for "Do you believe in miracles?"); local legends like Hank Greenwald, and Kruk-and-Kuip; budding legends like Greg Papa (another three-sport man whose best sport was basketball); solid talents like Ken Korach. Even our lesser guys have their moments: Joe Starkey's "The Play" is unforgettable. And let's not forget Lon's mentor, Russ "The Giants Win the Pennant!" Hodges, already in the Hall of Fame.

Is Lon Simmons "better" than all of those other guys? I don't know. By the time he hit his 70s, he was having a harder time keeping up with action on the field, but he never lost his wit, and the Bay Area never fell out of love with him. He had the voice, of course ... those low tones that could be so soothing in the background. Ultimately, it's a combination of things: longetivity, humor, the baritone, the modesty. In all of these, Lon Simmons was the perfect person to spend time with over the decades. And he was a great play-caller in his day, too ... young folks who didn't know him back in the day should know that. For all his mellow coolness, Lon was the best at the proper application of excitement, whether it be an exciting 49er touchdown (I often worried that Lon was going to have an on-air heart attack during his Niner days) or the inevitable "Way back, WAY back, TELL IT GOODBYE!" that is as much a part of Bay Area tradition as sourdough bread or Everett and Jones BBQ.

So here's my thanks, Lon, for more than 40 years of pleasurable days and nights together.