COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Eric Nadel picks his words thoughtfully. That's the only reason he didn't say that his winning the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence meant his life has come full circle.
"It's really hard for me to believe I'm standing here on the diamond, in the middle of Doubleday Field, accepting this award,'' Nadel told a large crowd. "Because 50 years ago tomorrow, July 27, 1964, I was sitting in those stands, right there. I was a baseball-crazed 13-year-old from Brooklyn, on a field trip from Camp Equinunk. I was in those bleachers, watching the Mets play the Senators in the Hall of Fame Game. I believe both teams were looking for their first win of the year.''
Spending his entire career with the Texas Rangers, the 63-year-old Nadel has called historic moments, including a perfect game by Kenny Rogers and two no-hitters by Nolan Ryan. He's worked two World Series, neither of which ended the way he would have scripted it. And along the way, he has needed his sense of humor, which has never been far away.
The Rangers, after all, were the Senators he was watching with his buddies from camp.
Nadel, who spent the first half of his Rangers career as a sidekick to the late Mark Holtz, was given baseball's top broadcast award by a panel composed of former winners and broadcast critics.
Nadel thanked many people in his speech, but said that "most of all,'' he wanted to thank Rangers fans.
"Over the years, you've invited me into your homes, your cars, your places of work, your computers, your iPhones and other devices I still can't figure out how to use,'' he said. "You gave me a chance to learn this game on the job, and you kept listening through some very lean years. As a team, we still haven't won the big one, but we've won this award together. The pain and frustration that we've experienced has brought us closer together. And in the meantime, at least we have this award to celebrate. I can honestly say I'm proud to be a Texas Ranger, and I know you're proud to be Texas Rangers fans.''
Nadel started his acceptance speech by saying that his former partner, Holtz, would have won the Frick Award long ago if he had lived longer. He died in September 1997, after a bone marrow transplant did not turn around his battle with leukemia.
"Had it not been for his untimely passing, he would have been standing on this stage years ago, accepting this award,'' Nadel said. "My chemistry with Mark and our friendship is one of the great gifts of my life. I don't think I would have lasted very long in baseball had it not been for Mark.''
Among many nice moments in Nadel's acceptance speech, he cited a quote by Roger Angell, the long-time New York essayist who received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing.
"I've always loved Roger's quote, 'There is more Met than Yankee in every one of us,''' Nadel said. "Although I'd like to add we'd all switch if we could get Yankee money.''
In addition to his work on the Rangers' traditional broadcasts, Nadel has sometimes done innings in Spanish to allow the play-by-play men on the team's Spanish broadcasts to get a break. He was almost 40 when he learned to speak his second language, and did it for practical reasons.
"I started in 1990, so I could talk to Ruben Sierra, who was by far our best player,'' Nadel said. "I knew we had more Latino players on the way, so I figured I'd better learn Spanish. … It was really hard for me to learn. I took French in high school, because they told me it would help me get in a good college. I took French in college. When I started learning Spanish -- first of all, I resented that people made me learn French, which was useless to me, and every Spanish word I learned pushed a French word out of my head.''
Nadel has made numerous offseason trips to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. He is hosting a baseball tour of Cuba this winter, with the blessings of the Cuban government.
As a kid in Brooklyn, Nadel attended Midwood High School, Woody Allen's alma mater. He grew up with a love of baseball and music, idolizing Marv Albert, who was then the voice of the Knicks and the Rangers. He studied the baseball broadcasts of Mel Allen and Red Barber on the Yankees, Marty Glickman on the Giants and, later, Lindsay Nelson and Bob Murphy on the Mets.
Nadel's father was a dentist and his mother an accountant who became a full-time mom after his older sister, Laurie, was born. He said he remembers the exact time he knew he wanted to be a broadcaster.
"First memory I [have] listening to a game was with my dad,'' Nadel said. "My dad had a 1955 DeSoto. This was probably 1958, when I was seven years old. We were stopped at a light on Bedford Avenue, and Mel Allen was doing the Yankee game. I asked my dad if Mel Allen was getting paid to do the game. He said, 'Yeah, that's his job.' My dad was a dentist. I said, 'You go to the office and you pull teeth and fill cavities, and Mel Allen goes to Yankee Stadium and watches Yankee games? And I've seen him on TV. He eats hot dogs, he drinks Ballantine beer and smokes cigarettes. I like his deal a lot better than I like yours.'''
Nadel attended Brown University, preparing for law school while working at the school's legendary radio station, WBRU-FM.
Nadel was as interested in broadcasting hockey as baseball when he graduated from Brown. He was hired to work games on the radio for the Muskegon (Mich.) Mohawks in the International Hockey League and spent three seasons there building a treasure trove of stories about fiery coach Morris "Moose'' Lallo.
It was hockey that brought him to Dallas, working games for the Central Hockey League's Dallas Blackhawks. He moonlighted on broadcasts of the short-lived WABA's Dallas Diamonds, becoming friends with Nancy Lieberman and Martina Navratilova, who lived in Dallas during that period. He joined the Rangers in 1979, at first working games on both radio and television, but has steadfastly confined himself to the radio booth since 1982, when he was hired as a color commentator working alongside Holtz.
Nadel took over as the play-by-play man in 1995, when Holtz moved over to do television play-by-play. Their years together were pivotal in Nadel's development, and their broadcasts were influential in helping build a fan base for the relocated version of the Washington Senators.
"I think that what Eric and Mark did together was very important for the franchise,'' said Ryan, who returned as a president of the team after his retirement. "There was a lot of time that it was a struggle to get fans to come to games at Arlington Stadium, and those guys made it fun, no matter whether the team was good or not. You talk to Ranger fans now, and they'll tell you that they fell in love with baseball listening to Eric and Mark.''
At different points through the years, the Rangers pitched Nadel on moving to their television broadcasts. He declined every time.
"What's important to me is doing a job I love to do,'' Nadel said. "I've done enough TV over the years to be very unsure whether I would love being the TV voice of the Rangers. It's a different job, and it's just not as much fun. I've talked to all the guys who have made the switch, and basically, they do it for the money. Most of them don't do it for the audience, they do it for the money.
"I'll forego that money to have the job I know I like -- not to have to dress up, not to have to do rehearsals, not to have the director talking into your ears, not to miss postseason games (when television broadcasts become national) and not to have the director tell you that you're talking too much, describing things. That's what I do. I describe things. That's the fun of the job.''
Nadel makes that fun translate to his audience. That's his gift.
"Remember, I'm a converted hockey announcer,'' Nadel said. "I was often told that my voice wasn't good enough to make it as a play-by-play announcer. If I can make it all the way to Cooperstown, there's hope for everyone.''
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less