Remembering Jack Graney, A Man of Many Firsts

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame recently presented their 2022 Ford C. Frick Award [posthumously] to Jack Graney. Named after Ford Frick, longtime Commissioner of Baseball, the award recognizes “commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans, and recognition by peers.”

Graney, who passed away in 1978 at age 91, joins more familiar names like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, and Al Michaels who have won this award—but who was Jack Graney?

He was the first former major league player to become a play-by-play broadcaster in 1932, when he began broadcasting Cleveland Indians’ games for local station WHK, while radio was in its infancy. He would continue as the “Voice of the Tribe” with a variety of Cleveland stations for the next two decades. He called the 1935 All-Star Game and World Series for a national audience via the Mutual Broadcasting System.  

What’s not as well known about the St. Thomas, Ontario native is that he was an above average major league player for 14 seasons (all with Cleveland), who accomplished some other firsts on the field, in uniform.

A former boxer and hockey player, the Canadian initially came up to Cleveland in 1908 as a southpaw pitcher. After an inauspicious debut in which he beaned player-manager Napoleon Lajoie in batting practice, Jack found himself back in the minors to work on control issues.

Converting to an outfielder, he came back up to stay in 1910, appearing in more than 1,400 games for Cleveland over the next decade. He started out in right field, but soon moved over to left field to make way for Joe Jackson after “Shoeless Joe” was acquired from the Philadelphia A’s. Graney and Jackson roomed together on the road until Joe moved on to Chicago in 1915. Graney subsequently became roommates with shortstop Ray Chapman, a man for whom the 1920 season would hold a different fate than that which would be enjoyed by the rest of his teammates.

Being touched personally by the tragedy of what was to be the only fatality in the history of the game, proved to be one of many events and milestones of game and team with which Jack Graney would be associated in practically a half century tenure with the Cleveland club.

Graney holds the distinction of being the first player to bat in a major league game against rookie Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth in 1914. Jack smacked a base hit on that occasion. The quintessential leadoff man, Graney twice led the American League in bases on balls(though his nickname “Ole Three and Two” reportedly goes back to his pitching days, for control reasons hinted above).

He stole 20 or more bases three times, and in 1916 he tied teammate Tris Speaker for the A.L. lead in doubles with 41, while finishing runner-up to Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in runs scored, 106 to 113.

Credited by many as being the innovator of players wearing numbers on their backs for easier identification by fans, Graney could claim many firsts. He was a proud member of Cleveland’s first World Series championship team in 1920, finishing his big league career after the 1922 season at the age of 36.

The first former player behind the microphone, he brought “inside baseball” to fans listening to play-by-play narrative on the then novel device in 1932, continuing as the “Voice of the Tribe” into the early 1950’s, serving as mentor and role model for announcers like Jimmy Dudley and Van Patrick.

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