Jack Quinlan still remembered, revered decades after his death

When former Blackhawks voice Pat Foley was calling a Cubs game last week, he made a point to credit Quinlan for “planting the seed” of his broadcast career. But Foley was just one of many kids influenced by Quinlan.

SHARE Jack Quinlan still remembered, revered decades after his death
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Jack Quinlan (left) and Lou Boudreau were Cubs broadcast partners on WGN Radio in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

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Imagine this:

A baseball team’s beloved radio announcer leaves his neighborhood home to go to work. As he steps outside, he shouts to any child in earshot, asking if he or she would like to go to the ballgame that day.

A half-dozen or so kids hop into the car. After arriving at the ballpark, the announcer speaks with ushers to ensure the kids have seats and they’ll be looked after. Everyone has a wonderful time.

This isn’t fantasy. This happened frequently. The team was the Cubs, the neighborhood was in Evanston and the radio announcer was Jack Quinlan.

Can you believe that?

If you were one of those lucky kids, you can. But you’re in rare company. Quinlan’s daughter Sue, one of four children, can attest to the events.

“He had a red convertible, and he’d gather up the neighborhood kids, like, ‘Who wants to go to the game?’ ” said Sue, 66, who still lives in Evanston. “They’d be screaming to their moms, ‘Is it OK if I go with Mr. Quinlan?’ Everybody would pile in the car, and down Clark Street we’d go.”

Quinlan was the Cubs’ radio voice from 1955 to 1964. On March 19, 1965, in Mesa, Arizona, Quinlan was killed in a car accident. He was 38.

His death devastated many, but his legacy lives. When former Blackhawks voice Pat Foley was calling a Cubs game last week, he made a point to credit Quinlan for “planting the seed” of his broadcast career. On radio and TV, Foley told the story of his 10-year-old self visiting the Cubs’ radio booth and meeting Quinlan. Sue heard both versions.

“The first time he talked about it on radio, it warmed my heart,” she said. “I was like, I can hear the story a gazillion times and still love it. And then he gets on TV, and he starts launching into it again. I got teary. It was so sweet of him to say it, and it seemed so genuine and heartfelt.”

Said Foley: “That day was so enthralling for me that my mother said when I came home I said, I know what I’m gonna do. But a lot of that had to do with his generosity to me. Between innings, I’d ask him a stupid question, and he wasn’t put off by it. He helped me. I wrote him a thank-you letter after, he writes me back. He was just a nice man and a great broadcaster.”

How great was he? No less an authority than Bob Costas shared his answer:

“Very simply, if we are going on sheer broadcasting ability and quality of work, Jack Quinlan is among the best radio baseball broadcasters I have ever heard. Voice, pacing, sense of humor, attention to detail, excitement when it was called for, all the elements you look for in a baseball broadcaster.”

Costas has pushed for Quinlan’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, mentioning him in conference calls among voters and even writing in his name when it didn’t appear on the ballot. Costas never heard Quinlan live. His opinion was derived from cassettes of Quinlan on local and national broadcasts.

Ron Barber, a former colleague of Costas’ at KMOX in St. Louis, introduced him to Quinlan with those tapes, which Barber turned into audiobooks. Barber might as well have been one of those kids in Quinlan’s car because he was enamored with the broadcaster.

“I was one of literally millions of baby-boomer kids who grew up in Chicagoland, loved the Cubs and fell in love with a man who I feel was on a fast track to become the greatest baseball broadcaster in history,” said Barber, who also continues to push for Quinlan’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

WGN morning-show host Bob Sirott also was inspired by Quinlan to become a broadcaster. He grew up on the North Side listening to Quinlan and analyst Lou Boudreau on WGN. He still has Quinlan’s autograph and a postcard of the two broadcasters that was a consolation prize for losing a kids’ contest to join them in the booth.

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The postcard Bob Sirott received with the message that he had lost a kids’ contest to join Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau on a broadcast.

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“Nobody has the impact that Quinlan had,” Sirott said. “Why? Because the teams were horrible during his years. It was the magic of his broadcast. It was the perfect voice, and the personality was very natural. It wasn’t like Mr. Announcer. It was so real. He had such a spirit of fun about him. You had the feeling this was a nice guy and an approachable guy.”

Quinlan made a name for himself nationally, as well. He called the 1960 World Series for NBC Radio, splitting games with Orioles voice Chuck Thompson. Sirott said Jack Brickhouse, the Cubs’ longtime voice on WGN-TV, told him, had Quinlan lived, WGN wouldn’t have been able to keep him. Quinlan was so good the networks were sniffing around. Whether he would’ve wanted to leave is another matter.

It became moot that tragic day near the Cubs’ spring-training site.

“I was shattered,” Sirott said. “I don’t think I even followed the Cubs that year. I remember thinking, ‘What good is it if the Cubs win now? Jack Quinlan’s not around.’ Don’t get me wrong, I loved Brickhouse. But I was, through the magic of radio, attached to Jack Quinlan even more.”

Sue was 9 when her father died. She has memories of him from their trips to spring training, snowball fights in the front yard of their home and piggyback rides up to bed. Cubs fans lost a broadcaster, but Sue lost a devoted father.

“My friends have said, ‘Don’t you feel gypped because you were so little when he died?’ ” she said. “Maybe. But on the other hand, I don’t have one bad memory. How do you get real upset about that?”

What’s upsetting is Quinlan still isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame or the Cubs’ Hall of Fame, for that matter. In 1960, then-commissioner Ford Frick chose Quinlan for the World Series radio broadcast. How ironic that Quinlan has yet to receive the award given to broadcasters in Frick’s name.

“If his career had the longevity enjoyed by other top announcers, more fans and more of those who vote for the Frick Award would have firsthand knowledge and appreciation of him,” Costas said.

Nevertheless, a man with such admiration deserves more recognition.

“It’s one of baseball’s most egregious wrongs, and it needs to be corrected,” Barber said. “Jack Quinlan is still not in [the Cubs’ Hall of Fame, either]. There’s something very wrong with that picture.”

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