This week the world lost a buddy: my dad’s lifelong friend and Marine Corps pal, a mentor to hundreds of inner-city youths that he helped with sports programs and a once familiar voice to baseball broadcast listeners across the country. His name was Buddy Blattner.
A sports celebrity in his day—famous as a teenager for worldwide championships in table tennis, a stint with the New York Giants, where before the war he rivaled his teammate Johnny Mize in runs batted in, and the Philadelphia Phillies—he became known to radio audiences across the country. Starting in 1950 he called games for the St. Louis Browns, alongside Dizzy Dean, the Hall of Fame pitcher. They developed a style where Dean made the colorful commentary, while Blattner described the action in a form that has come to be known as the play-by-play. He told me, “At the time I was the only major leaguer to do baseball broadcasts.” By 1953 He and Dean were on television, broadcasting ABC’s Game of the Week.
When I interviewed Bud in September 2000 for my 2005 book, Dad’s War with the United States Marines, he explained how he learned the art. “In 1946 in the off-season I begin to practice commenting on games. I would take a recent game, recall about four innings and call the game. I would go over the commentary until I could make it sound better, more exciting or better description of the action. In those days, I did the commercial layouts, filled in my own background on the players and worked with just an engineer. I learned play-by-play and not in New York, but in St. Louis, which had a more forgiving atmosphere.”
From there he went on to broadcast for the St. Louis Hawks and spent two seasons reporting for the St. Louis Cardinals before migrating west to work for the California Angels. A measure of his contribution to his art is the fact that when he left he was replaced by Dick Enberg, who then joined the Angels’ broadcasting team and later became an institution in sports broadcasting as anchor for a new venture called ABC Sports.
I asked about his World War II experience: how he reconciled his fortunate position, coaching recreational activities for the troops on the island of Guam, with the nastier job of the guys in combat. Bud said, “We were where they put us. I didn’t want the war: not one of these kids wanted the war. I never felt self-conscious. You do what you’re told. We toured the forward area in a DC-3—Peleliu, Kwajalein–trying to hit a little spot of sand in an ocean that extended as far as the eye could see. If you chickened out you had a miserable life. Anybody who enlisted and spent a reasonable amount of time in service was a hero. My God, I never could have believed I would live.”
Bud still fondly recalled his days with my dad, Ben Green, at WXLI, the Armed Forces radio station on Guam, as one of the highlights of his tense but humdrum Pacific war experience. Bud wrote and Dad produced a sports quiz program for the station. “Perhaps we could give away beer,” he said. “Whether the show was any good or not, we would be giving away the nectar of the gods.” With permission from headquarters to give away the beer, they created a show called “Sporting Chance.” Dad arranged for it to be broadcast before live audiences of 2,000 to 3,000 troops at theaters that existed all over the island. “It became the most popular doggone show on the island,” Bud recalled. “It was more difficult to write every week—there wasn’t exactly a research library or panel of experts to ask on these questions.” He noted that the winners and even the losers got cases of beer for their units for being part of the entertainment. The generals, admirals and the troops alike praised the new sound of WXLI, and the radio station’s beer ration increased. “Life on Guam had turned the corner,” Dad said. “This post-surrender duty, if you had to do it, wasn’t so bad.”
Let’s hope that Bud and Dad are now happily reunited. I’m sure they’re already negotiating with The Man Upstairs for an increased supply of beer for the troops.
For more of Dad’s and Bud’s hilarious adventures on Guam, read my World War II memoir and biography, Dad’s War with the United States Marines.
More next time,
Peter H, Green