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First call for Musburger was as an umpire

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February 1, 2017 12:43 PM
Brent Musburger video grab
Brent Musburger says goodbye on the ESPN broadcast on Tuesday night.

By Norm Clarke

VSiN Contributing Columnist

Brent Musburger is being remembered for many famous calls during his legendary broadcasting career. Missing from the narrative was the infamous call that changed his chosen path.

Musburger grew up around baseball. His father, Cec, founded the Little League organization in

Billings, Mont. Brent played against David McNally, a four-time 20-game winner with the Baltimore Orioles.

Musburger, three years older, wasn’t in McNally’s league. Not many were. But he wasn’t ready to walk away from the sport. Baseball was his calling, he thought.

He decided to become an umpire, a major league umpire. After graduating from Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minn., in 1957, he headed off to umpiring school.

A year later, he was starting at the bottom in the Class D Midwest League.

He told me the story back in 1978 when he was a rising star at CBS, preparing for his second Super Bowl assignment as a pregame host. I was a Montana-raised AP sports writer based in Cincinnati.

I knew his father from my days as sports editor of the Billings Gazette, but had never met Brent.

It was Super Bowl week in New Orleans, and I was 800 miles away in Cincinnati, looking for a feature. Musburger returned my call.

I was aware of his switch from sports writer to broadcasting, but I wanted to know what was the turning point in his career.

“It was 1958, in Michigan City, Ind., in the Class D Midwest League,” said Musburger.

Juan Marichal, a super prospect in the San Francisco Giants farm system, was pitching and the game was tied at 1-1 in the eighth inning. "A batter hit a ball that bounced over the fence,” said Musburger. "But I lost it in the lights and called it a home run. I ended up kicking three guys out of the game. I led the league in ejections that year with 15. I needed a police escort to get off the field.

“It was that point in my young life that I decided to go into sports writing because I could use an eraser when I made a mistake,” he said.

At Shattuck, he had dabbled in sports broadcasting. But after a rough umpiring season he decided to pursue a journalism degree at Northwestern University.

He joined the now-defunct Chicago American, where his participation on sports-talk radio shows attracted the attention of a local broadcasting executive. Musburger soon landed at CBS-affiliate WBBM where he became a radio and TV sports anchor.

“I wanted to take the chance, figuring I could always come back (to writing),” he said.

“I had always felt the biggest weakness in radio was the absence of good reporting,” he added.

In the mid-1970s he moved to Los Angeles where he co-anchored KNXT’s evening newscast with Connie Chung from 1978 until 1980, when he became CBS’ lead sports voice.

The last call of his nearly 50 years in sportscasting came Tuesday night when he teamed up with Jay Bilas at Rupp Arena for ESPN’s broadcast of the Kentucky-Georgia game.

Last week he announced he’s moving to Las Vegas to assist his family in starting the Vegas Stats & Information Network based from a studio at the South Point Hotel Casino.

At the end of the game, a 90-81 overtime win by Kentucky, Musburger looked into the camera and said, “What a road we’ve traveled together.

“Thanks so much to you for sharing your time with me. What great memories we had over the last almost 50 years. But now it’s time for me to turn over the play-by-play to those fine young announcers growing up at ESPN.

“Make no mistake about it, I’m going to miss games like this. I’m going to miss working with all the great analysts that I’ve been with through the years, but maybe you’ll pay me a visit out of my new place in Las Vegas. Why not? We can share a cold one and maybe a win or two.

“Anyway, thank you so very much for all the appreciation and all the great moments we’ve shared together. God bless.”

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