7/23/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Fellow broadcasters celebrate Nadel's Frick Award
Rangers voice to be honored Saturday at Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers were at U.S. Cellular Field, and radio broadcaster Brad Sham decided he needed a cup of coffee.
While he was gone and Eric Nadel continued to do the broadcast solo, White Sox outfielder Dave Martinez sent a foul ball straight back to the booth that whizzed through the space that Sham occupied.
"Right where my head would have been," Sham said. "When I got back, the ball was sitting in my scorebook. Eric autographed it, 'Sorry I missed you. Dave Martinez.'"
It was a small moment, sure, from Nadel's 36 years of broadcasting the Rangers on radio. But it is also a small reminder of what has been so special about those 36 years.
As Nadel gets ready to be honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday in Cooperstown as the 2014 Ford C. Frick Award winner, the moment will be shared by a fraternity of broadcasting brothers who are extremely thrilled for him.
The tape of the award presentation is Sunday. Hall of Fame coverage begins at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.
That group consists of his partners, the men who have shared the booth with him through the 36 years. It is a distinguished group that includes Sham, current Athletics broadcaster Vince Cotroneo, Angels announcer Victor Rojas, former ESPN and San Antonio Spurs voice Dave Barnett and current partner Matt Hicks. Foremost among them is a previous Frick Award winner who Nadel proudly calls his mentor.
"The first game Eric ever did was a telecast from Cherry Park in Fort Myers, which is where Kansas City had Spring Training," Giants broadcaster Jon Miller said. "The Rangers played the Royals, and Eric was the color man and I did the play-by-play on the telecast. Late in the game, Kansas City brought in some guy, No. 94 or No. 98, whatever, and I'm looking through the guide trying to find some information about him and I can't find anything about him.
"Eric gives me the high sign than he's got stuff on him, and he had a yellow legal pad and it had an entire hand-written page about this guy, all this info on him. I told him afterwards, 'So you prepared for this game, this exhibition game early in the spring, as if it was your Master's oral exam.' It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
Miller is now with the Giants, but he was the Rangers' broadcaster in 1978-79. It was in his second year that Roy Parks, the executive in charge, asked him about bringing aboard a young broadcaster whose resume consisted of Minor League hockey and women's pro basketball.
"I always tell him," Miller said, "the main effect I had on your career was when the guy who hired you asked me if I thought he should put you on the air doing baseball, and I said, 'Are you nuts? Absolutely not, it'd be a disaster!' "
Those who came after can attest even without the Frick Award, working with Nadel was far from a disaster.
"An absolute blast," said Cotroneo, who has fond memories of Spring Training road trips through the Florida swamps in an open convertible with Nadel, listening to broadcast tapes of games that were 40-50 years old and discussing their craft.
"Working with Eric was an absolute blast, he always came to the booth with a smile on his face and no ego whatsoever," Cotroneo said. "We had a great time looking for 'diversionary tactics' in many of those lean years [2000-03] even with a team of superstar players.
"He is funny, prepared, curious and wants to get it right. As a generation of listeners know by now, it makes a summer of baseball very enjoyable. He will talk to umpires, look for any back story on anyone in the game and deliver it in a conversational way."
Barnett said working with Nadel was like getting paid to hang out with a good friend.
"The team's successes were a bonus," Barnett said. "It was educational in the sense that, even though I had called Major League baseball for ESPN for 13 years, I learned things about the game and how to convey it to an audience I had never learned even with Hall of Famers sitting next to me. Of course, I always knew I had a Hall of Famer in Eric sitting next to me as well."
Nadel joined the Rangers' broadcasts in 1979, alternating between radio and television for three years while selling a few ads on the side. Miller left after the 1979 season for the Red Sox, and in '82, Nadel found his true calling as he settled in as the No. 2 man on the radio.
Nadel worked with Mark Holtz, who had been brought in from Denver, and the two worked side-by-side for 13 years while becoming a dual institution in Texas during some of the bleakest seasons in Rangers history.
The pair broke up in 1995 when Holtz moved to television and Nadel became the No. 1 on the radio. His first partner was Sham, who had already established his own legacy as the voice of the Dallas Cowboys and was recognized as one of the top football play-by-play broadcasters.
Sham had just left the Cowboys in what turned out to be a temporary divorce. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, but for three years, two broadcasters each outstanding in their own style, shared a microphone.
"Working with Eric was a great education," Sham said. "He taught me overtly how to adjust to the rhythms of the game from the football environment, and he taught me by example little things about attention to detail in play by play that I still use.
"What makes him good are two things: First, he has a love for the game you can't teach. He respects the game. He sees every game as more important than him. Second is that attention to detail. Listen to how subtly he tells you the color of the glove, the length of the undershirt sleeve, how a guy wears his uniform. He has an amazing ability to let you see minute details."
After Sham reconciled with the Cowboys, he was replaced by Cotroneo on Nadel's recommendation. They spent six years together and became close friends. The pairing started out watching two division championship teams and then had to endure the dark years of 2000-03 when the Rangers finished in last place for four straight seasons.
After Cotroneo left after the 2003 season, he was replaced by Rojas, who had limited experience but was rightfully viewed as a talented young broadcaster with a bright future. As Nadel did with Miller, Rojas was fortunate to land next to the perfect mentor.
"It was intimidating at first, to be honest with you," Rojas said. "My concerns, initially, revolved around our age difference and how we would settle in chemistry-wise on the air. I soon realized that it wasn't going to be an issue whatsoever as he was as accommodating as anyone I had been around. Very meticulous, detail oriented and engaging ... he made sure to look at me and include me in conversations from the get-go.
"I think he'll tell you himself that he wasn't necessarily gifted with the prototypical announcer's voice. But he was blessed with a passion for hard work, dedication and attention to detail, and because of that, along with his love of baseball, he was able to carve out an incredible career."
Barnett followed in 2009 after Rojas left to join the new MLB Network. That allowed Barnett to partner with Nadel when the Rangers won consecutive pennants in 2010-11.
"The best part of working with Eric was enjoying his enjoyment of the breakthrough season of 2010," Barnett said. "I had been a Ranger fan since day one, but hadn't had to work through the endless frustrations of the bad years the way Eric had. So when the Promised Land appeared on the horizon, Eric, as always, came prepared.
"He produced victory cigars in Oakland after clinching the division, and a toast of Patron after the final out of the ALDS at Tampa Bay. For the clinching of the ALCS, I was on the field for Neftali's strikeout of A-Rod. The noise that followed exceeded anything I've experienced with the exception of Black Sabbath from the seventh row. Eric somehow maintained enough poise to deliver the call of a lifetime."
Hicks followed Barnett to the radio booth, joining Nadel midway through the 2012 season after a 22-year climb through the Minor Leagues with stops that included El Paso and Corpus Christi. Like the others before him, Hicks was able to enjoy a seamless transition because who was sitting next to him.
"Working with Eric has been an eye-opening learning experience," Hicks said. "It's also been a great deal of fun. Eric's preparation and his attention to detail are unmatched. He's naturally curious and isn't satisfied until he learns the answers to his questions. I marvel at his ability to multitask during a game. And he does all this with the listener in mind, driven by his passion for the game and the Rangers."
The passion continues unabated in Nadel's 36th season. There will be a celebration this weekend in Cooperstown and then it will be back to work next week. The energy and dedication to the job is unswerving, and there are no plans to bring it to an end any time soon.
Nadel still loves the job and strives every day to maintain the same high level of performance that earned him the Frick Award. None appreciate that more than his partners.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.