My buddy Mark McCarter who is the Sports Editor of the Huntsville Times has written a book about the Southern League. It’s not the first one ever written about the grandest “minor” league of them all and it will not be the last one going to print either. I can’t wait to read it however, because I spent a year traveling around the 1976 Southern League; ironically the same season that Mark was covering the Lookouts for the Chattanooga News Free Press.
1976 was the first season baseball had returned to the “Scenic City” after an absence of ten summers. I had been chosen as the “Voice of the Lookouts” on WDOD radio, and I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my still young career as a broadcaster. We didn’t do a complete road schedule that year but we did all the home games and about half the games on the road.
My exotic road locations included Columbus, Ga., Knoxville, and Montgomery, Al., to name a few. One of the trips we made to Columbus, it rained three of the four days there. I discovered during that particular road trip, that things could get really boring around a motel room when it was raining cats and dogs outside. We got the first game in, then we were rained out two of the next three days. We finally got in a doubleheader on the final day there, and headed home. While we were in Columbus, I gained ten pounds and saw three movies.
At the old Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville, our motel was just a few blocks from the ballpark and the weather was really good for those four games. It wasn’t really that hot, though it was warm and I was particularly glad when the sun went down.
Montgomery was a different story completely. On this particular trip to the former capital of the Confederacy, I decided to take my wife, and we booked a spot at a big campground just outside of town. When we arrived in the early afternoon, the large swimming pool was full of rednecks and a dark green fungus. Needless to say, we turned around and left. I can take the rednecks but I do despise nastiness.
So, we found a cheap little motel close to the ballpark and settled in. When I arrived at the park for the first game of the series, there was a thermometer in the old wooden press box that read 106 degrees. In the visitors’ broadcast booth, there was an old wooden window that had been shut for weeks, and the temperature must have been 206. I did the entire game that night topless; with perspiration running down my headphones. It was that way for the entire four game series and that was the hottest I have ever been in my life.
Mark McCarter decided to ride home with my wife and I and we headed toward Chattanooga; finally arriving home just before sunup.
My experiences at home were much better, though on opening night the CB radio was stolen out of my Chevrolet Blazer. The Lookouts in 1976 were a pretty good ball club. They won the first-half title which qualified them for the post-season playoffs. Denny Walling, Mark Budaska among others got some playing time in the big leagues, but a few of the Montgomery Rebels did also. Lew Whitaker, and pitcher Dave Rozema spent several years in the big leagues. My last broadcast as the “Voice of the Lookouts” was the playoff game won by Montgomery as Dave Rozema pitched a classic contest.
I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad I didn’t do it again. So don’t expect me to be writing any books about the Southern League. Just a small column or two.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org